Britain. No longer a player in the Great Game.

This week saw the death of one time US defence secretary Robert MacNamara.
He was a JFK appointee and Vietnam was the defining episode of his career.
All the reports from inside the beltway described him, in old age, as being “haunted” by his role in the USA’s first military defeat.

In the aftermath of the 911 attacks I was commissioned by John Waters for the magazine Magill to write a piece on the origins of Islamic fundamentalism.

I predicted then (October 2001) that the USA would become embroiled in an
“Islamic Vietnam”.
The piece is on this site under the “Magill” section.
I argued that the USA, hurt, wounded and panicked by the 911 attacks would blunder into Afghanistan and, on that ground, they would suffer the same fate at the soviets.

Two things I did not consider was that the Bush administration would have the suicidal folly to invade Iraq and, effectively, fight two wars simultaneously.

The second aspect I did not consider, writing as I was for an Irish magazine, was the effect on Britain.
This is Britain’s fourth afghan war.
It may well be Britain’s last.
That is Britain’s last war, rather than its last Afghan war.

In the first three Afghan wars Britain was a  world power.

It jousted through the Hindu Kush,denying the area to the Russian Czars,

It was called “the Great Game”.
As I started to write this piece the UK had lost seven solders dead in seven days.
Now today (Friday) the death toll climbs higher. Eight killed in one day.
This means one thing and one thing only.
The Taleban now control the battlefield.
The Taleban are winning and the British are losing.
Only the arrival of substantial numbers of US Marines will prevent a British defeat.
The British on the ground are poorly equipped and simply do not have enough combat troops in theatre to do the job.
The treasury on the grounds of cost vetoed a request for an extra 3,000 troops earlier this year.
I have learned that that there is a planned troop reduction before Christmas.
For the British this war is early over.
This week the MOD issued a press release stating that medics from Denmark were taking over the field hospital at Camp Bastion.
Within 12 months it is highly unlikely that there will be a sizeable British military presence in Afghanistan.
Just like in Basra a ragtag Islamic militia is running the British out of town.
Only the arrival of substantial numbers of US troops   prevented the Shia militias from claiming a victory in Basra.
So it will be Helmand province.
The US Marine Corps are larger than the entire UK land forces.
Britain can no longer cut it with the big boys-that much is evident.
Liberal democrat leader Nick Clegg said in the Commons this week that young British lives are being “wasted” in Afghanistan.
He is correct.
The British government should come clean that because of cost reasons and, perhaps, a wider malaise that Britain’s participation in the Afghanistan campaign will soon resemble that of Macedonia.
On the global war on terror the sight of the British leaving the world stage as a credible military power is, in my opinion, a significant event.
In the absence of the major European states   deploying significant resources then it is the USA and the USA only who are on the field of battle in any significant numbers.

This week, in a speech at Chatham House, the British defence secretary Bob Ainsworth gave a view of the British involvement in Afghanistan that could have been lifted from a MacNamara speech on Vietnam forty years ago.
The ex-Ford motor company man was good with graphs.
He could “prove” that the Us was winning in Indo-China.
The ex-International Marxist Group member is good with obfuscation.
The bottom line, from comrade Ainsworth, was “we’re not winning, but we will win!”
He isn’t in a ditch in Afghanistan or driving around in IED friendly golf carts.

MacNamara was, I’m sure a very moral man. He was troubled in his later years by the mistakes that lead thousands of Americans boys to their deaths in Vietnam.
I wonder if Ainsworth, who just vetoed the purchasing of extra helicopters for the troops in Afghanistan, a decision that will, inevitably lead to more deaths from IEDs, will be troubled many years from now?
He should be.

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