Should the West be fighting in Afghanistan?
The arguments for and against military intervention in Afghanistan by Britain, America and their allies
The US and her allies, under the auspices of Nato, have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, when their intervention aided the Northern Alliance in overthrowing the Taliban government. Since then, the Taliban has been a thorn in the side of President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government and Nato, fighting a guerilla war from its strongholds in Helmand and the Pakistan border region.
THE ARGUMENTS FOR
Remember September 11, 2001. Afghanistan under the Taliban provided the springboard for the al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Today, the Taliban are resurgent and al-Qaeda and its affiliates have found room for manoeuvre in the tribal areas of Pakistan. For Nato to withdraw from Afghanistan would expose the West to further acts of mass murder.
If the Taliban seized power again, a newly liberalised society would once again have to obey their medieval values. Women would have a lower quality of life.
Barack Obama has made Afghanistan a priority and promises a more coherent approach than his predecessor, notably in treating Pakistan as an integral part of the problem.
Improvements in military technology, from communications satellites to pilot-less drones, have made the targeting of an illusive enemy easier.
The increasing size and effectiveness of the Afghan army is encouraging. Nato's presence provides a shield under which it can achieve self-sufficiency.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nato had to find a new role. Failure in Afghanistan would damage, possibly terminally, the world's most effective military alliance.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST
Remember history. The British Afghan wars and the Soviet occupation of the 1980s should be a warning against military involvement in a country whose tribal tensions make it almost ungovernable.
There is no longer the opportunity that there was in 2002 and 2003 to build a stable democracy. Overtures have already been made to moderate factions of the Taliban about a power-sharing agreement. The West should focus its energies on devising a diplomatic solution, rather than an unachievable military victory.
President Hamid Karzai has proved a weak ruler far too tolerant of corruption in his narco-state.
An even greater problem is the small number of national contingents ready to undertake offensive operations in the rebellious south - America's 'surge' of 17,000 troops is not being matched by Europe. Lacking the will to put sufficient boots on the ground, Nato should get out of Afghanistan before the alliance is irreparably damaged.
The regional situation is dire. Pakistan's northern border has become a launching-pad for terrorism. Iran and the West are at loggerheads over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. These situations make the military operation in Afghanistan more problematic.
The policy of eradicating opium poppy crops, without providing a feasible alternative, has alienated the farmers, who then look to the Taliban for financial support.
The continued military mission is costing billions at a time when Western economies are suffering. We simply can't afford to remain fighting in Afghanistan.
Western 'occupation' of Afghanistan, particularly when it involves civilian casualties, is a powerful recruiting agent for Islamic extremists in Pakistan, and thereby increases the terrorist threat to countries such as Britain.