The British government should launch an independent inquiry into the country’s 13-year involvement in the Afghanistan conflict, a leading group of politicians has said.
The Defence Select Committee published that conclusion in its latest report on the war.
“It is imperative that the UK learns lessons from our intervention in Afghanistan. We recommend that the government conduct a lessons learned review, encompassing not just the military operation but the wider intervention by the UK…” it determines.
“We recommend that the study should include a balanced review of the successes and setbacks of the campaign, identifying lessons from the tactical to the strategic…More specifically the study should set out what the political ends were, how they were changed during the course of the campaign.”
The report, which was written after taking evidence from the Defence Secretary and various senior military officials, goes on to suggest that any review is divided in two: pre and post 2006, the latter being the year when UK forces went into Helmand Province for the first time.
Commenting on the report’s findings, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “We have a highly effective process for identifying lessons to be learned in near real time, but we will want to look strategically across the campaign as a whole to see what longer-term lessons need to be learned, once the mission is over.”
The Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker supported the proposal of an inquiry.
He said: “It is important that we learn the lessons from our involvement in the long and difficult combat operation in Afghanistan. The evolving role of the Armed Forces over the course of the mission presented great challenges to the military, and we should examine these fully to ensure we gain an insight into all aspects of what happened over the last number of years.”
However immediate parallels will be drawn with the Iraq Inquiry which was supposed to scrutinise that conflict. The publication of the report, also known as The Chilcot Inquiry, is long overdue and has been repeatedly delayed because of political interference.
The report also questions how long Afghan Forces can sustain such high casualty rates.
“We are concerned that the rate of ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) attrition has remained stubbornly high and significantly in excess of targets.”
It also says that the new Afghan government, once it is formed, should engage with the Taliban.
“We believe that a lasting peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved through a process of reconciliation with the Taliban.”
The British withdrawal from Afghanistan is reaching its final stages. The final forward base in Helmand Province, Sterga II, closed last week, meaning that the majority of British troops are now in Camp Bastion preparing to go home. Small detachments remain in Kandahar and Kabul however, and British Special Forces continue to operate across the State.
Questions remain over an enduring presence beyond the end of this year. For that to happen a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) will be needed between NATO and the Afghan government allowing foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan. The current President Hamid Karzai has stalled on the signing of that agreement but his successor, once elected, is expected to do so.