17.05.2021 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

The British Costs of the War in Afghanistan


On April 29, the US and NATO countries began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, ending a military campaign that had lasted nearly 20 years.

The US and Britain began and led a military operation “Enduring Freedom” against the Taliban after the organized by al-Qaeda (banned in Russia) terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 and the refusal to extradite Osama bin Laden. The purpose of this operation was stated to be the liberation of Afghanistan from Taliban influence, the destruction of terrorist bases and the capture of the leaders of al-Qaeda. The operation was not approved by the UN; the US and UK only notified the Security Council of the commencement of military action, qualifying it as “the exercise of the right to individual and collective self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.” In December 2001, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) was created by sanction of the UN Security Council (Resolution 1386), which from 2001 to 2014 included forces of 50 countries — 28 NATO countries and 22 partner countries of the alliance. The numbers of this coalition varied, reaching a peak of 130,000 in 2012. Initially, the ISAF zone of responsibility covered only Kabul, but in 2003-2006 it was expanded to cover the entire territory of the country.

At the initial stage, the US-British contingent directly involved in the fighting amounted to 55,000 troops. Americans were the backbone of the contingent. Since September 11, 2001, the total cost of US operations in Afghanistan was $737.6 billion, the victims of the conflict were almost 2.5 thousand American soldiers, over 20.7 thousand were wounded.

With the beginning of the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan, not only the US, but also other countries participating in the military events in Afghanistan began to take stock of their military presence in the country over the past twenty years.

As Brown University’s Costs of War study shows, British and Canadian soldiers had a significantly higher chance of dying in the Afghan conflict than their American counterparts. While the US suffered the largest absolute loss in the conflict relative to the other ISAF members at 2.3% of their massive contingent, Britain lost 455 troops, 4.7% of the total, and Canada lost 158 troops, 5.4%. The Guardian reports that the United Kingdom spent slightly more on economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as a percentage of GDP (0.16%) than the US (0.15%), followed by Germany and Canada (0.14%).

According to the authors of the study, the reason for the high number of British deaths is that they were stationed in the heart of the southern province of Helmand (on the border with Iran and Pakistan), where armed clashes were frequent. The German contingent, on the other hand, was mostly at its bases at night and patrolled the relatively quiet north of the country with armored vehicles, so its casualty rate was 1%. For the French and Italian contingents these parameters were 2.1% and 1.2%, respectively.

This published data echoes a December study by the British group Action on Armed Violence, which found that British soldiers were 12% more likely to die than their American counterparts in the overall “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, more than once members of the ISAF coalition were killed not because of the fierce resistance of Afghan fighters, but because of outright blunders in their own organization of combat operations. In particular, as the representative of the Ministry of Defense of the UK reported in August 2007, three British servicemen were killed in the south of Afghanistan and two more were wounded as a result of the American air attack. The incident occurred on August 20, 2007, northwest of Kajaki, where a British patrol was attacked by Afghan fighters. Under heavy enemy fire, the British requested air support from the Americans. However, an American F-16 aircraft flew in on that call and, for an unknown reason, dropped a bomb near the British patrol. As observers have noted many times, these inaccurate bombings have also killed hundreds of Afghan civilians, contributing to the diminished credibility of NATO forces.

In a 2013 Chatham House report discussing the reasons for the British military’s ineffective presence in Afghanistan, it found that their actions in the country were inconsistent, uncoordinated, and non-transparent, with political leaders unable to find common ground with military commanders. Based on information from the Chilcot Inquiry, the report concluded that Britain’s failures were caused by inefficiency in government in general and that not only politicians but also senior military officers and civil servants were responsible. In 2009, Brown’s cabinet was not entirely convinced of the need to send British reinforcements to Afghanistan, but it agreed to the move because it wanted to prevent harsh language from being published in the press by the military.

As a number of British scholars of the results of the United Kingdom’s involvement in the Afghan war campaign have noted, it is clear that Afghanistan was a serious burden on British troops. Over the past two decades, the British military has suffered nearly three-quarters of all casualties there. What is clear is that Afghanistan proved to be not only a graveyard for British troops. Coalition military forces there also were part of making it a graveyard for countless Afghan civilians.

One of the authors of Brown University’s Costs of War report, Jason Davidson, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Washington, D.C., believes that “Americans do not fully understand, do not acknowledge, the sacrifices that allies made in Afghanistan.” “It’s something that not only doesn’t get attention from those who are critics of the allies. It doesn’t even get the attention that it deserves from those who are generally cheerleaders for allies, like the current administration [of Joe Biden],” the researcher added.

Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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