Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Minister David Miliband have reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to keeping troops in Afghanistan. But in the face of one of the bloodiest weeks for our Armed Forces in recent memory, LEANNE WOOD AM argues it’s now time to pull out of the war-torn country...
I THINK we need to rewind a bit and remember the reasons we were given for going in to Afghanistan in the first place. People will remember that it was about Osama Bin Laden, who was supposed to be hiding there. At some point, the reasons changed. It became an issue about regime change. It was the same for the case given for the invasion of Iraq. It was originally about weapons of mass destruction, and the threat of Saddam bombing “British interests” in 45 minutes. The reason then switched to regime change. Saddam Hussein had to go, and we hear the same about Taliban. Both were terrible regimes but is it really our government’s place to decide what regimes people in other countries should live under?
I heard a top military officer on the radio recently saying they had reached a stalemate in Afghanistan, so will putting more troops in take them beyond stalemate? What is progress? How is success going to be defined in Afghanistan? How many more people have to lose their lives before the “coalition” concedes that enough is enough? Are UK troops going to be in Afghanistan for years?
I joined the anti-war movement at an early stage and, while Afghanistan was always part of the debate, Iraq was the main focus. But now, of course, Afghanistan is where the blood is being shed.
I understand that more heroin has been coming out of Afghanistan since the conflict began and that is a serious problem. Efforts have gone into controlling that in recent years but how can occupying forces and war help? With the economy in ruins, people will be desperate to make money, and if opium farmers can make more money growing poppies than by other means, they’ll inevitably opt for poppy growing.
Meanwhile, the number of soldiers getting killed there now is increasing. Is this going to turn into another Vietnam scenario? As well as the lives lost, there are many other casualties. I know of families, in the Valleys for example, where young people have come back from Afghanistan with post traumatic stress disorder. We need to be talking about making sure that our young people are properly cared for. Apart from the deaths, which leave unimaginable pain for the families, there are also other consequences of war which are less talked about, particularly on the mental health side, but also physical injuries.
The Westminster government should now accept the situation is unlikely to move beyond stalemate. They should cut their losses and pull all of the troops out of there. They should instead be putting their resources into making sure troops who have fought are properly looked after on their return. There are questions to be asked about compensation for injured troops, about what benefits they are entitled to, whether they can get work, what their pensions are worth. I’m sure many people would be shocked to hear the answers to some of those questions.
A common response for anyone unable to get help while suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or other mental health problems is to self-medicate by taking illegal drugs. That can all too easily lead to a cycle of shoplifting, for example, to get enough money for more drugs, and of course it isn’t long before someone who should have been helped has ended up in the prison system.
If we really cared about people and their welfare, then shouldn’t we be putting the vast resources being spent on keeping troops and arms in Afghanistan into the welfare of the people the Government of the UK has responsibility for?