A "pervasive and resilient culture of pessimism" about the Afghan war back home in Britain is severely undermining troops on the front line, a senior army officer serving in Helmand has warned.
The negativity is hindering an “objective analysis of the campaign” and falsely painting an alarmist and defeatist picture, he says. The sight of crowds turning out to see the return of soldiers’ bodies at Wootton Bassett has become a feature of the Afghan conflict.
There is frustration in the military that there is a lack of appreciation back home about what UK forces are achieving about what UK forces are achieving at great personal risk and in extremely tough circumstances, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Bazeley told The Independent.
I would be happy to count myself in amongst those with an alarmist and defeatist attitude. It is not yet an offence to apply reason and consideration to a situation and that is what I seek to do in the face of the permanently sunny, bright and uplifting Good News dished out by the Services media specialists. It is Good News Week - By Order. I accepted over 22 years of it whilst serving and was often in a position during that time to know exactly what had happened and how that was presented by the spin-masters.
The Army marshals it's chosen supporters " Young soldiers serving in some of the most dangerous parts of Helmand talk often of the reactions to the war back home. No 1 Company the Coldstream Guards have had five soldiers killed – including the latest member of the British forces to die, Guardsman Michael Sweeney, last week – and 35 injured, while operating in Babaji.
Guardsman Ross Caddy, 18, said: “I think we are doing some good. The Afghans are taking over security more, it’s their country. I don’t think anyone likes to see a foreign army in their country. But I don’t think people back home really know what’s going on here.”
Drummer Lance Mawson, 20, from Leicester and also of No 1 Company, said: “It’s been a very tough tour and pretty hard to see guys you know and work with becoming casualties. We like to think we are doing the right thing and this is worth it. It would be pretty bad if we lose the support of people back home, all you can do is hope that doesn’t happen.”
Lt Col Bazeley said there was ample evidence of public support for the soldiers: “It is humbling to see the quite extraordinary level of support we receive from the British people, but there is clearly less enthusiasm to sustain a demanding and costly military campaign.
Soldiers do as they are told - or else. My interruptions are never aimed at the rank and file - how could they be? They do as they are told and are conditioned even to accept that they will be required to lay down their lives and fill out that blank cheque that went towards the now abandoned Covenant. But, it is conditioning that makes them do it.
Imagine oneself freshly reporting at a training depot still damp-eyed at separation from girl-friend/wife and kids and family for just a few weeks and the first thing one is told is "You have a very good chance of being killed or severely disabled in the next eight months" Do you think many would stay for a second night in barracks?
Listen to what the Officer tells us "Support is subtly different from sympathy and I sense on occasions the two are conflated in the Public Mind. We do not want sympathy; sympathy is for losers and we are not losing. We are soldiers, we know the risks, we know what we are doing and why we are here... We face the challenge with informed and considered determination but we want to be drawing on a National strength and resolve to underpin our efforts and not just our morale"
Well - if they were not conditioned at the depot, they are being fired up in Afghanistan. Look at all the appeals to the pride - the warrior class. Scorn for losers. Facing challenges. A fine combination of Churchillian oratory and the In Which We Serve school of 1939-45 war films. Henry V at Agincourt could not have done better. Reference is made to the threat from terrorism. "Failure in Afghanistan will leave a security black hole from which extremeism on a large scale will emerge" is forecast. So, what if we achieve a win in Afghanistan (whatever a win constitutes) who can say that the forward march of militant Islam will not spring out from some other Islamic homeland? Any mention that much of the progress gained by the blood of our troops may well be abandoned by a deceitful UK or US government seeking peace at any price or that the forces we leave in charge are not overthrown within a few months. There is the example of the claimed resolution in Iraq which is already being blown apart. The Northern Ireland solution was to be the end of wanton death there.
A postcript - "A British soldier on foot patrol in Southern Afghanistan was killed by an explosion yesterday, the Ministry of Defence said. The soldier, from 3 Bn The Rifles, was killed after the blast in the Kajaki area of Helmand" RIP and a parade will follow. What a wasted life.