Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001–2014 by Theo Farrell - review by Owen Bennett-Jones

Owen Bennett-Jones

Losing Battle

Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001–2014


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In 2006, a British platoon commander was sent to the Afghan town of Sangin in northern Helmand Province to rescue a besieged tribal leader, Dad Mohammad Khan, and his close family. Dad Mohammad was a tough man and local police under his control had a reputation for brutality, rape and murder. ‘There was definitely a feeling among the blokes of “why the hell are we going to support this guy? We should go and kill him, then we would get the locals on our side straight away,”’ the platoon commander recalled. The reason Dad Mohammad was saved, not killed, was that his Alikozai tribe had allied with President Hamid Karzai’s foreign-backed government in Kabul. And the reason he needed rescuing was that he and his family were being attacked by opponents from the Ishaqzai tribe, which had allied itself with the Taliban in the hope of winning control of the area.

Becoming the arbiter of such local power struggles was just one of the problems faced by the British Army in Afghanistan. For broad strategic reasons, the UK wanted to help the USA seek revenge for 9/11. That, however, did not amount to a clear war aim. At different points over

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