An extra 1,000 British troops and more equipment will be deployed to Afghanistan in the next few months for a major new offensive against the Taliban, according to a newspaper report.
If this is confirmed by defence secretary Des Browne, then we will be spending an additional £250 million on our presence in a country that is becoming increasingly volatile.
It is reported that the extra deployment was only approved by Cabinet after a long and intense discussion. Little wonder, coming as it does so soon after Tony Blair announced the long-awaited phased withdrawal from Iraq – there are those who will claim that this is smacks of moving our armed forces out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Senior military figures have privately stated that with a stronger presence the battle for “hearts and minds” would be easier to win in Afghanistan than has proved the case in Iraq. However, the history of Afghanistan – both recently and historically – suggests otherwise and there is growing concern that as the Taliban increases its strength the situation in that country will spiral into a more chaotic mess than currently seen in Iraq.
Certainly Taliban attacks on Nato-led forces, particularly in Helmand province where the British troops are currently based and patrolling, have intensified and the need to bolster our forces has been evident for some time.
It does appear that although we are now starting to ease out of Iraq, we are getting more embroiled in the unpredictable and – some claim – unfathomable conundrum that is Afghanistan. Throw in the not inconsiderable factors of opium production – which remains a mainstay of the Afghan economy – and the historic border dispute that forever rumbles on between Afghanistan and Pakistan and what is already a difficult situation gets even more complicated.
The focus for the time being at least remains on Iraq, however, President George W Bush’s administration last week approved an additional $5.4bn to bolster US activity in Afghanistan pointing to the fact that it recognises the need to increase activity. Also, Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned this week after his coalition government failed to back his plans to retain his country’s military presence in Afghanistan amid concern about the worsening situation on the ground.
Fighting a war on two fronts has never been a recipe for military success. But it is increasingly likely that Iraq and Afghanistan will form two equally volatile and murderous front-lines with no straight-forward solution to either.