Failure in Afghanistan – why and what are the implications?

by Philip Ingram MBE

As a former senior military planner and intelligence officer, I would just like to bring to your attention a few thoughts around how and why the situation in Afghanistan failed in such a spectacular way and what the implications for the UK are going forward. I have significant global operational experience after 26 years’ service.

This immediate situation was caused by President Trumps order to leave set for 01 May 2021.  President Biden could have reversed the order but instead just chose to delay it.  Once the Taliban and people of Afghanistan knew they Coalition were leaving they knew what the future would hold. The Taliban will have been influencing the tribal leaders and families of all those in the Afghan Army and Police not to fight. The had been running an alternative social structure for years, whilst in waiting for an eventual withdrawal as they have the ultimate planning tool, they operate in multiple generation time frames whilst we operate in Parliamentary, Presidential, or more accurately tomorrow’s headline, timeframes.

The US only had 2500 troops on the ground. If there had been will amongst the rest of the international community and especially the EU who are happy to hang on the coat tails of US and UK underpinned defence but when crunch comes not step up to the mark it is a sad reflection of the EUs sense of responsibility on the World stage. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and others could easily have filled the US boots and equipment on the ground and airpower vacuum. I am sure if that had happened the US could have been persuaded to maintain enablers such as intelligence and some logistics.

However, the rot started in 2003 when the very real progress that had been made with the original deployment to remove the safe space for Al Qaeda was halted to put Iraq as a priority. The fault for that lies squarely with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his spin team misleading the country to an unnecessary conflict that opened a second unnecessary front. The deaths today and tomorrow in Afghanistan can clearly be put at the feet of the Blair/Bush pact!

The final failure is of real concern for the standing of defence in this country. Whilst service man and women at the tactical level on the ground were making huge strides, improving the lives of the Afghan people and paying the price in lives, limbs and sanity for it their commanders at that critical Operational/Strategic juncture were misleading themselves and political decision makers.

They would only spin positive news and report it up, ignoring the reality. Chatting with Simon Akam the author of The Changing of the Guard, he told me only yesterday “I keep recalling being driven around Bastion by an amiable media minder saying, “We have these key lines we’re meant to be pushing, and they just don’t correspond to reality,” and that was 7 years ago.” To do otherwise would risk promotion, glory and medals!

We have to face the facts that senior British Military Commanders, many now with Peerages, Knighthood’s or DSOs misled their political masters in country and back at home that all was going well when the reality that no matter how many Afghan security forces and police we trained they were poorly paid if at all, corruption was rife, leadership in many cases poor and we were training them to rely on Coalition Airpower, Artillery, Communications, Casualty Evacuation and embedded mentoring. All of which disappeared the moment we asked them to fight alone.

It is time those commanders, who are the same ones that have been responsible for what was discovered in the Wigston review, Atherton Review, AJAX, NIMROD, Defence Estates and so much more, are properly held to account and not left with huge taxpayers’ funded pensions and national awards. Simply, they have failed in their roles.

The legacy? Islamist chat groups are already laughing, saying we just need to wait and will always win. We will never be trusted when we say, work for us we will look after you. Terror organisations are emboldened, more attacks on the streets of the UK will happen. China and Russia are laughing, the threat to Ukraine and Taiwan I would argue has just stepped up a notch or two. It will cost us more to prepare for these eventualities than it would to have stayed!

It is time to commend the service personnel and diplomats carrying out the NEO operation, all Afghan people who worked for us and helped us, our service personnel at the lower levels who worked so hard and sacrificed so much. It is time to pray for those we can’t help, we can’t begin to know the horrors they will (not might), suffer. It is time to take a broom to Defence and sweep out the dead wood before the next disaster and time to hold the dead wood serving or retired to account.

Philip Ingram MBE is available for comment – please check Contact us