Sunday, December 21, 2008

Afghanistan: The mounting toll

Last evening, I watched the Russian film "9th Company" which portrayed a group of Soviet conscripts going to Afghanistan in 1988. As someone who has watched most of the better known Vietnam war films, the basic structure of the film was remarkably similar. A group of fresh faced conscripts with different backgrounds and personalities undergo training from a rather brutal commander before going onto the far worse horrors of the front line.

The soldiers were basically ordinary chaps in extraordinary circumstances. They were hardly driven by ideology but more a desire to survive. After all as it was noted towards the end of the film, as they battled the Mujahadeen in New Year 1989, they were fighting for a country that would not exist in 2 years.

Their political educuation was basic but one line stood out:

"In all of history, no one has ever managed to conquer Afghanistan. No one ever".

Certainly two countries failed to do so. First Britain failed in the Nineteenth century. Even Sherlock Holmes' assistant Dr. Watson was an Afghanistan veteran. Second, the Soviet Union failed, a defeat that arguably hastened its collapse in the 1980s. Both the defeat of Britain and the Soviet Union a century later followed a similar pattern. Afghanistan is quite easy to occupy but much more difficult to hold.

Now the international coalition, as always with the largest contribution coming from the US, is facing mounting casualties after a relatively easy occupation seven years ago.

It is worth noting that at present this is truly an international force with contributions from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and several European nations including France, Germany, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands.

All those countries have paid for their contribution with lives lost.

Total allied casualties now amount to around 1,036 killed. The breakdown by nationality is shown below (courtesy of .

Although heavily weighted towards the US, it is also noticeable that the contribution in Afghanistan is significantly spread amongst other countries with around 40 % of fatalities coming from other countries.

Of greater concern is the rising trend of casualties as shown below. 2008 will be the worst year for virtually every nation involved in Afghanistan. This ties in with the Soviet experience where the worst casualties were experienced in the mid to late eighties following the 1979 invasion.

Another British casualty was announced this evening, the seventh Briton to die this month alone. Denmark and Canada are both countries that have recently suffered casualties disporportionately high compared to their total presence in Afghanistan.

I still do believe there is a fight worth fighting in Afghanistan. The alternative is withdrawal and to give a whole nation to the Taleban which would effectively create a massive training camp for global jihad. If I didn't believe that then clearly I would see no point in a war in a country that has never been successfully conquered.

As we approach Christmas, it is humbling to remember the sacrifices that troops from many nations are making in ever increasing numbers in Afghanistan. The toll started small compared to other conflicts but will be close to 300 this year with every sign of continuing to increase next year.

The battle in Afghanistan is clearly not to be under-estimated.

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