House of Commons report critical of Britain’s Afghan war effort

British soldiers patrol in Baba Ji district of Helmand province last month after retaking it from the Taliban.
The British government should refocus its objectives in Afghanistan and concentrate on one priority: security, a House of Commons committee said in a report released Sunday.

The report also criticizes the NATO mission in Afghanistan, saying the lack of a unified vision and strategy is jeopardizing the military alliance’s reputation. Britain has moved away from its initial goals of counterterrorism in Afghanistan and has started working on areas it isn’t able to handle alone, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said in the report, which examines security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Focusing on security is the only way that Britain and its allies will achieve long-term stability in Afghanistan, the report said. “The U.K. has experienced mission creep from its initial goal of supporting the U.S. in countering international terrorism, far into the realms of counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, protection of human rights and state building,” said committee chairman Mike Gapes. “It is clear that despite the commendable efforts of the (British Foreign Office) in adopting a broad-ranging, holistic approach to tackling narcotics in Afghanistan, success in that area depends on a range of factors which lie far beyond the control and resource of the U.K. alone.” The committee recommends that the United Nations and the NATO force in Afghanistan, ISAF, join with the Afghan government to take over counter-narcotics operations from Britain. Security in Afghanistan “will remain precarious for some time to come,” but in no way must the international community abandon Afghanistan, the report said. Britain and its allies must allocate responsibilities and do a better job of sharing the burdens to prevent insurgents from taking over, it said. “The international community needs to convey publicly that it intends to outlast the insurgency and remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan authorities are able take control of their own security,” Gapes said. “This must be the primary objective.”

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The Afghan government must take the lead and negotiate a political settlement with broad popular support, the report said, saying that is the “only realistic option” for long-term security and stability. “The committee has concluded that for these reasons the current increased military activity is a necessary pre-requisite for any long-term political settlement,” it said. The report criticized the eight-year international effort by the United Nations, European Union, and individual allies, saying it has delivered much less than promised. It said the impact of the international effort has been “significantly diluted” by the absence of a unified vision and strategy. “The failure of some NATO allies to ensure that the burden of international effort in Afghanistan is shared equitably has placed an unacceptable strain on a handful of countries,” Gapes said. “There is a real possibility that without a more equitable distribution of responsibility and risk, NATO’s effort will be further inhibited and its reputation as a military alliance, capable of undertaking out-of-area operations, seriously damaged.” The Foreign Affairs Committee scrutinizes the spending and policy of the British Foreign Office. Committee members come from the three major parties in the British Parliament.