• Why Cameron’s ‘mission accomplished’ claim is debatable

Why Cameron’s ‘mission accomplished’ claim is debatable

18 December 2013

Jawed Nader, BAAG's Director, commented on Prime Minister David Cameron's claim that the British mission in Afghanistan is accomplished. Speaking on BBC Newsnight on December 16th, he raised various concerns with the statement.  

Alongside Jawed, presenter Jeremy Paxman sought the opinions of Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, and Sir William Patey, British Ambassador to Afghanistan 2010-2012. 

Whilst sections of the programme, and some of Sir William Patey’s comments, sought to clarify exactly what mission Cameron referred to and the degrees to which these had been accomplished, Jawed highlighted that the opinions of 30 million Afghans are likely to differ from those of British military officials. 

Britain’s military mandate in Afghanistan has included removal of the Taliban, denial of a safe haven for Al Qaida and other terrorists, a lead in support to the Afghan counter-narcotics programme and protection of reconstruction efforts.  To varying degrees these have been addressed.  However, away from this ‘UK-centric’ vision of the mission, Jawed highlighted that Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world, tops (for the 2nd year) a recent list of most corrupt countries and maintains high levels of humanitarian and development need.  Recognising progress such as  the removal of the Taliban regime and the development of a 350,000-strong Afghan national security force, Jawed commented that “reasons for optimism do not overshadow reasons for pessimism”.

Heather Barr also raised her concerns that, despite the oppression of women being cited as a determinant for the intervention by previous Prime Minister Tony Blair, women’s issues no longer appear so high on the agenda.  More worryingly, she reported that “this year has seen quite serious roll back of women’s rights by the Afghan government”.

The programme included a 2006 comment by John Reid, Secretary of State for Defence, that the British would be happy “to leave in three years time without firing one shot.”  This statement came back to haunt the British government and there are concerns that Cameron’s hubristic ‘mission accomplished’ may be another poor choice of words.  As Sir William commented, “permanent change requires long-term commitment by the international community”.  Rather than phrases that could be interpreted as a job is done and a story is ended, leaders should instead be demonstrating how 2014 opens up a critical new phase of ongoing international support to Afghanistan.