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THE omissions and distortions that have been made by politicians about Afghanistan over the last few weeks, echoed by much of the media, have been so big and unremitting it’s easy to start questioning one’s own grip on reality.
Why are the media giving so much airtime to the politicians and senior military figures responsible for the carnage in Afghanistan?
Why is no-one pointing out it was the violent Western occupation of the country that fuelled the rise of the Taliban-led resistance?
Or that the West worked closely with warlords and human rights abusing militias? That the West backed the “worst crazies” among the mojahedin forces in the ’80s?
A recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions political debate programme raised the propaganda and dishonesty to stratastrophic levels.
Asked by an audience member if the war in Afghanistan has been a failure, James Heappey, the minister for the armed forces who served in Helmand himself, replied: “In the 20 years that have followed [the September 11 2001 attacks] there have been no international terrorism attacks from Afghanistan into the West, and in that sense it was successful … on the macro level, no international terrorism. That’s success.”
No-one, not BBC presenter Chris Mason, the other three guests or any of the audience said anything in response to this disingenuous BS.
Frustratingly, fellow panellist Diane Abbott MP, who boldly opposed Britain’s participation in the war in Parliament in 2001, made a similar argument herself: “If you are going to look at it in narrow security terms, you can point to some success. Osama Bin Laden was found and killed and so on.” Note: Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
Presumably on a list of talking points given to Tories appearing in the media, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the same point as Heappey in his “address to the nation” on August 29: “To the families and loved ones of those British troops who gave their all, your suffering and your hardship were not in vain. It was no accident that there has been no terrorist attack launched against Britain or any other Western country from Afghanistan in the last 20 years.”
There are several obvious flaws in this astonishingly deceitful claim.
First, terrorist attacks have taken place in Britain and the US that have been inspired by the US-British invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
In his martydom video Shehzad Tanweer, one of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London on July 7 2005, said: “What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.”
Michael Adebolajo was clear why he killed British soldier Lee Rigby in London in 2013, telling a woman who spoke to him: “I killed him because he kills Muslims over there and I am fed up that people kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
And, according to the Huffington Post, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the perpetrators of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, “told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack.”
Second, it is widely understood by intelligence agencies and experts that the West’s military intervention in Afghanistan led to a heightened terrorist threat to the West.
In 2004 Britain’s Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office co-published a report titled Young Muslims and Extremism.
The study concluded that a major driver of “extremism” among young British Muslims was “a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of Western governments … in particular Britain and the US.”
The study elaborated: “The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.”
After prime minister David Cameron claimed in 2010 that British troops in Afghanistan made people “safe and secure back home in the UK,” Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter-terrorism operations at MI6, was scathing: “I’ve never heard such nonsense … I’m quite sure if there were no foreign troops in Afghanistan, there’d be less agitation in Leeds, or wherever, about … what Western intentions are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The Establishment Chatham House think tank came to a similar conclusion, noting in a briefing published just after July 7: “The UK is at particular risk [from al-Qaida terrorist attacks] because it is the closest ally of the United States” and “has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and in Iraq … riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.”
The final problem with the government’s claim that the war stopped terrorism on the West from Afghanistan is that it’s based on a simplistic understanding of the September 11 2001 terror attacks — that it was necessary for terrorists to “have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilised nations,” as president George W Bush explained in 2006.
In reality we know that September 11 was “conceived and initially planned in Germany, that the training was carried out in the US and that most of the hijackers were Saudi,” as Frank Ledwidge explained in his 2013 book Investment In Blood: The Trust Cost Of Britain’s Afghan War.
July 7, the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing and London Bridge attacks — none of the perpetrators of these atrocities required a “safe haven” to deliver death and destruction in Britain.
Indeed, as foreign policy analyst Micah Zenko argued in his 2015 article The Myth of the Terrorist Safe Haven, “Americans, themselves, have been responsible for 50 per cent of plots and attacks against the United States since 9/11, followed by Brits at 21 per cent.”
“If anywhere is a safe haven for terrorism against the United States, it is America.” Ditto Britain.
In addition, Western military action in so-called safe havens increases terrorist attacks on Western forces in these countries.
Zenko again: “According to the State Department and Global Terrorism Database, of the 335 Americans who have died from terrorism since 9/11, 268, or 80 per cent, died within Iraq or Afghanistan — the very places where the United States started wars to prevent or destroy safe havens.”
The government’s focus on the impact of the British war in Afghanistan on terrorism in the West serves a broader purpose: obscuring the real reason for Britain’s intervention.
Ledwidge explains: Britain was involved so heavily in Afghanistan (and Iraq) because of “the perceived necessity of retaining the closest possible links with the US.”
This, he notes, “is accepted in private by most politicians and senior soldiers.”
After his staff interviewed over 600 people with first-hand experience of the war, the head of the US government’s Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told the Washington Post: “The American people have constantly been lied to” for 20 years.
The Post’s impressive December 2019 reporting of the $11 million Lessons Learned project was covered by the British media, but has been quickly forgotten, and hasn’t framed the subsequent political debate and media coverage of the conflict.
There has, in short, been no national reckoning in Britain about the Afghan war, no public inquiry. The families and loved ones of the 457 members of the British armed forces who were killed in Afghanistan, and the thousands of civilians who died at the hands of the British military, deserve the to hear the truth.
Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.
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