We entered Afghanistan to protect the British people

Letter published in The Sunday Telegraph, 2 November 2014. © Richard Kemp

General Lord Dannatt (“We are giving the Afghan people a chance at a better life”) says that we deployed British forces to Afghanistan to help the Afghans “get a life after two decades of bloody civil war”. That was not our purpose and would not have been a legitimate reason to send British forces to fight and die.

There was only one reason for this intervention alongside our American allies. Following 9/11, the world’s worst terrorist atrocity, in which more British citizens died than in any previous attack, the
objective was to throw out or destroy al-­Qaeda and to prevent the country from again becoming a base that international jihadists could use to attack the West.

The lack of clarity by generals and politicians on this singular objective was conditioned largely by a politically correct denial of the true purpose of military action in Afghanistan. It is summed up in
the words of John Reid, defence secretary at the time of the British deployment to Helmand 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.”

Lord Dannatt concludes that the 13-­year campaign has been worth it. I agree with him, but not because I believe, as he does, that we have given the Afghan people the chance to lead a better life. Though at great cost in British, American and Afghan blood, we have achieved our objective in Afghanistan by killing and capturing large numbers of jihadists, many of whom would eventually have turned their attention to the West. As the previous director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, made clear, British military action in Helmand has helped safeguard civilians at home.

Whether Afghanistan continues to resist international jihadists depends on the extent of continued Nato support to Afghanistan’s forces, which are not up to the job on their own.