The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Our resolve in action

November 15, 2005

The success of a free Afghanistan is our fight. The war on terror is our fight. All of us are called to share the blessings of liberty, and to be strong and steady in freedom’s defense. It will surely be said of our times that we lived with great challenges. Let it also be said of our times that we understood our great duties, and met them in full.

– George W. Bush, March 2004.

UK tries to form coalition to fight in Afghanistan
British troops to target al-Qaida, Taliban and fill gap left by US withdrawal

Simon Tisdall and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Tuesday November 15, 2005

It may be true that the British are better at counter-insurgency warfare, but that doesn’t change the hollowness of Bush’s words.

Britain is attempting to build a coalition to pursue counter-insurgency combat operations against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan after the withdrawal by the Bush administration of 4,000 US troops early next year….

Despite US pressure, France, Germany, Spain and Italy have refused to expand the mandate for their peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan to include “war on terror” combat operations. But their reluctance and the increased pressure on British forces is causing concern among MPs.

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: “Nato runs the risk of embarrassment if it cannot find sufficient troops of good quality for the mission. The government has claimed that everything will be all right on the night … this seems optimistic.”

The Ministry of Defence said yesterday the aim of the mission “would be to help restore Afghanistan as a secure state and prevent it again becoming a haven for terrorists”. In a Commons statement, Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, said “no final decisions … had yet been made. But it was “sensible to begin British preparations for potential deployment”.

Britain is also planning to send up to 2,000 additional troops to Kabul to bolster the Isaf peacekeeping operation, of which it will take command next spring. The deployments will raise British troops in Afghanistan to more than 4,000 compared with 8,500 in south-east Iraq.

The US will remove most of its troops in the south early next year and reduce troop levels in line with reductions in Iraq. The British troop build-up is expected to start in the new year.

Violence across Afghanistan has escalated in recent months despite US claims that democracy is taking root. Up to 1,500 people have been killed this year.

Iraq has given us a twofer. The US now suffers from political overextension and doesn’t have the political capital to convince important allies to pick up the slack. This liberal hawk has to ask: people, are we winning this war?

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.