Two thoughts about Afghanistan. Firstly (the media seemed to miss this) Kim Howell’s intervention in Westminster recently,was significant, and not just because he’s an ex-FCO minister but because he’s the present Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament. By the way that’s the committee appointed not by parliament but by the prime minister himself, which has oversight of the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
Most media treatment of Afghanistan focuses upon military analyses of the situation on the ground, but it often misses the point, that it’s the analysis of where the greatest international risk lies which should be central to the discussion. It is highly likely that Kim has been told by ‘the spooks’ where the greatest risk lies – and that place is not Afghanistan. Maybe ‘the spooks’ are wrong, but it’s surely time for the proposition: that Afghanistan is the place of greatest risk to the safety of UK citizens was tested. This test should lead to the conclusion that we need many more intelligence folk and fewer military men speaking out about defence and terrorism on TV and Radio.
Secondly, the death of five soldiers at the hand of a British trained, Afghan policeman is far more serious than commentators or spokespeople have suggested. In today’s papers, General Jim Dutton, Deputy Commander of ISAF, says ‘this kind of thing is likely to happen again’. Yesterday, another senior officer said ‘we have to trust the uniform of the Afghan police’. If there is a repeat of this terrible incident, it’s game over for UK forces there. Operating procedures on the ground in Afghanistan will have already changed markedly as a result of this devastating breach of trust – why, exactly, should any soldier ‘trust the uniform of the Afghan police’? Would you?
New safety precautions will distance UK troops from their Afghan trainees and this will have the effect of slowing down training and undermining good work – all this against a backdrop of a huge planned increase in projected numbers to be trained – our apparent ‘exit strategy’.
I think our ‘exit strategy’ is becoming more obvious and it can not wait for a competent Afghan police force to emerge. I sense that Gordon Brown is thinking along these lines too and his speech today suggests that.