Tag Archives: Frank Ledwidge

Tell Me Lies About Afghanistan

Tell Me Lies About Afghanistan
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
15 September 2021

The omissions and distortions that have been made by politicians about Afghanistan over the last few weeks, echoed by much of the media, have been so big and unremitting it’s easy to start questioning one’s own grip on reality. Why are the media giving so much airtime to the politicians and senior military figures responsible for the carnage in Afghanistan? Why is no one pointing out it was the violent Western occupation of the country that fuelled the rise of the Taliban-led resistance? Or that the West worked closely with warlords and human rights abusing militias? That the West backed the “worst crazies” amongst the Mujahideen forces in the 80s?

A recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions political debate programme raised the propaganda and dishonesty to stratastrophic levels.

Asked by an audience member if the war in Afghanistan has been a failure, James Heappey, the Minister for the Armed Forces who served in Helmand himself, replied “In the 20 years that have followed [the 9/11 attacks] there have been no international terrorism attacks from Afghanistan into the West, and in that sense it was successful… on the macro level, no international terrorism. That’s success.”

No one, not BBC presenter Chris Mason, the other three guests or any of the audience said anything in response to this disingenuous BS. Frustratingly, fellow panellist Diane Abbott MP, who boldly opposed the UK participation in parliament in 2001, made a similar argument herself:  “If you are going to look at it in narrow security terms, you can point to some success. Osama bin Laden was found and killed and so on”. Note: Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

Presumably on a list of talking points given to Tory appearing in the media, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the same point as Heappey in his “address to the nation” on 29 August: “To the families and loved ones of those British troops who gave their all, your suffering and your hardship were not in vain. It was no accident that there has been no terrorist attack launched against Britain or any other Western country from Afghanistan in the last 20 years.”

There are several obvious flaws in this astonishingly deceitful claim.

First, terrorist attacks have taken place in the UK and US that have been inspired by the US-UK invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

In his martydom video Shehzad Tanweer, one of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London on 7 July 2005, said “What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel”.

Michael Adebolajo was clear why he killed British soldier Lee Rigby in London in 2013, telling a woman who spoke to him: “I killed him because he kills Muslims over there and I am fed up that people kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And according to the Huffington Post, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the perpetrators of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, “told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack”.

Second, it is widely understood by intelligence agencies and experts that the West’s military intervention in Afghanistan led to a heightened terrorist threat to the West.

In 2004 the UK’s Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office co-published a report titled Young Muslims and Extremism. The study concluded that a major driver of “extremism” among young British Muslims was “a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments… in particular Britain and the US”. The study elaborated: “the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam”.

After Prime Minister David Cameron claimed in 2010 that British troops in Afghanistan made people “safe and secure back home in the UK”, Richard Barrett, a former Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations at MI6, was scathing: “I’ve never heard such nonsense… I’m quite sure if there were no foreign troops in Afghanistan, there’d be less agitation in Leeds, or wherever, about… what Western intentions are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The establishment Chatham House thinktank came to a similar conclusion, noting in a briefing published just after 7/7 “The UK is at particular risk [from al Qaeda terrorist attacks] because it is the closest ally of the United States” and “has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns to topple the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and in Iraq… riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.”

The final problem with the government’s claim that the war stopped terrorism on the West from Afghanistan is that it’s based on a simplistic understanding of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks – that it was necessary for terrorists to “have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations”, as President George Bush explained in 2006.

In reality we know 9/11 was “conceived and initially planned in Germany, that the training was carried out in the US and that most of the hijackers were Saudi”, as Frank Ledwidge explained in his 2013 book Investment In Blood: The Trust Cost Of Britain’s Afghan War. 7/7, the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing and London Bridge attacks – none of the perpetrators of these atrocities required a “safe haven” to deliver death and destruction in the UK.

Indeed, as foreign policy analyst Micah Zenko argued in his 2015 article The Myth of the Terrorist Safe Haven, “Americans, themselves, have been responsible for 50 percent of plots and attacks against the United States since 9/11, followed by Brits at 21 percent.”

“If anywhere is a safe haven for terrorism against the United States, it is America.” Ditto the UK.

In addition, Western military action in so-called safe havens increases terrorist attacks on Western forces in these countries. Zenko again: “According to the State Department and Global Terrorism Database, of the 335 Americans who have died from terrorism since 9/11, 268, or 80 percent, died within Iraq or Afghanistan — the very places where the United States started wars to prevent or destroy safe havens.”

The government’s focus on the impact of the British war in Afghanistan on terrorism in the West serves a broader purpose: obscuring the real reason for the UK intervention. Ledwidge explains: the UK was involved so heavily in Afghanistan (and Iraq) because of “the perceived necessity of retaining the closest possible links with the US.” This, he notes, “is accepted in private by most politicians and senior soldiers.”

After his staff interviewed over 600 people with firsthand experience of the war, the head of the US government’s Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told the Washington Post “the American people have constantly been lied to” for 20 years.

The Post’s impressive December 2019 reporting of the $11 million Lessons Learned project was covered by the UK media, but has been quickly forgotten, and hasn’t framed the subsequent political debate and media coverage of the conflict. There has, in short, been no national reckoning in the UK about the Afghan war, no public inquiry. The families and loved ones of the 457 members of the British armed forces who were killed in Afghanistan, and the thousands of civilians who died at the hands of the British military, deserve the to hear the truth.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Book review: Investment in Blood. The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War

Book review: Investment in Blood. The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War by Frank Ledwidge
by Ian Sinclair

Visiting Afghanistan in December last year David Cameron proclaimed “our troops can leave with their heads held high over a job very well done.”

A damning indictment of the British occupation of Afghanistan, Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War shows up the Prime Minister’s statement for the propaganda it is. The book is all the more powerful for being written by Frank Ledwidge, a former Naval reserve military intelligence officer who served on the frontline in Iraq and as a civilian advisor in Helmand and Libya.

Systematically analysing the 13-year deployment, Ledwidge sets out the human casualties and financial costs to Britain. He conservatively estimates Britain has spent £37 billion on the war, which has led to 447 dead soldiers and more than 2,600 wounded.

“The army was fond of telling itself and the media that it was in Helmand to ‘protect the people’”, notes Ledwidge. “Yet at no point were any efforts made to enumerate the casualties that the British and other armies caused among the non-combatants.” Considering this callous disinterest, commendably Ledwidge tries to calculate the number of civilian deaths caused by the British. His figure of 542 dead Afghan non-combatants – likely a huge underestimate, he admits – is disturbing, although unsurprising when you consider the testimony from a journalist embedded with UK forces in 2007: “I saw at least a dozen compounds flattened and no one was checking for civilians before they dropped bombs.”

Frustratingly, Ledwidge makes no attempt to count the number of Taliban insurgents British forces have killed. This is not an unimportant point when one considers the scale of the slaughter likely undertaken when British forces ‘mow the lawn’ – clear areas occupied by the Taliban, only to find they would need to be cleared again a few months later. Ledwidge gives a simple explanation for this Sisyphean task: the Taliban that returned “were, in fact, local farmers and they had nowhere else to go; they were defending their homes against foreigners.”

The result of this war of attrition has been to destabilise most of Helmand province and increase the terror threat to the UK mainland, according to Ledwidge. He sardonically explains that the UK has stabilised three of fourteen districts in Helmand – just one of 34 provinces in Afghanistan. “In terms of overall political significance, this might be the equivalent of three large market towns in rural Lincolnshire.”

Disturbing facts abound: US forces spend $20 billion a year on air-conditioning alone in Afghanistan. A 2010 poll found just eight percent of Helmandis had heard of 9/11. Not one Al Qaeda operative capable of threatening the UK has been recorded as having been killed in Helmand.

A devastatingly important book, Investment in Blood puts the mainstream media, which has manifestly failed to inform the public what has been done in their name, to shame. With the political and military establishment increasingly concerned about their ability to sell an aggressive foreign policy, Ledwidge’s thorough analysis can only add to the general public’s growing opposition to overseas wars.

Investment in Blood. The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War by Frank Ledwidge is published by Yale University Press, priced £18.99.