The euphemisms for the type of slaughter which has resulted in the deaths of men from the Welsh Guards and Royal Corps of Signals are anodyne. Green on blue; blue on blue; green on green. Yet the human tragedy of such events, where one ally turns his gun on another, will be all too evident to the loved ones of those who will not now be returning from Afghanistan alive.
The killing of three more soldiers in Afghanistan highlights once again the difficulties our troops face whilst training Afghan security forces. The job of mentoring was once the sole domain of UK Special Forces. Yet as the scale of the job became clear the net was cast wider to find suitable people to do it. The bulk of the burden fell on the ‘Green Army’.
Events like those reported today throw a long shadow over this work and it is easy to believe that everything is going wrong in the country. Yet the figures hint at another picture and in this war context is everything.
So far we have trained over 350,000 Afghan security personnel; that’s over a quarter of a million men at arms, nearly four times the size of the UK Army. Over half of Afghanistan’s people live and work under the protection of the Afghan security services and the other 50% will be in the same situation by 2014.
When we arrived in Afghanistan just under one million children were in education, none of them where female, now we have three million and a third are female. Many people will know that education is the key to success in countries like Afghanistan but to put education, development, reconstruction, and law and order on the table you need security.
The same goes for the Afghan parliament, when we arrived there were no female MPs. Now there are over 60 and a female is running for the presidency, something that could never have happened a few years ago.
There have of course been some terrible setbacks and today’s is the seventh-such incident since we arrived in the south of the country. In human terms 15 young men have ostensibly died at the hands of our allies, men we had befriended, put our trust in who turned out to be either a wolf in sheep clothing or individuals with a real issue with our western ways.
During three tours of Afghanistan I worked closely with Afghan forces: ate with them, slept in the same compound as them, fought side by side. They are a people of contrast, incredibly compassionate yet incredibly cruel. In 2006 I fought with an Afghan police major named Sher Wali. He remains the most honourable, noble and brave man I have ever known – he gave his life for mine. Yet contrast that with what happened in the Upper Gereskh valley in 2008 when I watched as soldiers of the Afghan Army casually murdered a Talib taken prisoner only minutes previously.
But what is the alternative to trying to deal with these dichotomies? Those who say we should throw down our weapons and run ignore the strategic situation. To leave any semblance of order we need to complete the training up to a standard where our presence is not significantly missed. Once we have trained the ANSF and they take over responsibility it will create the time and space for the remaining British soldiers to withdraw.
That said, the withdrawal has already started with the first 500 leaving by the end of this year and the remainder will follow in an orderly fashion over the next 2 years.
History could teach us a thing or two. Those critics of the current policy who harp back to the first and second Afghan wars as proof the British cannot win in Afghanistan, should read up a little bit more. The British did actually win the military side of the conflicts, but they failed to secure the peace. It is the peace which is the difficult part of this puzzle and if we do not leave behind viable structures including security then history surely will repeat itself.