Sunday, 5 June 2011

It is time the politicians were as professional as the men and women they send to their deaths

Marine Sam Alexander, 28, and Lieutenant Ollie Augustin, 23, based at Bickleigh Barracks, were killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on Friday. The men were both in 42 Commando Royal Marines. Between 400 and 500 people lined the streets of Wootton Bassett yesterday afternoon to pay their respects after the bodies arrived at RAF Lyneham. The cortege stopped briefly in front of the town's war memorial as family and friends of the two marines laid flowers on the hearses. Cans of beer were also placed on the roof of the hearse carrying Mne Alexander's body. Mne Alexander was awarded the Military Cross in 2009 after he charged at the Taliban in order to provide cover for an injured comrade. (1)

I'm posting this because I know Sam's grandfather, and who thought a lot of Sam, and his bravery. I can imagine he was one of those placing a can of beer on the hearse (even though his preferred drink is gin). Sam's father has questioned whether Britain should be in Afganistan; he has said: ""It is time the politicians were as professional as the men and women they send to their deaths".

I agree. This war seems too much like a remote armchair theatre, where there is no real strategy objectives; it is a long war, dragging on, with no end in site, except withdrawal. For those of us old enough to remember, it reminds me so very much of Vietnam, the war that the USA said had to be won, but eventually had to be lost.

Writing in the Independent, he has made the following points:

Recently there have been two sustained public relations campaigns. One says that we (Nato/Britain) are succeeding militarily. The other says that we cannot win this thing militarily and that talking with the enemy must be stepped up. Plans for withdrawal are being worked on continuously

Is that a kind of facing both ways at once, the accusation so recently lodged against Pakistan by a finger-wagging David Cameron? How motivating is it if a stream of analysts say this is an unwinnable war, pointing out that Afghanistan has witnessed more than 100 years of failed interventions?

What is sure is that the deaths of these two Royal Marines from 42 Commando Group brought the total cost in lives for this campaign up to 368; one of those made me, for a while, the subject of that bland reference which is Ministry of Defence speak: "The family has been informed". Informed. What does the public really know? Are we winning the fight for democracy in Afghanistan, or is that country just a loose federation of fiefdoms, often still run by warlords?

Who or what are the Taliban? From what I have been told, this was not a ragbag peasant army. The most likely opponent, often very highly trained, could be Iranian, Chechen or Pakistani, not Afghans. So what does that do for the argument that, by waging war in Afghanistan, we are protecting Britain from a 9/11 or a Mumbai terrorist attack? Where does 7/7 fit into that? How much is the enemy already within?

Nothing should be taken away from Sam or the other 367, or the thousands more with life-changing injuries. But one thing for sure is that these guys and women are fighting primarily for each other in the most professional way. And there is much more emphasis on the ground, though not always in war reports, on forging links with the local community.

But Nato, when the Afghan public opinion chips are down, is not wanted. What we see as liberation is too often seen by them as occupation - and, if they listen to their own history, it is only a matter of time before Afghan life is restored. The average farmer struggles to survive and is certainly not a beneficiary of the reported $1bn of aid funding that has quietly disappeared. (2)


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