As maverick Cowper-Cowles struggles to keep a lid on it, a wider question regarding support for our troops arises...
Serial maverick, Sir Sherard Cowper-Cowles has been at it again. This time, it’s the army in his crosshairs. Launching a war of words on Sir Richard Dannatt, Cowper-Cowles has branded the former Army chief a liar and effectively accused him of launching troops into Afghanistan for the end of protecting the army’s raison d’être. “Use them or lose them,” Cowper-Cowles attributes Dannatt as saying; a point which the latter fervently denies.
Let’s step aside from the pantomime script – “oh no I didn’t,” “oh yes you did!” – we cannot possibly know how much truth is in these statements. But there is a wider issue at hand. Cowper-Cowles, a staunch critic of the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan, is bashing the forces at a time when support is needed.
Public opinion, a key factor in any war launched by a democratic state, is particularly vital in counterinsurgency (COIN) environments. Fighting wars deemed by the public to be ‘non-existential’, thousands of miles from home, for notoriously long periods of time (let us not forget that no successful COIN campaign has been won in anything short of a decade) will always be challenging. Add the mix the fact that gains are incremental and subtle and that losses are tragic and widely reported and the public’s patience can become something of a proverbial ticking time bomb. But in this case, it ought not to be.
British forces are in Afghanistan for pragmatic strategic reasons. Whether Dannatt feared for the survival of his institution or not, trashing the campaign and pulling the plug on Afghanistan now would be both morally and strategically negligent. Having toppled the barbaric Taliban regime, the Coalition has a moral obligation to stay the course and ensure security for Afghans so as to create the necessary breathing space for governance and development to mature and prosper. At the same time the strategic significance, which has been well documented, is equally vital. To recap, not only must we bring stability to Afghanistan as a means of battling Islamic extremism and its by-product of terrorism, but there is also a genuine obligation to ensure stability in a state which borders nuclear Pakistan and shares a feral tribal region in between. Cutting our losses now would not only allow the Taliban a potential route to regional power, but it would also have a disastrously negative impact on our credibility which is vital in deterring future threats.
Military power and strategic guidance is not always enough to win in war if passion is found wanting. Thus, Cowper-Cowles’s comments are not only unnecessary and untimely, but they are potentially hazardous if one considers the fine balance we are currently maintaining between fighting a worthwhile war and a near total collapse of public support. Now is the time to tip the seesaw in favour of the former and see it through.