Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Afghanistan; why we need to withdraw troops today

In May the General Assembly voted to oppose the continuation of the war in Afghanistan and called on the Government to take the immediate steps required to secure the earliest possible withdrawal.

I am repeating this call in advance of tomorrow, 21 September, which is the UN International Day for Peace and the World Council of Churches International Day of Prayer for Peace.

World Council of Churches - 21 September is the 
International Day of Prayer for Peace
By working with Church partners from other traditions, including Anglicans, Catholics and Quakers, we assessed the war in Afghanistan against the criteria for a Just War, which many Christians have used for centuries when considering a response to the use of armed force.

We found that the war in Afghanistan cannot be supported.

The Just War tradition requires a series of criteria to be met:

Is the war legitimate, or, is the war permitted by the right authority?

There are two aspects of the war. One is the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), set up under a UN mandate which is designed to support the Afghan National Army and police. The second is Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which aims to eradicate Al Qaeda and defeat the Taliban. The report concluded that while the ISAF mission could be considered legitimate, the OEF aspect is no longer tenable, as there is no direct threat to our own security and the UN has not given any explicit authorisation for OEF.

Is there a reasonable hope of success?

What does success in the context of the war in Afghanistan look like? Conservative MP John Glen asked in the House of Commons:

"By what measure will we gauge our success? Does it mean free and democratic elections? The removal of corruption? A well-trained and effective army and police force, new roads, new schools, rights for women? Where does the list end and what is realistic? There are many who argue that British and other foreign presence in Afghanistan is a cause for the continuation of violence and insecurity. It also makes Britain a terrorist target. This is why we have called for withdrawal as soon as possible."
Does the harm caused by the war outweigh the harm it prevents?

More than 2000 civilians a year are killed in the conflict. Lives lost which would not be lost if the war wasn’t taking place. It is sometimes argued that the presence of the NATO troops is essential to protect the rights of women. Recent laws passed by the Afghanistan parliament legalise rape within marriage. Sonali Kolhatkar who co-directs the Afghan Women’s Mission (a US based non-profit organisation that supports women’s rights activist in Afghanistan) explains:

"There are incidents happening every day in Afghanistan of women and girls being harassed and raped, flogged and killed by pro-US warlords and local commanders who are not working with the Taliban – such incidents are rarely covered in the Western media. Afghan women activists I work with have long called for US forces to leave Afghanistan."

Are non-combatants protected from violence?

The extended information now available through Wikileaks paints a picture of considerable death and injury caused to civilians and non-combatants and chronicles over 20 separate occasions when British troops are said to have bombed or shot Afghan civilians – identifying at least 26 people killed and another 20 wounded as a result. According to The Observer, (26 September 2010), no British soldier has been prosecuted in relations to operations in Afghanistan. A report in September 2010 by the Afghanistan Study Group, a reputable and specialist US organisation, said that ‘many more civilian deaths have occurred than have been officially acknowledged as a result of US and allied strike accidents’.

The use of drones in particular raises concerns as to whether the methods being used adequately take into account the likelihood of casualties among or the duty to protect them. John Baron MP (Con), a former army officer, in a speech in September 2010, expressed the view that ‘high civilian casualty rates exponentially increase hostility. They might not force Afghans actively to support the Taliban but it will certainly stop them opposing anyone who wants to kill those who have killed their loved ones.’ Non-combatant immunity is fundamental to the just war theory. The huge loss of civilian lives, regardless of whether they were directly or indirectly intended, undermines any justification of the war.

Read the full report.

This video is an introduction to the report from Norman Shanks, one of the authors.

Read the response of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the report.

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