Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The moral high ground

In my estimation, the most significant parts of the release of The Afghan Papers are those which reveal just how much was kept from us - the ultimate payers of the butcher's bills. All of those taken from us have been portrayed as heroes fighting for the highest moral reasons but it seems possible that some at least of the Coalition forces and their operational tactics were tainted goods. The mission of Army etc. PR has been to show we were winning and were a universal benefit to all Afghans - even the enemy who would turn aside from their evil ways and become true democrats with a small d. We have been conned into following the leads of the politicians and high ranking Service chiefs by propaganda that we were winning. Hearts and minds figure in every think piece or amplifications of military tactics.

But we have not been achieving anything. The enemy has been able to extend its strength and assets with little resistance from our forces. Their refusal to accept us foreigners on their soil has been strengthened. We have not gained their hearts and most certainly not their minds.

There has been a greater price we have had to pay. Young and innocent soldiers must have been changed by what our politicians and their service leaders have demanded of them. It is not natural to direct deadly gunfire upon a bus load of civilians. Firing high explosive shells in the general direction of an inhabitated compound is not conduct that is born in us. Indoctrination to killing has always been a factor of military training but never on the scale or context we are now experiencing. We may be seeing the price of this change in the increased levels and severity of PTSD in those surviving physical harm and returning home.

I have a problem here. We are told that there exists groups of hunter-killer personnel who track and kill high value targets. Responsible to what level in the chain of command we do not know, they move around tactical areas screened even to their compatriots. Every time they saddle up and move on out like some 21st century posse they know that they will kill another human being before their duty is done. Their quarry will be gunned down with no suggestion that they be taken prisoner - extricating the hit squad post-engagement will be hazardous even without the presence of an un-cooperative prisoner. Anyone close to TargetMan will be caught up in a hail of bullets. There are indications in some reports where NATO-cartridge cases were found in amongst the dead that the troops had moved in close and finished off any witnesses or survivors.

What reason or justification do we have for what we did to the hearts and minds of these men? No Magnificent Seven high ideals here are there? What can we offer these men when their days as executioners are done? I write 'executioner' but at least those who function as such in society know that their subject had a fair trial and recourse to justice.

I appreciate that the objective of terrorism is to terrorise and that a terrorist will achieve much quicker results where they are feared rather than merely seen as defenders of a country and a religion. Pussy-footing around in dealing with such an enemy demands considerable levels of patience and may well not succeed anyway. All too easy to win the battle and lose the war. I do support interrogation when pursuing an objective. Even levels of questioning that cause severe pain, disorientation or mental stress. 'My' terrorist has to terrorise 'their' terrorist. It is a narrow line but I justify it because valuable intelligence may be obtained that will obviate deploying a hunter-killer group. But the questioners can do their work with a background that the person left on the floor of the cell is still alive. Or have we reached such levels of depravity that he too will be finished off when no longer useful? Given what I read and deduce from the Afghan Papers I cannot be sure of that even. Do the Ends justify the Means? Just where do the Ends achieved cancel out any benefit from the Means that were deployed?

I am left with an even more strong belief that we should end whatever we are doing in Afghanistan. We now know we went there for an unjustifiable reason. Even if it were ever justifiable it is no longer sustainable. Out now with no prevarication or bargaining of any form. Whatever claim we may make along the lines that we what we did or are doing is good is totally destroyed by consideration of what it is costing to continue the charade.

There is in place now widespread action to trace the whistle-blower and it is not intended to praise or reward him. Surely there can be no greater proof that our bosses are guilty of the most despicable conduct than this? If they are suffused with any idea that what they did was right, why this concern that their methods have been revealed? This is no way to counter evil.

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