The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Fish ‘n chips-eating surrender monkeys

This article from the NYT from Dec. 2 about a British initiative in Afghanistan’s Helmand province caught my eye. After fighting the Taliban in Musa Qala district, British forces “who had been under siege by the Taliban in a compound there for three months� brokered a ceasefire with Taliban forces and local government – and pulled out.

In the words of one Afghan lawmaker:

"The Musa Qala project has sent two messages: one, recognition for the enemy, and two, military defeat," said Mustafa Qazemi, a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament and a former resistance fighter with the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban for seven years.

. . .

Some compare the deal to agreements that Pakistan has struck with leaders in its tribal areas along the Afghan border, which have given those territories more autonomy and, critics say, empowered the Taliban who have taken sanctuary there and allowed them to regroup.

What’s so interesting about this is that this is essentially what the British did in southern Iraq. They gave up. No one really likes to talk about it, and they are extremely difficult to embed with, but more and more people are starting to recognize that the one place coalition forces really suffered a defeat was in the south.

The Brits don’t patrol in Basra anymore, they largely just stay in their compound and get shelled every night. US bases get shelled too, but then they do something about it and the shelling stops.

Their most famous move was their abrupt withdrawal from Amara, capital of Maysan province, where they were rocketed every night by Mahdi militia. So with no warning to Iraqi authorities, they declared their mission in Amara complete, pulled out and “redeployed� to the Iranian border to conduct “World War II-style� desert patrol tactics. Somehow trying to turn a retreat into a evocation of the glories of the North Africa campaign.

The base in Amara, meanwhile was sacked by the Mahdi militia because Iraqi authorities hadn’t been given enough time to take control of it.

Since their departure, there have been pitched battles in Amara between Mahdi militia and police (who are controlled by the rival Badr Brigade Shiite militia).

Now don’t get me wrong, Iraq’s a tough place and each army has to make its decision about how to deal with it, but the British enjoy so much describing how they do everything better than the Americans.

In the beginning of their Basra occupation, they described how their years of experience occupying Northern Ireland made them expert at a light touch and winning the inhabitants’ trust.

Now, as they are talking about pulling out, the city is dangerous place awash in battles between rival militias and gangs making millions off the oil smuggling. The Brits just let them take over, and when it got too dangerous, they stopped leaving their base. And now they are leaving entirely.

In Afghanistan, when the fighting suddenly became hot. They appear to be doing the same thing.

So my question is, who are the real surrender monkeys?