Friday, June 28, 2013

Why the widow in Helmand is no different to the widow in Kettering

When you try to find out how many people have been killed in Afghanistan since the Coalition started its operations there after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and go, for example to, you’ll get all kinds of figures: deaths broken down by nationality, by province, by year and by month, and you’ll even, if that’s the kind of info you’re after, find the names of those who have died. It’s pertinent, however, that all these deaths are ‘Coalition’ deaths and what you won’t find is a figure for the number of Afghanis killed, whether they were ‘hostile’ or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Try googling the phrase ‘Afghanistan deaths’. That’s pretty comprehensive, isn’t it, and should surely take you to the sites giving you the information you want.

If like me you want to find out specifically how many Afghanis have been killed - whether ‘hostile’ or who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - you’ll come up empty-handed. Listed are sites giving you ‘military deaths’, ‘Coalition deaths’, the number of UK soldiers killed and the number of US soldiers killed. For anything else, you’ll have to dig a little deeper. I did, and this is what I have found: Wikipedia’s page ‘‪Civilian casualties in the War in Afghanistan (2001–present)‬’ begins ‘The decade-long War in Afghanistan (2001-present) has caused the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians directly from insurgent and foreign military action, as well as the deaths of possibly tens of thousands of Afghan civilians indirectly as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, and crime resulting from the war.’

The Coalition mission, let me remind you, is called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. For the record a total of 3,343 of the Coalition forces have died, of which 2,245 were from the US, 444 from the UK and the rest - 654 - were ‘others’, that is members of a force from other countries who were strong-armed to take part by the US and its junior partner - let’s not kid ourselves - the UK to give the whole bloody pointless exercise a spurious respectability - you couldn’t otherwise really call it a ‘coalition’, could you.

Now you have the figures, let me pose a simply question: how does 3,343 compare with ‘thousands, possibly tens of thousands’? It doesn’t, does it. Oh, and an estimate by a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, ‪Sherard Cowper-Coles‬ (that’s Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles to you Americans and no, he didn’t grow up on a council estate in Northamptonshire, not with a name like that), is that the whole shooting match has cost the UK around £40 billion since 2001. Lord knows how much it has cost the US.

There have been a great many critics of the West’s invasion of Afghanistan - I might as be honest and call a spade a spade - and I am by no means the first. In response our governments here in Britain are always on the back foot. They will try to justify their action - started by Blair who, as far as I can see, never let pass an opportunity to suck up to Uncle Sam, such is his mysterious pathology - by point out out ‘how many schools have now been built’, that ’30,000 girls now attend school’, that Afghanis can now take part in elections’.

These three points, and others they make, are undoubtedly true - and admirable - but don’t take us for fools, please. Those justifications are all post-hoc. Dubya Bush didn’t wake up one day and realise that his mission in life was to ensure girls as well as boys in Afghanistan deserved a good education, and that, by jingo!, he was going to make sure they got one, whatever the cost in human lives and hard cash. He sent in US troops - would invaded Afghanistan really be inappropriate here? - because

Success! The Coalition can demonstrate progress is bringing enduring freedom to the people of Afghanistan

‘intelligence’ suggested one Osama bin Laden, the evil genius behind the destruction of the Twin Towers was holed up in a cave in the mountains on the Afghani/Pakistani border. And Blair, ever eager for the brownie points and with one eye on his epitaph went in with him. It was only when - yet again - the West came horribly unstuck in Afghanistan, as did the Soviets before them, that in view of the mounting number of Coalitions deaths and other casualties it began coming up with all kinds of bullshit to ‘justify’ its military action there - making sure Health and Safety legislation was adequately observed, clamping down on blatant disregard for planning laws, that kind of thing. Ordnung muß sein!

It was always going to end in tears, of course, and now the Coalition, finally acknowledging that it is on a hiding to nothing, is trying to persuade the Taliban to enter ‘peace talks’. The Taliban, of course, who know a three-legged racing stallion when they see one, aren’t really that bothered. Why should they be? OK, so they have ‘an office’ in Doha, Qatar (and, I don’t doubt, adequate expenses accounts to go with it) and a website, but it will take all the skills Sir William Todger and Trent Buckweed (a the British and American diplomats leading the talks) can muster to avoid giving the impression that ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ is just another embarrassing fuck-up in a long line of embarrassing fuck-ups.

What of those Afghanis deaths, both ‘insurgent’ and civilian? Our oh-so fragrant Margaret Thatcher went purple with rage during the Falklands War when BBC observed that that ‘the widow in Portsmouth is no different from the widow of Buenos Aires’, but I am on the side of the BBC and as far as I am concerned the widow in Helmand province is no different from the widow in Cardiff or Scunthorpe or Wichita’ or wherever else the dead squaddie was from. And this might also be a good point to record that if you want to blame anyone for the fuck-up don’t blame servicemen and woman sent out there: blame the politicians and their PR folk who like to think a conflict or two always looks good in a biography.

I am, of course, pissing in the wind. By railing against the rampant hypocrisy conveyed by casualty figures that record ‘Coalition’ deaths in minute detail but don’t record a single Afghani death I am doing nothing more than making myself look like a naive twat. It’s life, Patrick, it’s the way of the world, dear boy, has always been thus and shall always be thus, no go and lie down and think no more on it.


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