A Review of the 12 Years of British Troops in Afghanistan


The twelve years of the British forces in Afghanistan present a vivid picture of the loss of precious lives and trillions of pounds, while every passing day enriches this picture with even more colour.


The United Kingdom was the greatest ally of the US in the war it announced on October 7, 2001, against Afghanistan. Just as the then American President, George Bush Junior, had been declaring war against Afghanistan, live on air through all the TV channels of the US, The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was seen addressing the nation and vowing to take part in the said war. The UK has spent around £37 billion since the beginning of the war, and 134,780 British soldiers have been on service in Afghanistan since 2001, while a total of 444 have been killed. In addition, the UK has been giving an annual aid of £178 million to Afghanistan.

The Gallup survey reported that 65% of the British were in favour of the invasion of Afghanistan. As a result of this agreement, the British troops were by the side of the American ones since day one in Afghanistan, and in November 2001, the two armies captured the city of Herat in a joint venture. Among the international armies deployed in Afghanistan, the British army was the second largest in number, next only to the American forces. Around 9,000 British soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan at present, while during the twelve year period, a total of 134,780 have served in Afghanistan. The British army in Afghanistan has spent £37 billion so far, out of which £2.6 were allocated for the annual expenses of military operations. If we divide these expenses by the strength of the troops, £288,889 is annually spent on every British soldier in Afghanistan. The daily expenditure of the British army in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, in 2006, was estimated around £15 million.

After the announcement of the evacuation from Afghanistan, 625 vehicles belonging to the British forces have gone back so far, a number that is due to increase to around 3000 by the completion of the evacuation in 2014. In Helmand, the total number of military posts has been reduced from an original 137 to around 13. The total evacuation of British troops from Afghanistan will cost around £300 million.

In the ongoing war against terrorism in Afghanistan, British forces have lost 444 soldiers. It is to be noted that during the period from 2001 to March 2006, only five British soldiers had been killed; but they had to encounter extreme resistance when deployed in Helmand – the stronghold of Taliban. Out of the 444 total soldiers to be killed, 401 were killed while fighting, whereas the remaining 43 died as a result of different accidents and medical reasons in Afghanistan. The deceased include three female soldiers as well. 6683 wounded soldiers were flown out of Afghanistan by the air force due to the severity of their injuries. Moreover, an annual rise is observed in the suicide attempts of the British soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. According to latest reports, during the year 2012, the British soldiers taking their own lives have outnumbered those killed by Taliban. According to BBC Panorama, 40 soldiers were killed while fighting in Afghanistan last year, while 21 committed suicide while on service in Afghanistan, and another 29 to have committed suicide were former soldiers who had previously served in Afghanistan. According to a report by the British Ministry of Defence, 11,000 soldiers have so far been diagnosed with different forms of mental illnesses, and a large number of those who committed suicide had been suffering from these issues.

The British presence in Afghanistan is incomplete without Prince Harry. Prince Harry has twice been deployed in Afghanistan, but his service has basically been an exhibitional one, only aimed at raising the morale of the British citizens. Although the photographs of 28 year old prince Harry, also known as Captain Wales, flying Apache helicopters, have been adorning the media; he has failed to take a practical part in any important mission or patrol on the ground.

The British troops in Afghanistan have badly failed; the residents of the Helmand province, instead of regarding them as their benefactors, view them as their cruel oppressors; while the British majors in Afghanistan are seen admitting the fact that their supremacy is only established within 500 meters of their military base. A major reason for this failure is the unduly large senior hierarchy and bureaucracy. Currently, the number of generals in the British Army exceeds the number of helicopters and operational tanks, while that of admirals in the Royal Navy exceeds the total number of ships. Similarly, the number of senior officers in the Royal Air Force is far more than that of Apache attack helicopters. The American Army, though much larger than the British one, has only 302 officers of the rank of general, while the British Army has 255. In a striking contrast, the Israeli forces, with an approximate strength of 170,000, almost equal to the British forces, have only one Lieutenant General, 12 Major Generals and 35 Brigadier Generals; while Helmand alone, where the strength of the deployed British troops approximates to 9000, has four Major Generals and 10 Brigadier Generals. In spite of the abundance of senior officers in the British troops, an acute lack of planning, strategic thinking or future-oriented agenda can be seen. An instance of this came to the surface when the British soldiers had to go 100 miles in the enemy territory, in order to transport the only large electric turbine to the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River, for the purpose of providing electricity to southern Helmand. 4000 British soldiers worked night and day to accomplish this task, but the turbine could never be put to function; due to the absence of transmission cables from the dam to southern Helmand, as well as skilled local operators to run the whole system. According to military analysts, another major reason of this failure is the permission to go back home every six months, which adversely affects the continuity and smooth flow of work.

The 12 years of the British troops in Afghanistan present a vivid picture of the loss of precious lives and trillions of pounds, while every passing day enriches this picture with even more colour. Ultimately, the year 2014 will witness the second evacuation of the UK from Afghanistan, having again failed to accomplish its desired aims and goals.

(This Article is the Translation of Urdu Opinion of the author)

is graduate from UET, Lahore, with keen interest in Conflicts in South Asia. He tweets @_AnasAbdullah

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