Last Sunday the
New York Times*
ran an appropriately titled article “Inside the Fog of War”, describing the contents of 92,000 secret US Government records dated between January 2004 and December 2009. They sketched the sad inside story of the disastrous American war in Afghanistan, which unfortunately New Zealand is still a part of. I hope that some of the money we are devoting to foreign affairs in the Budget goes towards analysing these documents, because they show how misguided our participation in the war is, and why our SAS should be withdrawn from that country. A week ago the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, attended an international conference in Afghanistan in which President Karzai vowed that his Afghan forces “will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations in our country by 2014.”
This does not square with what the leaked documents say about the Karzai Government and its security forces. According to the
New York Times
, the documents “recount episodes of police brutality, corruption—petty and large—extortion and kidnapping. Afghan police officers defect [to the Taliban] with trucks and weapons”, etc. According to these documents, the extremist Taliban is much stronger than we have been led to believe. One report on a meeting with Afghan district officials in Paktia Province quotes them as saying: “The general view of the Afghans is that the current Government is worse than the Taliban.” The oldest official in the group said: “The corrupted Government officials are a new concept brought to Afghanistan by the Americans.” This is an important point. The US forces have facilitated the corruption of the regime locally and nationally, as ordinary Afghans see it. The US forces have also set a bad example in the conduct of the war, with large numbers of innocent civilians being killed in air strikes and many others shot at coalition checkpoints, according to the documents. Then we have the newly appointed head of the US Central Command, General James Mattis, who said in 2005 that war was: “A hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people when you like brawling.”, referring to the Taliban. He said that the Taliban who had mistreated women: “Ain’t got no manhood left anyhow, anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” So there you have it. The United States Central Command chief, who is running the war of which New Zealand is a part, is a psychopath—if a psychopath is defined as someone who likes killing people, which is the correct definition. New Zealand is, inevitably, complicit in all this. We have officers functioning in the Central Command headquarters in the United States. We have a SAS unit in Kabul, and there are some New Zealand Defence personnel in Kabul, Bagram, and Khost helping in other ways with the US-run war effort. This creates a huge moral problem for us, not least because of the clear violations of international humanitarian law by both the US and Afghan Government forces. In response to select committee questions, our Government has admitted that: “NZ SAS personnel have been in the vicinity on 22 occasions when Afghan authorities have arrested or detained Afghans.” In effect, they have been a part of the capture of those prisoners. Handing those prisoners over to Afghan soldiers does not absolve us of responsibility for what happens to them later. Our Government cannot escape being responsible for the mistreatment of prisoners against international law, which commonly follows the capture of such prisoners. Replies to select committee estimates questions did confirm that the SAS will be withdrawn at the end of March 2011.
We just hope that John Key will not be swayed by American pressure to keep the SAS unit in the field, even in reduced numbers. Any such pressure will be coming from the American Government, not from the American people. A Bloomberg National Poll conducted this month showed that 60 percent of Americans want the withdrawal of US troops to start in July 2011, even if the war is not going any better for them. The Dutch and the Canadians are also withdrawing, and other countries will follow suit.