Gordon Campbell on the latest New Zealand deaths in Afghanistan
by Gordon Campbell
The killing of three more New Zealand members of our Provincial Reconstruction Team by a roadside bomb in northern
Bamiyan would seem to indicate that (a) their vehicles are not armoured adequately to protect them against the level of
IEDs now being deployed by the Taliban and (b) that the patrol range of our PRT forces should be restricted until and
unless their vehicles can be adequately armoured. Otherwise, our soldiers will continue to be sitting ducks, who are
doing little more than trying to survive a totally arbitrary period of deployment.
On the current timetable, our PRT forces are not due to be withdrawn until September 2013. That timeframe lacks any
intrinsic sense. There is no reason to believe that between now and then, our PRT presence will make Bamiyan safer for
the locals in any sustainable fashion, or that the aid projects with which the PRT has been involved will survive their
withdrawal. Nothing that New Zealand will achieve between now and September 2013 can justify the further loss of life
that now seems inevitable, should we remain in Bamiyan. Yet we will remain, of course. Because it would be too
politically embarrassing for the government to treat the safety of our forces as an over-riding concern, and pull them
In the interim, at least we should be clear about the motives at work here. Yes, it is sad that more lives have been
lost, and more families bereaved. Yet when Prime Minister John Key wears his sad face and talks gravely about sacrifice,
we need to keep in mind that the lives in question have been sacrificed for a political commitment that is meaningless.
There is no noble purpose involved here, only the usual grubby business of politicking – that by joining the effort in
Afghanistan, New Zealand might gain some political or trade favours from the Americans.
Whenever he is pressed on the purpose of our Afghan deployment, Key usually responds by saying that we’re fighting
global terrorism and/or enabling Afghanistan to rebuild. Well, if it ever made any sense, the ‘fighting global
terrorism’ rationale ended many years ago, after the destruction of al Qaeda as a functioning global network and the
capture and/or killing of its leaders. In 2012, the notion that we are fighting al Qaeda in Bamiyan to prevent its
turbaned forces from splashing ashore at Devonport is quite a stretch. Similarly, as for the rebuilding of
Afghanistan…the thought that the corrupt Karzai regime (that our troops are giving their lives to defend) will ever be
capable of delivering peace and prosperity to Afghanistan looks like an increasingly forlorn hope. In the meantime,
changing the patrol ambit and routes of the PRT team to make them less vulnerable, would seem the very least their
commanders could do for them.
The Dutch saw the writing on the wall and pulled out their troops two years ago. There is no good reason why we should
not do likewise, and get our forces home by Christmas. Because what our troops in Afghanistan are really defending – and
dying for – in 2012 is John Key’s reputation, and his welcome mat in Washington.