The war in Afghanistan will cost every British household £2,000, a foreign policy adviser to the Government said yesterday. But Frank Ledwidge added that not a single Al Qaeda terrorist who posed a threat to Britain has been killed by Nato forces in Helmand.
And the province is no more stable now than when British troops were deployed there in 2006. Latest Ministry of Defence figures show 444 British soldiers have been killed since the start of the Afghan conflict in 2001.
British troops are due to withdraw next year, but caring for wounded soldiers means the costs will reach £40billion by 2020. That is enough to pay 5,000 nurses or police officers for their entire career, or fund free university tuition for all higher education students for a decade.
The ‘conservative’ calculations were made by Mr Ledwidge who has been a civilian adviser to the British government in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In his book Investment in Blood, he claims that since 2006 it has cost taxpayers at least £15million a day to keep troops in Helmand.
He said: ‘Of all the thousands of civilians and combatants, not a single Al Qaeda operative or international terrorist who could conceivably have threatened the United Kingdom is recorded as having been killed by Nato forces in Helmand.’
The only ones to benefit from the war have been foreign aid consultants, Afghan drug lords and arms companies, he said. He added that much British aid to Afghanistan was spent on consultancy fees rather than on those Afghans who need it most.
Mr Ledwidge argued that Al Qaeda should have been dealt with by the security services rather than being treated like a military problem. The real reason Britain had spent so much in human and financial costs in Afghanistan was ‘the perceived necessity of retaining the closest possible links with the US’.
He told the Guardian: ‘Once the last British helicopter leaves a deserted and wrecked Camp Bastion, Helmand – to which Britain claimed it would bring ‘‘good governance’’ – will be a fractious narco-state occasionally fought over by opium barons and their cronies.’
He added: ‘There are no new lessons here, only one rather important old precept: before you engage in a war, understand the environment you are going into, precisely and realistically what it is you are trying to achieve and will it be worth the cost? In other words have a strategy.’
Bills for the war in Afghanistan will keep climbing even once troops have pulled out as more than 2,600 British troops have been wounded in the conflict and more than 5,000 have been ‘psychologically injured’.
Mr Ledwidge added: ‘There is no doubt that the continuing costs of taking care of the wounded will far exceed £1billion.’
Around £25billion has been spent from the Treasury’s special reserve for military operations alone. The Ministry of Defence is under pressure, like all Whitehall departments, to slash its budget as Chancellor George Osborne is demanding further efficiency savings.
But Phil Hammond, the Defence Secretary, has made it clear he will resist cuts to operations.
He said: ‘There is a difference between efficiency savings, which may be difficult to achieve but are painless in terms of the impact on the front line, and output cuts, which are of a very different order and require proper and mature consideration across government about the impact that they will have on our military capabilities.’
By GERRI PEEV