Why has so little been said about the Afghan casualties of the past 20 years? | Clive Lewis

[ad_1]

I can’t speak for other veterans, but I was never certain of the legitimacy of our presence in Afghanistan. I wanted to believe I was there for the right reasons, namely to help the Afghan people and deter future terror attacks. But the doubts always remained, fuelled by witnessing civilians caught up in exchanges of fire, or seeing eerie ghost towns that had been abandoned after ceaseless violence.

For those who haven’t served in the army, it’s easy to assume soldiers are obedient and unquestioning. Yet as long as combat operations directly involve humans, doubt will always be part of the equation. Questioning the moral objectives of our mission was, for me at least, a necessary precursor to participation.

In the 12 years since my service, however, those doubts have become a full-blown rejection of the stated motivations behind Operation Herrick. Hindsight is powerful, and some will think me naive or deluded for going to Afghanistan in the first place. But there is a long history of veterans seeking to make sense of wartime experiences, uncovering deeper truths they were not conscious of before.

Initially, those truths manifested themselves in the sheer scale of the human cost of the war. A total of 453 British service personnel were killed between 2001 and 2014, alongside 2,600 who were wounded, 247 of whom had limbs amputated. The number of soldiers who suffered psychological injuries is unknown and will probably remain so. And yet, according to the writer Frank Ledwidge, not a single al-Qaida operative or “international terrorist’” who could conceivably have threatened our country is recorded as having been killed by Nato forces in Helmand.

In the parliamentary debate on Afghanistan last week, many of my colleagues rightly pointed to the deaths of UK service personnel. But there was hardly any mention of the human cost to the Afghan people. Ledwidge estimates that British troops alone were responsible for the deaths of at least 500 Afghan civilians and the injury of thousands more. Overall, the war is believed to have killed almost a quarter of a million people, a third of whom were civilians.

Many MPs have rightly highlighted the impending loss of Afghan human rights at the hands of the Taliban. But where was this concern over the past two decades? What of the human rights of those killed in a 20-year US drone attack programme, where an estimated 90% of victims were innocents? How did this square with “western liberal values”?

Listening to the parliamentary debate, I was reminded of a quote from the post-colonial academic Edward Said: “Every empire tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.” The delusion that Said identified becomes even more apparent when you consider how much money has been made from the “war on terror”, of which the war in Afghanistan was a key part. Many of those who pursued this had direct links to the corporations that profited so handsomely. The Afghan war cost Britain an estimated £40bn, which pales in comparison to the US government’s $2.26tn price-tag.

These vast sums – our taxes – were paid to transnational security companies such as G4S, Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. The history of British and US foreign policy is littered with even starker examples of companies that actually lobbied for armed intervention to further corporate interests, from United Fruit’s lobbying of the US government to overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1954, to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) pressuring our own government to protect its interests in Iran, leading to the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected government. A cursory glance at history would reveal many other instances.

The war in Afghanistan was an attempt to revive a 19th-century idea of “global Britain”. It was part of an approach to international affairs – evidently still widely shared in our parliament – that has nothing to contribute to the 21st century. To make it through the turbulent times ahead, our leaders will require qualities they too often lack: patience, honesty, the willingness to build long-term coalitions. Without concerted action, the unfolding climate crisis will increase international instability. Our future will be one of failed states, food and water shortages, and forced mass migration unless we share technologies for renewable energy, write off crippling debts and support rather than suppress the development of countries we have failed to dominate. Britain, hosting Cop26 later this year, has a chance to demonstrate genuine international leadership and show how to deal with the global instability that is, in part, our historic legacy. We cannot bomb, maim and force our way out of the existential climate threat ahead.

  • Clive Lewis is the Labour MP for Norwich South

  • The fall of Afghanistan: join a Guardian Live online event with our journalists Emma Graham-Harrison, Peter Beaumont and Julian Borger analysing the latest developments. Monday 6 September at 7pm BST. Book your tickets here. All profits will be donated to relevant charities



[ad_2]

Source link

Leave a Comment