Monday, 20 August 2012

Time to question the Afghan mission

If you’re not there to win then what are you there for? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves and the Commander-in-Chief after three more New Zealand soldiers were killed—killed in Bamiyan Province when their Humvee was hit by a remote-controlled explosive device. Killed while fighting for …

No, I can’t finish that last sentence either. Fighting for what?

For the last few years, it looks like they’ve been fighting for the right to build infrastructure and encourage tourism (tourism?) in Bamiyan Province; in other words, altruism by force—not a good reason to go to war.

There was a good reason once. New Zealand soldiers joined an international coalition in Afghanistan ten years ago in response to 9/11, sent there on a mission to search out and destroy the perpetrators and those who supported them: to hunt down Osama Bin Laden, and to destroy the Taleban who had supported him and the training of his Al Qaeda vermin.

Sent there by Helen Clark’s government, the mission began with almost unanimous parliamentary and public support.

As we now know however, both of those missions have failed. Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan relatively early while everyone was still pretending Pakistan was our ally; and while the corrupt theocracy of the Taleban capitulated early, leaving Afghanistan in the titular control of the corrupt theocracy of Mohammed Karzai, on the ground the Taleban have been out and about ever since—free to destroy hope, mutilate and slaughter innocents, and plant explosive devices under New Zealand-driven military vehicles.

There was a mission, which has not been allowed to succeed, in a barbaric place, which our soldiers’ sacrifice has done nothing to change.

Instead of helping to hunt down Taleban bases and destroy them, our soldiers have been “rebuilding” the country while leaving themselves in the open to be shot at.

This is neither good tactics not good strategy. Soldiers are soft targets—their weapons don’t protect them against incoming ordnance. The only use for their weapons is to hunt down and destroy these aggressors.

But this stopped being their mission some years ago.  Their job instead has been to “rebuild” the infrastructure in a country that has never had any, for a populace showing no sign of appreciating the gesture.

It’s quite literally a sacrifice of the good to the uncaring.

These are soldiers taken away from their real mission and placed in the field of fire for reasons that no longer hold up. They’re not allowed to win, and they’re not allowed to admit the cause is lost. Instead they’re just there getting shot at.

It’s not an unwinnable war; it’s only unwinnable because those in charge have no idea what winning would mean—which is the situation  in which the war’s leaders have left the soldiers prosecuting the war.

Time to bring them home.

Yes, that would be another signal in a half-century of such signals that that the West is not willing to defend its own interests. But there’s little we in NZ can do about that, except to recognise that a morality dedicated to goals other than overwhelming victory is achieving its aim. 

PS: Now, you can say with some legitimacy that it’s too soon to be asking questions; too soon on the morning we’ve had the news about the weekend’s deaths. And you’re right. It is. But I had planned last week to to write this, after  Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed in in a village near Do Abe, in north-east Bamiyan province.



  1. Read the Flashman novels on Afghanistan. Then never ever send troops to Afghanistan.

  2. @PC - However much I might agree that their mission is confused and perhaps too altruistic, I can't agree that bringing them home is the right thing. It would send a clear message to the Taleban and other sundry thugs that all you need do to get your own way and for the good guys to give up is kill a few people.

    I also think there's no dichotomy between promoting economic development in a troubled region (so called 'altruism') and legitimate self defence. Experiences in Iraq showed that winning the military battle is the first and necessary thing, but protecting the populace from terrorists and encouraging economic development (so there's no motivation to join them) is what's needed to achieve any lasting peace and stop the threat quickly returning. Japan after WWII is another example of that.

    Iraq was once written off as more of a basket case than Afghanistan, but they largely suceeded there by staying the course. And who would have thought in 1944 that the Japanese would be peaceful within a few years? I'm therefore far from convinced it's an unwinnable war. One thing I do know is talk like this will make it unwinnable.

  3. @Mark, I agree it's not unwinnable. But it is unwinnable the way it's (not) being fought.

    Especially since even the war's strategists apparently have no idea what victory would actually look like.

    In any case, standing around being shot at it is not a strategy for winning. And not worth putting NZ soldiers in harm's way.

  4. @ Mark: ANd as I say in the post above: yes, withdrawal now would be another signal in a half-century of such signals that that the West is not willing to defend its own interests. But there’s little we in NZ can really do about that...

  5. Liberty for Shore20 Aug 2012, 14:22:00

    We should never have gone in there but the decision was made on the grounds of collective security. Therefore we are there and to with-draw at this time would send the wrong message, in my opinion the answer is send the SAS back to back up our troops. Some artillery would also send the message that we are not to be fuc*ed with and if our allies dis the same it may speed negotiations.

  6. The whole Afghan-Iraq campaign is just another exercise in Western hypocrisy. Al Qaeda is a Saudi-inspired, Saudi-led organisation and Saudi Arabia should be our target, not our ally. Second choice would be Iran, the funder and supplier to that other bunch of Islamic terrorists, Hamas. Third choice would be finishing off the thug Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

  7. In recent history two global superpowers have tried and failed to eradicate the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    If only you had gone on the phone to the coalition's military leaders after 9/11 to share your strategic insight. Then maybe these tragic deaths could have been avoided.

  8. If you wanted to hit the trainers and supporters of the Taleban you would hit the CIA. Same as Syria right now, where the Americans are happily supporting the same people against Iran's ally Assad.

    There will be no winning in Afganistan, the same as all the people killed in Iraq this week by bombs don't believe that their life was improved by being invaded by the White Imperialists.

    The NZ soldirs were killed by freedom fightes trying to rid their country of the Western invaders.. as usual.

  9. @Paul: Well, one global "superpower" was revealed just a very few years after its invasion to be neither super nor a power--as was revealed after the collapse of the Iron Curtain--and it was resisted by guerillas armed with super-powerful weapons by the *other* superpower.

    And that other* superpower, while super-powerful in terms of its military capacity and weaponry, has been morally disarmed by its acceptance of a morality dedicated to goals other than overwhelming victory.

  10. They tried the 'overwhelming victory' approach after 9/11 and failed. Unless you are talking about nuking the place.

  11. @Keith: If you think the Taleban thugs are "freedom fighters," then I'm afraid there is very little for you and I to talk about.

    @Anonymous (please at least have the courage to put a name to your comments): I disagree. There was not even agreement on what victory would looks like.

    The original understanding was they were sent on a mission to search out and destroy the perpetrators of 9/11 and those who supported them: to hunt down Osama Bin Laden, and to destroy the Taleban who had supported him and the training of his Al Qaeda vermin.

    The first aim collapsed when it was transparently obvious Osama Bin Liner had escaped across the border into Pakistan, whereupon the continuing pretence that Pakistan was an ally made a mockery of this goal.

    The second goal collapsed when destroying the Taleban was given less priority than handing out aid to folk showing little gratitude for receiving it, and supporting Karzai's corrupt theocracy.

    And no, I am not advocating nuking the place. There is little point in bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age when it's already there.

  12. I really have no idea what is supposed to be achieved now in Afghanistan. When it was to attack the Taleban and kill Osama bin Laden and as many of his buddies as possible, it made sense.

    But they didn't even catch Osama though they had him in their clutches, if they hadn't expected jihadists to catch or kill him.

    I wouldn't dream of going there and do not want any of my money going there, so NZ should retreat.

    The idea that we would send faulty messages to thugs by retreating is wrong. General Dostum is very much a Saddam Hussein figure, even looking like him, and here we are supporting him gaining power. They have got the messages already.

    Initially, the Taleban and everyone else ran for it when they realized after 911 that a huge attack was coming. Then it shot off sideways into Iraq in pursuit of the obviously absurd idea that Saddam had WMDs [obvious BEFORE the invasion].

    Peter is right. Sound the retreat. Save some lives. Now. Or come up with some very good reasons to stay. I would not want to explain to a widow and her children why their husband's and father's death was a necessary thing, for the greater good.

    I have no idea how it could be explained. "We were trying to achieve, umm.... ?"

  13. A right goal for Afghanistan would have been to de-Islamify the place, like the de-Nazification and de-militarisation campaigns on Germany and Japan, both of which were highly successful.

    However, to do it required a level of force and occupation that no US leader was willing to swallow or sustain. Removing the Taleban and keeping it out of power became the goal - despite the fact that what remained was only preferable because the Taleban was exporting Islamist terror. Karzai was merely running an Islamist state domestically (albeit less fundamentalist - more UAE than Iran).

    I'll freely admit that given porous borders and the dispersion of weaponry that any Western occupation of Afghanistan would have been immensely costly, and unlikely to have had Pakistani support - but the original mission, having been accomplished, has done relatively little. Afghanistan remains a stone age failed state, and whilst most Muslims remain misogynistic bullies, there is little likelihood of secular government, let alone individual freedom having much hold here.

  14. You say coalition leaders didn't know what victory would look like, but you haven't said specifically what this apparently achieveable "overwhelming victory" would look like either.


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