Faithful Ally. The UK Engagement in Afghanistan.
The British government under Tony Blair was an early and major supporter of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The Royal Navy and Air Force participated in the first strikes against Afghanistan in October with Tomahawk missiles launched from British submarines striking at Al Qae3da and Taliban targets, as the Ministry of Defence points out on its website. Shortly afterwards, British commandos landed at Bagram airbase and a battle group of 1700 later joined the OEF. The British also led the first ISAF contingent in Kabul, they were the first to take over one of the American PRTs that had been established to manage the expected transition from combat to stabilization – the PRT in Mazar in July 2003 – and they were among the first of Washington’s allies to again contribute a major combat unit against the insurgency by deploying a Task Force to Helmand in April 2006.
The strong support was what would have been expected by a major US ally. It also reflected the particular commitment of Tony Blair to a liberal and interventionist form of internationalism, a position that later led him to into a controversial support for - and participation in - the war in Iraq. It was a position that he defended in ethical as well as national security terms, both before the 2003 invasion and in retrospect. His close foreign policy advisor, Richard Cooper, held similar views, although possibly more extreme and at the time more fully ideologically articulated. Cooper’s advocacy of ‘a new imperialism’ in April 2002 made quite a stir even at a time when several public intellectuals in the Anglo-American world were exploring the values of liberal imperialism. In the post-9/11 international system, he argued, intervention was necessary to deal with ‘failed states’, terrorism and similar threats facing the established powers; interventions that promoted human rights, cosmopolitan values, and free markets were beneficial for the target population as well. In this perspective, military force was at times a necessary tool in service of the necessary and morally legitimate objective of creating a stable and enlightened international order. Ideologically this position was a huge distance from the simple national security objectives that guided the US invasion of Afghanistan and its aftermath.
Consistent with this view, Cooper and Blair played an important role in securing agreement for a multinational force – what became ISAF – at the Bonn conference in December 2001.
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