After 12 visits to Afghanistan in five years, Telegraph defense correspondent Thomas Harding is trying really, really hard to be positive about NATO, and, particularly, British gains. Now, Harding writes, after decade of Western blood and treausre, Afghan farmers know how to trellis their grape vines so the fruit doesn't moulder on the ground -- bringing the state of Afghan agriculture up to 5th-century-BC Minoan standards! The Afghan local police is taking shape, he writes. "Young, jobless men are given a little training and ordered to guard their area against the Taliban." Ah, sweet security.
Nice try. Now for the nitty gritty:
So, what will be Nato’s legacy? The police, on whom security will largely depend, are not the most trustworthy bunch. One police station had to be disbanded after officers robbed and murdered the owner of a new Shogun car carrying £1,500 in cash. At another station I visited with an Army officer, the reception from the commander was cordial at best. “He’s probably in the pay of the Taliban,” the officer quietly told me. “We just don’t tell him much at a tactical level.”
But for all that, the Army can leave Helmand with its head held high. When it has been given the right number of troops and helicopters it has been able to do the job. It has learnt much about modern counter insurgency – using the soft power of governance, local consent and finding out what the population really want.
Of course, the Army can leave with its head held high. It has performed well as have all NATO forces. It's the leadership, civilian and military, that must be pressed to acknowledge the arrogance and waste of their ideological blindness to cultural differences, to fact-based logic -- to the impossibility of the mission they inflicted on our (infidel) forces to win their (Islamic) hearts and minds. It's simple: Western ways and sharia-based culture don't mix.
Furthermore, the British soldier has been shown to be as doughty and dependable as ever – though the danger now is for standards to slip when the end is in sight.
What standards does he mean?
“Two years of good work could be lost by a few indiscriminate live rounds,” said Major Rob Hadderwick, of the Black Watch, in the now tamed Nad-e-Ali south area. “The question soldiers have to ask is 'what’s in the background’. They have to understand whether the death of one Taliban is worth the damage to security and is too high a cost. People also hear a firefight and lose their faith in security and their belief that the government of Afghanistan is providing stability.”
So let's pretend...?
The gunners have even stopped firing 105mm illumination rounds because the noise upsets the locals at night.
But in central Helmand, where the Taliban is still strong in pockets, fighting can be intense. One platoon from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment saw 21 contacts with the enemy in 27 days. Death and serious injury remain an occupational hazard. There is also the question of what happens to the Army. By 2015, it will have been on operations for a dozen years with little time to think of much else. One soldier in five will return home to jobs that no longer exist. Others will find allowances have been cut and pensions weakened. So, has it been worthwhile?
It is too early to tell. True, the experience of battle has left the Army functioning as well as at any time in the past 60 years. But will it make a lasting difference to Afghanistan after the foreign troops have gone? The fear is that long after they have re-entered civilian life, veterans of this conflict will be left wondering what it was all for.