London remembers Britain’s latest Afghan war

It was a shock to see armed police at Marylebone station yesterday. It was so out of the ordinary. But then I saw this:

Shades of Life on Mars: London 2015

Shades of Life on Mars: London 2015

This Austin 1973 police car was parked on Horse Guards Road, opposite HM Treasury. It was one of a series of police vehicles along the road, with soldiers also present. Shortly afterward a police lorry went by. What on earth was going on?

Police in force in Horse Guards

Police in force in Horse Guards

Later, I found out that the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and political leaders were taking part in a commemoration at St Paul’s marking the end of Britain’s participation in the Afghanistan war. I saw the end of the flypast marking the event:

Flypast marking end of Britain's latest Afghan war. 13 March 2015

Flypast marking end of Britain’s latest Afghan war. 13 March 2015

Britain’s latest entanglement in Afghanistan was an extraordinary development. In 1978, I learned about our disastrous 19th century Afghan wars during O level history. A year later, the Soviet Union invaded that country, with equally ill-fated results. I never imagined I’d see Britain repeating these disasters. George W Bush and Tony Blair were mad to embark on another Afghan adventure. How sad that 453 British troops (not to mention countless Afghans and Americans) lost their lives as a result.

3 thoughts on “London remembers Britain’s latest Afghan war

  1. And what were the Police lorry and the vintage patrol car doing there?

    I have no argument with remembering the dead of any war respectfully. It is ironic this was a service of memorial for Afghan veterans as part of the problem with Britain’s foreign policy in the last few decades is that politicians can rely on collective amnesia when promoting intervention.

    I think most people (apart from the ones in your O level class) would be surprised to learn that Operation Herrick was the UK’s fourth ‘involvement’ in Afghanistan or that Operation Telic was the fourth major military campaign in Iraq and that in little but name, Iraq was part of the British Empire from the 20s to the 50s.

    German politicians had the good taste and the good sense to consider whether involvement of their forces in peacekeeping in the Balkans might bring unhelpful resonances.

    There’s a flippant little book someone really ought to get onto the curriculum at the Army staff college: ‘All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded’. Headline claim: of the 193 countries that are currently UN member states, ‘we’ have invaded or fought conflicts in the territory of 171.

    I once heard Canadian academic and later politician, Michael Ignatieff, talking about the UK’s involvement (somewhere) and adding the ;why’ factor that none of the other pundits could even clearly conceptualise: ‘… but you guys really love fighting!’

    One of the refrains that we hear both from politicians and staff officers is a concern with ‘punching above our weight’. This leads both to international entanglements we could avoid and campaigns where under-equipped and under-prepared troops are expected to make up the difference by ‘cracking on’. Why can’t the UK punch proportionately to its weight and when there should be a repertoire of foreign policy responses, actually, why punch anyone at all?

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