Simon Reevell MP: We must ensure we explain to the public the reasons for our continued presence in Afghanistan
Simon Reevell was elected MP for Dewsbury at this year's general election and is a former Army officer.
I support the continued deployment of our armed forces in Afghanistan but I meet people who do not. That is because of the previous Government’s continued failure to explain to the British public the reasons for our involvement.
We went into Afghanistan following the worst terrorist outrage in my lifetime, an act which killed more than 3,000 people, including 67 of our own citizens. These were people who wanted to kill in mass numbers. They wanted to kill our families – indeed, they wanted to kill our way of life. We went in because the Taliban were not interested in doing anything about it. They had overthrown the government in the mid 1990s and were ruling Afghanistan through fear, intimidation and extreme ideology.
Britain does not live in a bunker and we are vulnerable to terror. The poisonous propaganda emanating from the training camps of Afghanistan was absolutely toxic. Indeed it was so bad that it had seeped into the minds of young people as far away from Afghanistan as here in the UK, including in my constituency of Dewsbury, resulting in a young man bringing a bomb to London and blowing himself up.
Britain should be proud of the fact that the deployment of our armed forces in Afghanistan also meant the end of a regime of brutality and terror that blighted the lives of ordinary, decent Afghans. Those young men who travel to join the Afghan national army and go into combat alongside British soldiers do so because they remember the terror and oppression so vividly. Women were treated as second class citizens, unable to read, write or enjoy an education. Employment was prohibited, as was dancing and taking part in a sport. Men were told what to wear and were required to keep their beards to a certain length.
Punishment for disobeying these rules was severe. Rape, beatings and public executions were ruthlessly dished out by the “religious police” and those found guilty of adultery were stoned to death. Never let anyone tell you that Afghanistan is worse off as a result of our deployment in that country.
Because of the previous Government’s inability to get this message across to the public, however, many people make comparisons between our deployment and that of the Russians, but we are not there to conquer the Afghan people. We are not there to impose a regime. We are not there to impose an ideology. It is the Taliban who seek to occupy Afghanistan, not the British Army.
They are fighting hard in the hope that we will lose the stomach for the operation and seek an early exit – “You have the watches, we have the time.” But this underestimates two things. First, the determination of NATO forces to see the job through to the end. And second, the bravery, skill and dedication of the Afghan national army. I am privileged in that I have been able to spend a considerable amount of time with the private soldiers, NCOs, warrant officers and junior officers who have been on the front line in Afghanistan. They are committed to their country’s future in a way that is beyond contemplation. These troops speak well of the Afghan national army. They say that the real task of our training team and soldiers is to instil a sense of discipline to temper the natural courage that they have shown thus far. ANA recruits learn quite literally on the job. They arrive with a rifle and no training. That means that they are wholly inexperienced on day one, but as all their training is gained in combat conditions, they fast become battle hardened. They will increasingly step forward as NATO forces withdraw.
Now is the time for us to hold our nerve. Our soldiers have the kit that they need. They are convinced that they are doing a worthwhile job. We have a sensible and coherent strategy and we are training the Afghan national army to do what every country requires of its armed forces – namely, to protect the perimeter and ensure the safety of those who live within its borders. Until the ANA can take on their task without help and support, British troops should remain in Afghanistan.