Con Coughlin: It’s no longer a question of when the West will win in Afghanistan, it’s a question of when they’ll leave
FIRST we had American soldiers burning copies of the Koran, and now we have the appalling sight of an American soldier running rampage in Afghanistan and killing 16 innocent Afghan civilians, including nine children.
No wonder the Nato mission is going to hell in a handcart.
We all know that soldiers, without the proper training and discipline, can easily degenerate into a murderous rabble that terrorises the local population. We have seen this happen hundreds of times in Africa where armies are no different from the militias who rape, murder and loot at will.
But that is not how it is supposed to be with the Armed Forces of the Western powers, particularly those engaged in sensitive peacekeeping operations, which is what the U.S. troops in Afghanistan are supposed to be doing.
The problem in Afghanistan, though, is that Nato forces – the Americans are the largest contingent – are trying to conduct a peacekeeping operation while at the same time fighting a very nasty war against the Taliban.
After six British soldiers were murdered last week in southern Afghanistan when they were blown up by one of the Taliban's roadside bombs, it is easy to imagine the murderous thoughts of revenge their fellow soldiers are today feeling towards the Taliban.
But the reason they don't pick up their guns and walk into the neighbouring village and massacre every Afghan they can find is the strict training they receive before they are deployed.
It is an inevitable casualty of war that atrocities sometimes happen – the British Army hardly covered itself in glory for the way it treated some Iraqis in Basra following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.
But this is the exception, not the norm, and when such incidents do occur the full weight of the law is brought to bear on the transgressors.
The Americans must do the same with those responsible both for burning the Koran and the murderous assault on Afghan civilians.
But even if this happens, I fear we are rapidly running out of friends in Afghanistan. Our politicians have pulled the plug on this mission – the only item on David Cameron's agenda when he meets President Barack Obama in Washington is when he Allies leave, not how they win.
The Afghans know this as well as anyone, and who will blame them if they call for Nato to withdraw its troops as the earliest available opportunity?