I was disappointed to not be selected to speak in the debate on Afghanistan today. I served there in 2009, and do not for one moment believe this makes me an expert on that country. But it does – like others who’ve worked or served there – give a perspective I had hoped the House might find useful in deliberations.
I have intense pride in the good and decent men and women I served with, both British and Afghan. Many of them paid physically and mentally for their efforts on our behalf. And of-course others – too many – never returned home at all.
Unlike some that spoke in the debate today I was never certain of the legitimacy of our presence in Afghanistan. I wanted to believe I was there for the right reasons – but it’s hard to convince yourself of that cause when you witness first-hand the human toll of your presence.
Like the 15 year-old Afghan boy and his father I met seeking medical treatment. The teenager, a bloodied stump where his foot should have been, accidentally shot-off by NATO forces. Although his was but one story amongst millions, for me he and his father’s pain and anguish are etched into my memory. A vivid, human face of the suffering of so many.
And yet he was lucky, if such an injury can ever be described as such. According to Brown University, a quarter of a million people have died as a direct result of the last twenty years of war in Afghanistan.
But our failure doesn’t end there. I remember telling myself before deploying that I was going to help rebuild Afghanistan and in so doing help its people. And yet Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
It has the second highest level of emergency food insecurity in the world. 40% of the population are without a job and almost 70% live below the poverty line.
So here we find ourselves: hundreds of thousands dead, a brutal Taliban regime and its ideology again in control, a broken country on the brink of starvation and a refugee crisis that will destabilise the entire region yet further.
We can wrap that harsh reality up however we wish; tell ourselves it was the right thing to do – like we told ourselves in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and countless other military interventions.
Or we can face the honest truth that we must find new and better ways of solving the world’s geo-political problems. With the climate crisis upon us and the instability it will cause, failure to do so will be a terminal error.
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