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It’s emerged that Britain’s commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan has now cost a mind-boggling £13 billion. But although David Nicholl is opposed to one of those conflicts, he argues we must stay and finish the job in the other.

More than 2/3 of Britons think UK troops should withdraw from Afghanistan within a year according to a recent poll.

President Elect Obama has promised a withdrawal from Iraq and an expansion in Afghanistan.

I happen to think the British public are wrong on this one, and Obama is right.

Don’t get me wrong, I always thought that the invasion of Iraq was wrong - I marched in London in 2003 as it was crystal clear to me, as it was to almost 2 million others, that the evidence for war then was tenuous at best.

However, it is equally true that withdrawal from Afghanistan now would be as disastrous as the invasion of Iraq was in 2003.

The fact of the matter is, Afghanistan has always been a failed state, but we as occupiers have a responsibility to not cut and run and leave it to fail again.

We (or rather the US) were quite happy to support the Taliban in overthrowing the Soviets in 1979, and then walk away.

Anyone who saw the recent remarkable BBC documentary to commemorate the deaths of the 300 British troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan could not be failed to be moved by those who have paid the ultimate price. Put simply how many more coffins will be flown back to Brize Norton?

However, exactly the same arguments were made with respect to Northern Ireland and the ‘Troubles’- a conflict which resulted in the deaths of hundreds and which many wondered why the Troops were there.

There were many controversies over the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland then, as there are now in Afghanistan.

The reality in Northern Ireland was that if the troops had left, the ‘Troubles’ would have degenerated into outright civil war, but it took decades for that conflict to begin to be resolved.

The situation in Afghanistan is infinitely more complex than Northern Ireland, but we need to face up to the reality that Afghanistan will need a lengthy and prolonged commitment by our military.

Inevitably that will mean many more dead and injured personnel.

We need a government that is honest with the length of commitment that will be required and no more of the niave statements such as that of John Reid who said in 2006 “We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction”.

If we are going to help Afghanistan that may mean more troops, but also significantly less indiscriminate civilian deaths from drone aircraft which have resulted in literally hundreds of deaths.

The conflict in Northern Ireland was not resolved with the use of force, and neither will the conflict in Afghanistan. In both situations a truly long term commitment is essential however.

Are we prepared for such a sacrifice or will we bottle it?



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