Ten days ago Lord Paddy Ashdown wrote in The Times that the West had lost in Afghanistan and that Britain and the others should do all they could to accelerate their departure. Although there were one or two minor criticisms of Lord Ashdown's view I did not see any high-level disagreement in the media. The task of providing this has apparently fallen to General Sir Richard Sheriff, Deputy Supreme Commander Europe, whose article yesterday in The Times was headlined, Stand firm in Afghanistan. We are winning. He rejected several of the accusations made by Lord Ashdown about lack of unity among the remaining NATO forces in Afghanistan and insisted that the principle of in together, out together could not be stronger. He also claimed that the NATO military effort is giving Afghanistan time and space to resolve the political and other challenges it faces.
I think that Lord Ashdown was nearer the truth than Sir Richard whose views seem almost complacent despite his references to very real problems remaining, not least the grim and insidious threat of insider killings. He thinks we must finish the job. I suspect that most people agree with Ashdown that, like others before us, we have lost in Afghanistan and expect that to become only too apparent when the main Western presence ends in 2014 and the Taliban re-appears in force.