WHILE Republican and Democrat presidential candidates for the next American presidency bid for voter support with promises of just how soon they will bring the boys back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the reality of the probable duration of the US military presence in those countries keeps intruding. This week the Iraq minister of defence, Abdul Qadir, has been in Washington for discussions and said on Monday that his country would not be able to take responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor able to defend its borders from external threat until at least 2018 or 2020. He did not spell out the implications of his pessimistic forecasts for the US military presence in Iraq but they are likely to extend far beyond any dates mentioned either by President Bush of any of those who want to take his place. Concerning Afghanistan, Britain's Defence Secretary, Des Browne, warned at the weekend that UK troops could be there for decades. He said: We cannot risk Afghanistan again becoming an ungoverned training haven for terrorists who threaten the UK. It is a commitment which could last decades, although it will reduce over time. Decades means at least twenty years, and possibly longer; has any other ministerial statement forecast such a long stay; it is surprising that Mr Browne's comment attracted so little attention. It confirmed what many critics of this involvement have always said, that going into Afghanistan is always easier than getting out. The Russians learnt this lesson between 1979 and 1988, to their considerable cost.
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