Deaths show stupidity of sending troops

DAVE ARMSTRONG
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2012
USAF C17 at Christchurch Airport
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
COMING HOME: The bodies of the two soldiers killed in Afghanistan return on a USAF C17 at Christchurch Airport.

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Dave Armstrong

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OPINION: On September 11, 2001, when two planes sent the twin towers of the World Trade Center crashing down, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding somewhere in Afghanistan. His gratis cave accommodation was provided courtesy of the fund amentalist Taleban government, which had taken over most of the country some years before.

New Zealanders didn't know much about the Taleban - we still don't - yet our Labour/Alliance government couldn't send troops quickly enough to support the subsequent American invasion. Though the issue split the Alliance, with its hard-Left activists objecting to their party supporting Yankee imperialism, the rest of the country sleepily supported the deployment.

Though the Taleban was overthrown before Christmas of 2001, our soldiers are still there over a decade later. This conflict has lasted as long as the two World Wars combined.

Peace has not come to the country but, most importantly for our politicians, we are back in Uncle Sam's good books.

And our reconstruction teams have done some good deeds. According to our prime minister, girls can now attend school in Bamiyan Province without discrimination. I hope our South Auckland charter schools will be as respectful of human rights.

But our soldiers face a hostile and well-armed enemy playing at home. And we know the corrupt Karzai government would collapse if the US and its allies pulled out.

When news of the ambush on New Zealand troops broke last week, Kiwis were united in their grief and aroha for the families of those killed or wounded. What surprised me also was the almost unanimous political support for our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. Consent has been well and truly manufactured.

I expected our prime minister to reiterate his support for our continuing military presence until the tour of duty ends some time next year. But I didn't expect the Labour leader to agree. ''We've got a programme to withdraw over time and I think that's probably the right way to go,'' said David ''Probably'' Shearer. Probably is probably his middle name.

I thank the Labour leader for informing us about his party's policy U-turn. Last time I checked, Labour was opposed to military involvement in Afghanistan. Phil Goff's own nephew was killed there. During the 2011 election campaign Mr Goff made the difficult, yet principled decision to call for the troops to come home as soon as possible. His policy would have saved lives but we were too busy screaming ''show me the money'' to care.

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But it was the Greens' response that really surprised me. In the past, you could rely on Keith Locke to condemn our involvement in what he saw as superpower imperialism. Yet last week Metiria Turei, after paying tribute to the slain men, said the Provincial Reconstruction Team had been doing ''very well'' in Afghanistan. Really? So now the Greens support our troops being involved in armed conflict? Thanks for letting me know, guys. Maybe you should consider coalition with National after all.

Though our soldiers might be doing some good things in Bamiyan, the reality is that they're not going to leave a strong stable government behind. In the meantime, it's highly likely they will face even more Taleban terror. And it's likely we'll get a last-minute request from Uncle Sam to extend our tour of duty.

So would John Key turn down such a request from the US? I doubt it. Withstanding American pressure is exhausting and difficult, even for someone with strength of character.

Meanwhile, New Zealanders will sleep fretfully - fingers crossed that no more ambushes occur before we finally leave the hellhole.

And our sad Anzac Days will add the fallen soldiers of Afghanistan to the long list of soldiers killed in foreign conflicts.

The $80 million John Key earmarked for spending on a Buckle St war memorial would be money well spent if it taught New Zealanders once and for all the folly of war and the stupidity of sending troops, at the behest of a superpower, to lands far, far away.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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