Leaving Afghanistan after 13 years: A personal perspective

December 11, 2014

FXTrader Paul, Thought of the day

Leaving Afghanistan standfirst image

Last year ladies and gentlemen I penned a rather indulgent, self-important piece about Iraq titled Ten Years on: still shock and no awe.  I suppose its interesting to find that a year on from writing that article we find ourselves back in Iraq conducting bombing missions …..along with our new (ahem) ‘allies’ the Iranians and their F-4 Phantoms! (Truth is indeed stranger than fiction)

Once again I would ask you the reader to please indulge me as I offer my own perspective as a trader and an ex-military guy who’s friends took part in the initial invasion of Afghanistan and have continued to serve there up until very recently. And by perspective I’m honest enough to admit that its more of a rant than a measured contribution to the debate.

In my piece on Iraq I commented how ‘as traders we know how easy it is to be right in hindsight and how difficult it is to make decisions at the right hand edge of the screen as things unfold in real-time.  History can sometimes be unkind on Generals and politicians who had to make decisions at the time based on incomplete evidence.’ That also holds true for this piece as well.

Nevertheless in the last few weeks I’ve seen a series of articles in TV and print about the British draw-down and exit from Afghanistan. You may have seen the odd one or two yourself – strangely enough there’s been very little hoopla or government showmanship. I wonder why? Well because we’re leaving with our tails between our legs. Like we did from Basra in 2007. And like the Russians did from Afghan in the late 80’s. It was this very good and honest piece from one of the American Generals Daniel Bolger on how we lost the global war on terror that motivated me to write about my own views. I also saw the Daily Telegraph (not a paper I normally read) provide a touching 8 page supplement last week that provided a tribute (with the photo and details) of all 453 deaths in Afghanistan. As they put it:  450 names represented a son, a brother, a father, a husband. Three names were someones daughter, wife or sister. The youngest was 18, the oldest was 51. For many the passage of time has not lessened the raw grief of their loss nor the anger they feel about the handling of the conflict, and it probably never will. I couldn’t have put it better if I tried. (Regardless of your view of me, the war or the Telegraph newspaper I would suggest reading the article and viewing the video. Its very touching.)

I’d like to say that regardless of my views about the way the politicians, civil-servants and military top brass handled the mission to Afghanistan: I have nothing but the utmost respect for the young men and women who served on the front line. They fought, and died, trying to deliver a positive change to Afghanistan. It’s not their fault that they tried to carry out a mission that was probably doomed and failed from the beginning.

What was my own part in all of this? Well, nothing really. I left the military at the end of 90’s as I was bored and unfulfilled. When the calls came in from my old RAF bosses post 9/11 telling me to come back I politely declined. “But Paul you’ll be missing your generations great adventure…” they said. Even then I knew it was a load of old tosh. (Sometimes I look back on my 25-year-old self in wonder at how astute I was. And sometimes I look back on my 25-year-old self in wonder at how stupid I was. C’est la vie.)

Back in the 80’s I got a grade C in my GCSE 20th Century Modern History (mostly due to my lack of application – it turns out that studying The Weimar Republic, Gandhi, and the Suffragette movement was decidedly uninspiring for a teenage boy who had hoped he’d be studying the Strategic Air Campaigns over Germany, Korea and Vietnam.) However I’d read Rudyard Kipling’s books. I’d seen ‘The Man Who Would Be King’.  I remember vividly as a teenager seeing the scenes of jubilant Russian troops leaving Afghan, driving their APCs over the bridge back into Mother Russia. Jubilant not because they’d won, oh no. Jubilant because they were getting the hell out of dodge!

Nevertheless even with such limited intellectual horsepower as my own I realised that putting ‘boots on the ground’ was an exercise in utter futility.  So I figured that our privately schooled, and Ox-bridge educated, professional political leaders would be smart enough to realise that going back into Afghanistan would be pointless? Surely they’d realise that wouldn’t they? If I can work that out, they must have been able to?  It seems not.

So when in 2006 I saw the Defence Secretary John Reid stand in Kabul and say that they were deploying British troops into Helmand province and in his words “we’d be happy to leave in three years without a shot being fired” I stood there in open-mouthed amazement. Were we ignorant, arrogant, stupid; or all three?  We had hardly covered ourselves in glory in Iraq. Was this us giving ourselves a second chance to prove that we can still play with the big boys?



John Reid – Clearly Understands Nothing Tribal

(As an aside you realise you’ve reached a certain stage in life when you find yourself shouting at the television. It’s fine for sporting events. But when you find yourself screaming “You f**king idiots” at scenes of politicians playing at being generals in Sandy places then you realise you’ve peaked in life and that it’s all down-hill from there on in.)


Gordon Brown – Now there’s a Big Helmet

geoff hoon iraq

Geoff Hoon – Clearly On Commission: Kerching!

It was very apparent from the recent BBC programme (Afghanistan:The Lions Last Roar)  that the Army generals are now offering a very different view of operations in Afghanistan. What had, at the beginning, been full of hope and optimism (see that optimism bias playing its part – even generals and politicians are not immune to it) before we descended into the harsh reality that we were under-prepared, and didnt really have a clue what we were doing or trying to achieve. I suppose it was as close to a mea culpa as we’re ever likely to get.

So what did we get for our 453 deaths and £37 billion spent (the cost of UK operations)?  Some better schools, some better roads and some better security around some towns from what I can see. Was it worth it? Well that’s a very tough question to answer. Personally I think not. However my heart goes out to the family and friends of the 453 deaths and to the thousands of men and women who will live on with injuries; physical, mental, and emotional, for the rest of their days. A very touching quote from the Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson sums it up best: What will survive of Afghanistan’s fallen, is love.  (I suggest you read the telegraph article and take a moment to look at the hashtag #453remembered.)

What does anger me is seeing no proper public inquiry into the politicians handling of the mission. Instead we get Tony Blair being awarded ‘Philanthropist of the year’!

Tony With Another TrophyTony Blair – Tony With Another Trophy

In case you didn’t know what a philanthropist is then may I please offer this fantastic definition that I found on the internet.

tony blair philanthropist definition


So what can traders (and humans) learn from all this shambles? Well I think the important thing is to be wary of being caught up in groupthink which is clearly what happened between UK politicians, civil-servants, and the military in the run up to the deployment. If there were any dissenting voices – they were quickly snuffed out.

Also as I alluded to earlier we have optimism bias rearing its head. We had no real plan, no real clear mission, no real understanding of the territory (physical and political) – just a willingness by certain people to get involved in something they didn’t really understand. I see prospective wannabe traders get caught up with optimism bias all the time.

Finally it might be said that the initial invasion of Afghanistan was the most brutal and expensive example of revenge trading ever seen. Post 9/11 America wanted revenge and nothing was going to stop them.

What does the future hold for Afghanistan? I watched the Ch4 show last weekend about dismantling Camp Bastion and was amused by the hidden conversations between Afghan Generals and their interpreters. They knew they were being left to fend for themselves. And sure enough there were Taliban attacks on the base within a few weeks of us leaving and handing over the facility to the locals.  How long will they continue to hold out? At Bastion, within Helmand and the nation in general? I cant help but feel that 10 years from now we’ll have made very little difference to Afghanistan. Who’ll be there then?  Will the Indians or Chinese have decided to try their hand where other empires have failed? From this recent New York Times article it would appear that the Chinese may have already started. Good luck to them if they do. They’ll need it.

Afghanistan was the end of the UK as a major player. It will also be a major contributor to the steady decline in US power. Morally bankrupt politicians, along with inept civil-servants, and dubious military leaders made poor decisions that have bankrupted the nation, destroyed our global respect, and broken our military.

What would I do going forward? I’d probably half the army in size (they’re gonna be cut next year anyway post another Strategic Defence Review) and then use the money to buy more C-17 and A-400 air-lifters, along with Chinook helicopters, paint them in big Union Jacks and use them to deploy aid packages in all of the worlds trouble-spots. We might as well re-build our reputation with food and fresh water rather than fire-power.  It’s as good as any other idea I’ve heard so-called ‘strategists’ come up with.

Anyway, rant over. Apologies for the ranting and the language. Back to the markets.





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About FXTraderPaul

A professional Trader and Coach, FXTraderPaul blogs about his adventures from the front-lines of FX Trading. A Trader and educator who can walk the walk as opposed to merely talk the talk!

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2 Comments on “Leaving Afghanistan after 13 years: A personal perspective”

  1. Mike Says:

    Seems like the biggest kick in the teeth to the families of those who have lost loved ones in Iraq/Afghanistan are still awaiting the outcome of the Chillcot enquiry which just adds salt to raw wounds. (Since 2009) Our troops and general public have been let down by Blair and Co…!!!

    Liked by 1 person


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