Friday, July 10, 2009

Nine Dead In Nine Days

Two more UK troops have died in separate attacks in Afghanistan. That means nine soldiers have been killed in as many days. Since the fighting in Afghanistan began back in 2001, a total of 178 UK troops have now been killed, just one fewer than the number of fatalities during the operation in Iraq.

People die in wars, especially during offensives such as the one currently taking place in Afghanistan. But this latest increase in British casualties confirms that, although things aren't necessarily going badly, the mission is not going as well as the commanders and politicians want.

There are at least two main reasons for this. One is a question of resources. Britain had been fighting the Taliban alone in the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, Helmand Province. But the lack of resources available to the UK military these days means they haven't been able to take and hold territory in the traditional way. So any victory over the Taliban in battle, and any casualties suffered in the process, have not been for very much gain, because the British have had to return to their barracks. Now, with an extra American military focus on Helmand Province, that might change, and this will be the key thing to watch in Afghanistan in the next few months.

Then there's the question of how local Afghan people react to the foreign forces in their country. There aren't all that many reasons why they should be any more thrilled to welcome the NATO troops than they were to embrace the Taliban in the mid-90s or the Russians in the 80s. They know that the British, the Americans and the rest will one day leave, and will doubt whether they have the long term interests of the Afghan people really at heart. Don't forget this is the fourth war Britain has fought in Afghanistan in the last 180 years. It's nowhere near finished, either.

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