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Chris Ford: Don't Send Our SAS To Afghanistan

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

This week John Key signalled that he was seriously mulling over whether or not to send the NZ Special Air Services (SAS) to Afghanistan to assist NATO and US troops in their fight against a resurgent Taliban. I say that the Government shouldn't do so.


Well it now seems that Afghanistan could be the next Vietnam where US and Allied forces could be drawn into a defeat at the hands of their Islamic fundamentalist enemies. While it is true that the Taliban are a bunch of fundamentalist Islamic extremists whose treatment of women let alone their political and religious opponents has been nothing but hideous, they are also growing again in strength due to the American presence inside the country. Therefore, while many Afghans are weary of the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies, they happen to be far more hostile to the presence of the Americans and their Western allies.

This is for the simple reason that the Americans and NATO have targeted not just the Taliban but innocent Afghan civilians in land battles and air strikes and they have also arrested, interned and brutally treated many innocent people as well as has been documented by international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The resistance to the Western occupation of Afghanistan has intensified in recent months too due to the election of Barack Obama as US President. Obama has probably made things worse due to his election campaign pledge to order an Iraq-style surge into Afghanistan in a determined effort to defeat the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies. Following on from this decision, increasing numbers of US and British troops previously deployed in Iraq have been sent onto Afghanistan.

The Pentagon hopes to achieve an so-called Iraq-style 'pacification' of the country through a dual strategy of winning Afghan 'hearts and minds' (this phrase was also used in Vietnam) coupled with a concerted military push against Taliban and Al-Qaeda strongholds. What has to be deconstructed though is the so-called 'success story' of Iraq where two secetarian-inspired car bomb incidents a week is now considered to be a great improvement on the up to ten incidents a week that occurred just on a year or two ago. Never mind though that in the bad old days of Saddam Hussein, there were hardly any incidents of sectarian violence in Iraq and besides that, there was (prior to the first Gulf War in 1991) plentiful supplies of food, petrol, electricity and other essentials whereas these are in short supply in that country now. Moreover the US and their friends have recently concluded agreements divvying up oilfield concessions to multinational companies from the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, leaving the Iraqis to survive on whatever royalties the US and British proxy rulers of their country deign to give them. So long as the oil fields are safe, it appears that the Americans and their friends won't worry too much about what else goes on inside the country provided the Iraqi Government doesn't touch the foreign oil concessions.

Same with Afghanistan. It has been said (and there is certainly some truth in this) that the US was waiting for some justification to invade that country in order to secure space for US companies to lay a large natural gas pipeline that would take supplies of that fuel from Afghanistan through to Turkey. In fact, the Clinton Administration gave tacit recognition to the Taliban upon their seizure of power in 1996 and it is documented that even US oil and gas companies entertained Taliban representatives in Texas in order to persuade them that this was a good idea. The US was also concerned in 1997 about the build up of Iranian forces on the Afghan border given the Iranian Islamic regime's hostility towards the Taliban. If the US was not so fixated on hobbling Iran, then it could have supported instead a short Iranian military campaign against the Taliban that might have exhausted it and flushed out Al Qaeda well prior to September 11, 2001.

For all these reasons then, what exactly is New Zealand going to send some of its most brutally trained armed men to do? Defend a country for the sake of an oil pipeline? Defend a venal, corrupt and unjust regime which recently passed legislation making women even more subservient to men, moreso than had even been the case under the Taliban? A country where corrupt warlords and the Taliban rule over vast swathes of it leaving the Hamid Karzai puppet government's writ to run only within the confines of the capital, Kabul?

Simply put, the case for our ongoing military involvement seems to be minimal at best. And as for the US Ambassador to Nato's argument that we should send our forces to Afghanistan as for one day we might need the US to come to New Zealand's aid is bunkum. Who is our enemy? No country is threatening our sovereignty and so long as we take a non-interventionist stance in Middle Eastern affairs, we will not present an alluring target for Islamic fundamentalist terrorism (like the Australians appear to be hell bent on doing given this week's anti-terrorist police raids.)Furthermore, do we wish to be implicated in any other atrocities that the Americans and British might be thinking of committing, given that our SAS has already handed over some Taliban and Afghan captives who would then have gone on to have been tortured by the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies in defiance of the Geneva Convention?

I believe that the best solution for New Zealand is to send more civilian reconstruction teams and NOT troops (and I mean civilian teams in every sense of the word civilian). Yes, I believe in the need to win hearts and minds but through granting more aid to build schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, small industries and sustainable farming. The United Nations should be proactive in calling an international peace conference on Afghanistan involving all the warring parties inside the country (including, unfortunately, the Taliban too) and other regional powers such as Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran who would all be responsible for securing any peace deal with a UN peacekeeping force, predominantly comprised of troops from Arab and Islamic states, enforcing any deal on the ground. The conference should also arrange for the final pull out of all NATO and US forces to be replaced by the UN peacekeeping force and a viable constitution should then be drawn up with its centrepiece being genuine respect for the human rights of all Afghans and then genuine elections involving all parties held. The UN force should be given a negotiated timeframe in which to achieve its mission goals which would be set through consensual agreement amongst all the parties at the conference.

I would even go so far as to argue that taking a more non-military approach might be the best way of isolating the Taliban as if they see that they have diminishing support from the Afghan people due to the positive and peaceful development of their country and that no Western power is seen to be dictating to it and moreover that Arab and Muslim troops are patrolling the streets and villages instead of Westerners, then things could take a different turn.

After all, Afghanistan has had a well known record of chewing up and spitting out out successive foreign invading armies since the time of Alexander the Great. And why would we risk the opprobrium of the Afghan people by contributing our fighting forces there once again as well?

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