Sunday Times – 4 August 2013
Having veered from doing far too much to doing far too little, British strategy in Afghanistan seems to be getting on track just as we prepare to end combat operations ("Army fights secret war in Helmand", News, last week). Philip Hammond’s deployment of a strike force from Camp Bastion into Sangin for a limited but decisive period is precisely the approach that should have been adopted several years ago, and is founded on the use of one or more strategic military bases.
By waging an infantry-intensive, boots-on-the-ground war all over Afghanistan, we laid our troops open to unacceptable rates of attrition. Yet, by announcing in 2010 that British combat operations would finish before 2015, we sent a signal to the Taliban that patience alone would yield them victory.
If Afghanistan is not to revert to extremist control, with safe havens again offered to al-Qaeda, the West must retain strategic bases from which military sanctions can selectively be applied. The retention and use of these bases by America, if not by the UK, would minimise Western casualties while maximising pressure on the Taliban to compromise politically once they realise total victory will not be theirs.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Conservative Defence Spokesman, 2002–10
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA