Afghanistan: our options are limited

Last updated 13:10 10/08/2012

The death in Afghanistan of two New Zealand soldiers this week, in a firefight that wounded six more, has inevitably returned the public debate to whether we should stay the course or leave early. But there are more useful questions to be asked, both from the point of view of the people in Bamiyan province and for New Zealand's reputation.

Such as how we leave, and what we leave behind. In any case, since the decision has been made to quit next year, the options are limited.

The next six-month rotation is due to head for Bamiyan in a month or so.

It would be a major - make that nigh impossible - task to pull the plug on that now, arrange a final handover to the local security forces, and get the light armoured vehicles (LAVs) and other equipment out. In practical terms, that leaves the options of a pullout in April or October next year to end the 10-year deployment.

A panic exit would send all the wrong signals, and would hardly be in the best interest of the locals. They are trying, with New Zealand help, to train a ready-reaction force. While the Afghan national police and the paramilitary-cum-secret police, the NDS, are armed, there are no Afghan army units stationed in Bamiyan.

The province's governor, Habiba Sarabi, her spokesman Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, and chief of police General Juma Gilki Yardam all made the same point in interviews with me last year, and in recent reports: the 1000-strong police force does not have the weapons or the equipment to resist the Taleban insurgency.

As the security situation in Bamiyan has deteriorated, that lack of equipment was driven home only last month: in two separate incidents massive improvised explosive devices (IEDs) killed nine local police officers in Bamiyan - the first police deaths there since 2008.

The Afghan police do not have the sophisticated jamming equipment available in the Kiwis' LAVs and Humvees that creates a "bubble" around a convoy to protect them against remote- controlled roadside bombs.

This week Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said an increase in IED attacks, likely from a new Taleban unit that had come up from the south, had so far been thwarted by the New Zealanders. Not so for the local police.

That is not to say the Kiwis should leave sophisticated equipment or even LAVs when they leave - there are too many dangers in that.

And yes, there is a sewer of corruption and incompetence running through the Karzai regime in Kabul.
But the question now for the Key Government is whether the right option is to pull out in disgust or use the limited time till the final 2013 pullout to do the best - and leave the best legacy - New Zealand can. For now, though, it is wrestling with more pressing short-term problems: how to protect the New Zealand contingent till exit day.

Ministers this week gave approval for Kiwi troops to range into neighbouring Baghlan province to disrupt the insurgents involved in the attack that killed Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone; it's reported locally that the a group is led by Taleban commander Khwaja Abdullah.

Bamiyan had been an oasis of relative peace. But as the first province to "transition" to local control, it is both the poster-child for the Nato and US pullout and a magnet for the Taleban.

As General Jones put it, there was a sense in the insurgent community that the local insurgents were letting the side down and not making a big enough impact. Faced with this new threat from across the border in Baghlan, where the Hungarians are nominally in control, General Jones sought approval to extend patrols into the region.

He has a reputation as a tactician and the Government was inclined - almost obliged - to take his advice and allow it.

But it would be a surprise if there was not some disquiet around the Cabinet table. Is there any guarantee that in the mountainous Hindu Kush the bomb-makers will not just back off another valley or two? Will it further dilute the efforts of the New Zealand troops, and lead to requests for more troops and more LAVs?

At a time when the focus should be turning to how and when New Zealand leaves, it looks more like "mission creep" than a blueprint for withdrawal.

Post a comment
Alan_Wilkinson   #1   01:38 pm Aug 10 2012

As I understood it from a friend who toured Afghanistan long before all of this, traditionally it was a country where everyone was armed to the teeth. Why waste all these western lives trying to convert it into a disarmed and policed modern democracy which is doomed to be thwarted by political and military sabotage from Pakistan and the rest of the dysfunctional Muslim world?

Just re-arm the population and let them defend themselves against whomever they want to however they want to. At least they would have a fighting chance. Pulling out now will just leave them unarmed sitting ducks at the mercy of the first bunch of armed thugs to invade.

joanna_jo   #2   10:43 am Aug 11 2012

WEll well well I see our loose lipped PM has been at it again.

His vitriolic comments about the Hungarian forces in Afghanistan will do nothing to help our forces, in fact I think it will make their stay just that much more uncomfortable. No good will come of all the lives lost in this long nasty war I agree with Alister on this one.

Kimbo   #3   06:30 pm Aug 11 2012

@ joanna_jo #2

So the one who insists that she has the right to say what she wants grizzles when our PM, charged with the ultimate responsibility for the reasonable safety and well-being of our soldiers in a war-zone, chooses to lift the lid on the reason why they may have lost their lives?

In your desire to bag Key, and make gain out of the dead, the thought that by speaking out Key is publicly highlighting the issue, and as a result it is more likely to be addressed, and that that two deaths may result in lessons learnt and some redeeming value, didn't occur to you?

Or is pointing that out an attack on your freedom of speech?! Typical - those with a readiness to freely utilise steel fists usually turn out to have a glass jaw.

canuckinnz   #4   07:08 pm Aug 11 2012

So you think if everyone just backs out there won't be another 9/11 type event or more London train bombings in the Taliban quest to convert the world? Typical "she'll be right" attitude ...

Wellington   #5   09:06 am Aug 12 2012

The U.S know they have lost the "war" and have been withdrawing their troops and have a plan for full withdrawal. But they use countries like ours to reinforce their withdrawal...dumb on us...As the U.S withdraw it has given confidence to the warring factions and they will try and kill as many foreign troops as possible. I tend to lean towards #1's comments. To disarm the population and meddle with 1000s years of culture in other countries is wrong. Leave the U.S to be the World Police they want to be and let the consequences be on them. I also want to say that I am disgusted that John Key didn't attend the recent funerals on our soldiers, choosing to support his son overseas instead. Where is the loyalty to the country and his position of PM and the support for his ultimate decision to deploy our troops? Shame on you JK.

PS   #6   11:08 pm Aug 12 2012

Too soon Vernon?

However I disagree that we should leave the Afghans to it. We are part of an international community. We cannot just isolate ourselves and say "its your problem". If we can be part of the solution is that so wrong?

When ChCh suffered its devastating earthquakes the whole world rallied around us. We accepted that help. What is the difference in principle with the Afghan people?

I think it is a little churlish to adopt an isolationism mentality. Didn't work for USA after WW1 with the ill-fated League of Nations-won't work now.

j_j-I didn't have as much of a problem with Keys comments about the Hungarians. He called it as he saw it and relied on Jones (a recognised tactician)advice. I respect your opinion

Alan_Wilkinson   #7   09:59 am Aug 13 2012

#4, reality check: everyone is just backing out.

PS   #8   10:54 am Aug 13 2012

my comment #6-didn't finish what I was going to say. I respect your opinion but you have to be able to let others offer theirs.

Key is in a far better position than any of us to offer his views on the Hungarians. No one is saying that the Hungarians contributed to this tragedy, but if honest dialogue results in better security (for all peacekeeping trops) I really don't care if their feelings are hurt.

Kimbo   #9   11:27 am Aug 13 2012

@ Alan Wilkinson # 7

Your assessment of Afghanistan now is probably reasonable, and was probably always going to be the case.

However, it has been a campaign worthwhile fighting because,

1. No matter what happens in future with the Islamo-fascism terrorism franchises, the countries/dictators that used to willingly harbour organisations like Al Qaeda in their midst know that if they do, the regime will be replaced as in Afghanistan and Iraq

2. We have stood by our allies, and as per Helen Clark's correct assessment after 9/11, there had to be a multilateral response to the actions of an organisation that Taliban was harboring in their midst.

As is all matters of human affairs, there are mixed and messy motives involved, and it hasn't been prefect, and it was never going to be. Maybe Afghanistan will be a better place before 2001, maybe not, maybe pretty much the same.

Alan_Wilkinson   #10   11:27 am Aug 13 2012

The Electoral Commission's recommended changes to the electoral system have been released:

Very timidly a nudge in the right direction. IMO they should have been firm on 3% threshold and also abolished the Maori seats - there is no good reason for retaining those at all. For purely indefensible political reasons the Govt ruled that out of their scope.

Frankly this sort of garbage is why anyone with any brains would go out of their mind in the public sector.

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