The Times – 20 September 2012
When insurgencies are settled by negotiation, the nature of the settlement depends upon the combatants’ bargaining power. That is why, in the years up to the last general election, the Conservative Shadow Defence Ministers – including me – strongly opposed naming an arbitrary withdrawal date from Afghanistan before a settlement had been negotiated.
We feared that such an announcement would remove any incentive to the Taliban to reach a deal and would encourage them either to wait patiently for NATO forces to leave or – more probably – to redouble their attacks on our troops in order subsequently to claim to have driven them out of the country.
Nevertheless, one of the earliest acts of the Coalition Government in 2010 was to announce the ending of UK combat operation before 2015. This has led to predictable military consequences ("A handover that looks like a retreat", Commentary, and reports, 19 September).
If we are serious about negotiating a deal to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for international terrorists, we need a strategy no longer based on ‘war down amongst the people’ followed by total withdrawal, as is currently proposed. Instead, it should be made clear to the Taliban that one or more strategic bases will be maintained in the region, from which military sanctions can be imposed at the first signs of Al Qaeda or similar groups reappearing in the country.
It is unfortunate that, while the wisdom of a strategic basing policy is gaining ground in the United States, current UK thinking remains committed to a costly approach which offers no reliable basis for an adequate political settlement.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Visiting Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Defence Studies
King’s College London