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On the current timetable, our PRT forces are not due to be withdrawn until September 2013.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 out.
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.