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Should the debate be more than just about equipment?

July 11th, 2009

Will Afghanistan always repel invaders?

I vividly remember one December Saturday morning thirty years ago listening to a Today programme discussion after the old USSR had invaded and sought to occupy Afghanistan. One studio “expert” argued that Moscow’s action was doomed to failure because invaders to the country always ended up as losers.

He was proved right. Before their withdrawal nine years later 620,000 Soviet soldiers served in the country with a death toll of 14,453. On top of that there were 469,685 sick and wounded.

In addition, according to Wikipedia, the Soviets lost 118 aircraft, 333 helicopters, 147 tanks, 433 artillery guns and mortars, 1,138 radio sets and command vehicles, 510 engineering vehicles, and 11,369 trucks and petrol tankers.

Fast forward to today and on a dreadful morning for the British army should Westminster be asking the same question – is withdrawal becoming an attractive option? Is there an achievable objective that justifies the ongoing commitment?

Withdrawal would be a hugely bitter pill to swallow given the bravery of the British troops so far and the sacrifices that have been made but is there a realistic prospect of something that can be termed victory?

The current debate is all about the equipment that is supplied to the troops – not whether we should be there at all. But has the time come to look at the latter?

I don’t feel qualified to have a view but the debate thus far has not been illuminating. Would more resources and better equipment help with the overall goal – or were the words of the “expert” 30 years ago correct?

It might be recalled that the failure of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s was a key factor in the break-up of the Soviet Union. Are there any lessons from history here for the UK and Mr Brown?

Mike Smithson