Britain should pull out its troops from Afghanistan as quickly as decently possible, former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has said.
Writing in the Times, Lord Ashdown gave a bleak assessment of the 11-year war and said it had become crystal clear that Nato had lost in Afghanistan.
Lord Ashdown said the international community had been “divided, cacophonous, chaotic” in Afghanistan.
Some 438 British service personnel have lost their lives in the war so far.
While the UK government is committed to a timetable of withdrawing most of Britain’s 9,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Lord Ashdown said the only rational policy was to leave quickly.
He warned that the only outcome of staying longer was more deaths for no purpose, highlighting the increasing number of Nato troops being killed by those wearing Afghan army or police uniforms.
Lord Ashdown acknowledged that Nato had succeeded in one objective – driving out al-Qaeda – but said most other goals, especially the establishment of a sustainable state, had not been achieved.
He said: “We cannot pretend there is any more to do in Afghanistan. The urgent priority is to get out.
“It is not worth wasting one more life in Afghanistan. All that we can achieve has now been achieved. All that we might have achieved if we had done things differently, has been lost.
“The only rational policy now is to leave quickly, in good order and in the company of our allies. This is the only cause for which further lives should be risked.”
The Lib Dem peer said it was a political rather than a military failure.
We should have concentrated on winning in Afghanistan where it mattered, instead of distracting ourselves with adventures in Iraq”
“The international community in Afghanistan needed to speak with a single voice in pursuit of a single plan with clear priorities,” he said.
“Instead we have been divided, cacophonous, chaotic. We should have concentrated on winning in Afghanistan where it mattered, instead of distracting ourselves with adventures in Iraq.
“We should have engaged Afghanistan’s neighbours, instead of going out of our way to make them enemies. Our early military strategy should have been about protecting the people instead of wasting our time chasing the enemy.
“We should have made fighting corruption our first priority instead of becoming the tainted partners of a corrupt government whose writ, along with ours, has progressively collapsed as that of the Taleban in the south has progressively widened.”
Lord Ashdown’s comments were echoed by several Lib Dem MPs. Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, said a “dignified exit” was needed as “no foreign power has been able to win a military victory in Afghanistan”.
In September 2010, Parliament voted to maintain the UK’s military deployment in Afghanistan.
But since then, a number of MPs from all parties have called for troops to be withdrawn immediately, expressing concern about a lack of progress towards a political settlement and the growing number of attacks on Nato forces by Afghan soldiers.
On Remembrance Sunday, Cpt Walter Barrie, of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was shot dead by a member of the Afghan army.
Cpt Barrie, 41, from Glasgow, was shot at close range while playing in a football match between British soldiers and members of the Afghan National Army at his base in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province.
But ministers insist progress is being made and the UK is committed to maintaining a combat presence in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, and technical assistance after that date, while ensuring risks to troops are minimised.
Giving evidence to a Senate committee in Washington, the US military’s Gen Joseph Dunford – the next Nato commander in Afghanistan – insisted the alliance was making progress although he did not use the word winning.
Britain’s troop presence has been reduced by 500 this year. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has suggested the drawdown of forces could be accelerated next year but this would all depend on conditions on the ground.