Britain Ready To Bail On Afghanistan?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been signaling over the past few weeks that the time might be drawing nigh for the UK to begin a slow withdrawal of its ISAF forces from the war in Afghanistan. Recently, he called for a conference on deciding an exit strategy from provinces to be held in 2010. Previous to that, he admonished the Karzai government for its corruption, saying to clean up or we’re out. This comes amidst the current debate in the Obama administration on whether to increase troop levels or take some other course of action in buoying our operations in Afghanistan. If the UK does indeed begin withdrawing troops in 2010, it would leave the US being the major lead in campaigns there and most likely signal a withdrawal of our own.

I can’t say I disagree with the sentiments above. Unless the US and UK can come up with a better plan and at least some definable goals then what is the point of remaining in the country?

What I do take issue with though is his rhetoric about the threat of al-Qaida.

“Al-Qaeda rely on a permissive environment in the tribal areas of Pakistan and – if they can re-establish one – in Afghanistan,” Mr Brown warned.

He warned that al-Qaeda was the “greatest current risk to UK lives” but said there had been “unprecedented successes against its leadership this year”.

“Since January 2008 seven of the top dozen figures in al Qaida have been killed, depleting its reserve of experienced leaders and sapping its morale,” he said.

All those ‘victories’, for the most part, have taken place in Pakistan, with aid from the Pakistani military or by unmanned drone attacks in Pakistani territory. The Pakistan government has been encouraged to help fight the Taliban in their own backyard and are currently suffering heavily for it, with bomb attacks on their operational and commercial centers on a near daily basis. I assume that the US and UK have extended some sort of secret incentives to Pakistan to encourage their action. The real war truly seems to be more in the tribal areas of the neighboring nation we cannot enter than in most of Afghanistan.

As to the “threat to the UK”, I would say that the threat comes from their own citizens. Of the 28 UK terrorists and alleged terrorists arrested or dead since the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, only six received training, or visited Pakistan for those reasons. What the UK should really fear are its own disgruntled citizens. The vast majority of those that plotted or committed acts of terrorism were young, employed, and second-generation immigrants committing acts nominally against the state, usually in regards to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What the UK government should be addressing is why citizens born and raised in the country were so troubled by it to commit or attempt to commit these acts. In the US, and probably UK, they are always framed as religious fundamentalists but there are probably underlying reasons that would push them over into violence. It would be better though to employ more sociologists and psychologists on the issue than police and security experts as the Britain is already turning ‘1984’ in its surveillance culture and some controversial actions.

I don’t think my brief analysis puts the lie to the statement that fighting in Afghanistan prevents British-Pakistani citizens from committing to acts of terror but I think it does raise questions about the nature of the perceived enemies and whether it’s not such a bad idea to reassess at this key time, for both the UK and the US, the whole nature of the operation in Afghanistan.