What the hell are we doing there?

The only thing my Pop ever said about the Second World War was ‘Better the enemy in front than American troops behind.’ I’ve heard NZ veterans who were stationed on the ground in Vietnam say similar things - that everyone just ducked for cover if they saw the stars and stripes coming overhead despite being, supposedly ‘on the same side’. I suppose it’s some reassurance then that US General Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops in Afghanistan to ‘fire cautiously’ – now there’s a thought - in the wake of hundreds of Afghans taking to the streets to protest the seemingly arbitrary killing of civilians in American air raids. Not so reassuring then that the numbers of civilians killed is now in the thousands and less than 20% of that is attributable to the Taliban.

It should be reassuring that the spokesman for the New Zealand Army has insisted that ‘not a shot has been fired in anger’ by the NZ SAS. Except I noticed that he was blinking a lot when he said it– which made me wonder if perhaps the SAS had not done any shooting while slightly pissed off or maybe… just a little bit cross?

I doubt any highly trained soldier would do anything in anger – leave emotion to the civilians. An SAS soldier would be calculated, on orders and with no emotional involvement at all – surely that should be the hallmark of any professional soldier. Neither are they allowed opinions – that is left to the politicians and the public. Which is why the comment was totally meaningless – at least to me. Unlike school, Mr. Key has assured us that none of the SAS troops are there to eat their lunch, or shave if the photos of Willie are anything to go by. Somehow the pics of Mr. Apiata published in the Herald last week got turned into an OSH issue (naughty Willie forgot his helmet) instead of raising the larger question – namely: What on earth are we doing there? And presumably, ‘What is the end game?’ Instead we got a full scale hand wringing about whether or not the media should identify members of the SAS – a diversion so convincing and entertaining I’m sure the NZ army engineered it themselves.

But how good can it be for lasting peace, for New Zealand to be seen to be supporting an Afghan government that made up its own election results - making even the UN say they’d have to go and sit in the thinking spot and do it all again (which they didn’t.) Karzai must have got political coaching from Tony Blair.

The lack of access to reliable information must surely be partly to blame for why, after 7 years life is little better for the average Afghan citizen than when US forces walked in. Literacy among women is still less than 10%, the heroin trade is thriving and security is almost zero. According to a BBC poll in May last year most Afghan citizens still see the occupation as a good thing in achieving security. The only other people who can be reliably asked about how best to go about this are the soldiers who are there and assessing the efficacy or otherwise of the military operations they carry out. But they are not allowed to speak – and when they do we are not allowed to listen to them. Sometime this week Corporal Joe Glenton will be court-martialled. His crime was saying publicly that the ‘war in Afghanistan was just making things worse.’ He ended up in military jail and we are now none the wiser in at least being able to hear what his thoughts are and what he has seen first hand. We have however been treated, at length to Tony Blair’s distortions and untruths in his version of events of how we got here in the first place. The NZ Herald and the Dominion Post are indeed grossly irresponsible – not for showing the pictures of Willie Apiata - but for not digging hard enough at the army and political non-speak to get to the question of what exactly NZ’s role in Afghanistan is and what the public mandate is for it.

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