Sunday 21 November 2010
As thousands of protestors marched through London against the war in Afghanistan the great, the good and the incompetent strutted their stuff in Lisbon.
I wondered why Dmitry Medvedev, representing Moscow, chose to become involved. Most probably it's because Russia is concerned about the Afghan opium trade and without the assistance of NATO Russian efforts to curb the corruption would not succeed. Moscow is looking long-term at the problem because it knows how damaging the poppy fields are to its economy and it needs the assistance of the west. In return Moscow was invited to participate in a US-led missile defence programme intended to intercept long-range attacks launched from Iran. This agreement also has implications for the Afghan conflict, because Russia will allow greater use of its territory for transporting NATO supplies to Afghanistan as well as help fund more transport helicopters.
Our Prime Minister, like many of our modern politicians, is looking no further than the next election. By announcing that the transition deal would 'pave the way for British combat troops to be out of Afghanistan by 2015', he considers he is sticking to a pledge to take British forces off the frontline before the election. Is his insistence upon setting a date sensible? Do you tell the local burglars when you're going on holiday? Much as I would like to see our armed forces out of this war, this is a move which could put the lives of our soldiers at risk because all this does is tell the Taliban exactly how long they have to hang on and gives them a psychological boost.
By contrast US officials insist that the NATO transition plan did not guarantee an end to American combat operations. US forces could go on fighting the Taliban even after transition. Barack Obama said he is pretty confident that US troops will still be maintaining a counter-terrorism capability after 2015.
David Cameron's firm stance has jarred with NATO's conditional plan as NATO's secretary-general insisted: "This process must be conditions-based and not calendar driven."
So who came out of this summit smiling? Russia it would seem and of course Karzai, as he must be delighted to hear Britain will continue to pour billions of aid into his country long after our soldiers have left.