21 Jun 2010

300th soldier's death is tragic, but what about the Afghans?

Tragic though the 300th British dead soldier/marine is, it is the Afghan people for whom we are fighting we are told, and the Afghan people who remain resolutely ignored, writes Alex Thomson

You will no doubt hear and read a lot today, an awful lot today, from Englishmen intent on saying that the war in Afghanistan is going well. You will hear almost nothing from Afghans.

And Afghans, thanks to both Nato and the Taliban/resistance/insurgents (delete as applicable to your own personal prejudice) are getting wiped out and injured far, far more than any foreign soldier or insurgent mujahedeen.

Which is rather a shame. Because tragic though the 300th British dead soldier/marine is, it is the Afghan people for whom we are fighting we are told, and the Afghan people who remain resolutely ignored in what is being forced upon them and their land from the foreign occupation (and it is that for many of them, let’s not beat about the bush) and their largely hated, corrupt president, downwards through the various levels of corruption and kleptocracy.

All of this, by a military force which keeps telling the Afghan people that it wants to get out and run home as fast as it feasibly can. Only this morning, Major General Gordon Messenger – the current MOD warspinner-in-chief – tells Channel 4 News that you see Afghans getting engaged in the new government and taking their complaints to the regional political civilian leaders and this, you understand, is a sign of real progress.

What he doesn’t say, is that those same Afghans also take their complaints along to the insurgents because all Afghans in areas like Helmand simply have to play it both ways.

Why would you support the foreigners when they tell you they are trying to leave in a year or two?

Why would you trust the Afghan police when you know them to be a bunch of thieves and looters (and that’s on a good day at the office)?

Why would you trust the army who do not come from around here and are largely from alien tribes and probably don’t even speak your language?

We are asking a huge pledge of trust from Afghans and they are not stupid. Hence Helmand and beyond are places where the most enormous hedging of bets is going on as people decide to sits things out in neutrality to see which way it will go.

There is very little faith that Afghan forces will competently be able to take over security in anything like the short term. Everyone in the bazaars of Helmand will talk about Iran and Pakistan interfering as soon as you ask and that, they say, will simply be a fast track back into overt civil war.

So you cannot set foot beyond a British base in Helmand without the insurgents noticing, watching, tracking everything you do. Where you go. Who you see. How protected you are. And nobody goes without serious protection.

This is the reality of this war nine years into it with the spike of violence clearly worsening by every measurable means, not getting less.

Of course the MoD and British army officers are hard-wired to talk up the positives. They are, more or less, unable to acknowledge the realities of this war as the public and visiting journalists continually see them. So they are left mouthing on about protecting the streets of London here, opening schools and having a trusted district governor there.

And all the time more and more and more British soldiers will come home to Wooton Bassett in coffins instead of Brize in a jet. And our military and politicians will go on defending the war and saying things are getting better when the evidence points to the exact opposite.

They have failed to spin the war. The public are not convinced. The danger here is that, thus far, they have pretty much got away with “an acceptable level of violence”. There are not huge demonstrations on our streets. There is no civil disobedience to speak of. And so they feel this could go on indefinitely as it will certainly have to, barring dramatic policy shift.

Afghans by and large don’t believe things are getting better. The British by and large don’t believe it either. For many, we keep on sending out our young men to get killed and maimed at the Pentagon’s behest. Though nobody in power can or will accept this is really an American war.