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'We don't want to highlight Afghanistan'

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You may be against the Afghan war now - but chances are you weren't when it started

You might argue that the UK shouldn't be in Afghanistan at all, of course. It's a viewpoint which is apparently going majority. But the fact is that almost all of us thought our government was right to invade in the first place, in the months immediately after 9/11. Al-Qaeda was operating openly in Afghanistan at the time, with formed military units, as an honoured guest of the Taliban government - and the Taliban maintained that stance after the Twin Towers fell. Not just Britain but most of the civilised world sent troops to help the US-led invasion force which seized Kabul in 2001. Opinion polls at the time suggested that the public agreed wholeheartedly with this.

So we - not just our representatives, but we ourselves, in this case - decided to oust the existing government of Afghanistan. Several years later, having (arguably foolishly) also decided to invade Iraq, we British decided to try and extend the new Kabul government's authority into the largely unvisited south of the country. We found that it was in effect still occupied by the Taliban, and since then we have been fighting a bloody war to finish the job we began in 2001. If the UK pulls out at this point, the Taliban will be able - quite correctly - to claim that they have defeated the second-richest military power on Earth in open battle. It would be almost possible, at that point, to believe that God was indeed on their side.

So let's assume that we want to finish what we started, and try to place Afghanistan under a single government which understands that it mustn't plot to blow up skyscrapers in Western cities and then afterwards in effect say "yes, we did that and we're proud of it"*. Let's assume that our generals are right when they say we should send more troops - after all, armed forces almost 180,000 strong shouldn't find it impossible to put more than 9,000 bodies into theatre.

Why aren't we doing it?

Put bluntly, money. A soldier in Afghanistan has to be bought an almost complete new set of proper equipment, up to and including armoured vehicles - the ordinary non-Afghan issue is well known to be partly rubbish and completely missing lots of important stuff. He or she has to be shipped in and out of theatre on scarce military aircraft or expensively chartered Russian ones. So do a lot of the necessary supplies, and the rest must go by vulnerable heavily-guarded road convoy through tough country. More troops doing more operations means more need for aerial reconnaissance, for airstrike support, for satellite bandwidth - which is on a pay-as-you-go basis for the British forces - medics, helicopters etc. etc. More injuries means more compensation payouts - and if injured servicemen manage to get their money increased to the sort of levels awarded in civil cases, this could become big money indeed. Modern body armour and advanced combat medicine means that large numbers of troops who would formerly have died now live - but often in truly terrible shape.

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