While families, friends and fellow soldiers are mourning the deaths of two soldiers in Afghanistan, politicians will be disinclined to question the commitment of Kiwi troops to that benighted country lest they be accused of insensitivity or unpatriotic opportunism. But the dead will not be dishonoured, nor their valour tarnished, if their deaths trigger a re-examination of this country's role in Afghanistan.
New Zealand has led the reconstruction team in Bamyan province since 2003 and our Government has rightly been proud of its work, helping maintain security and provide a basis for development. A Defence Ministry briefing paper last November said: “Compared with the security situation in the rest of Afghanistan, Bamyan is relatively settled. A small section of the province remains less secure.”
The weekend ambush undermines that assessment. It also signals what lies in store for our 100-or-so remaining troops before they are withdrawn.
Labour's Phil Goff - a senior minister in the Clark government that deployed SAS troops to Afghanistan a few years earlier - pressed for their withdrawal in 2009. Putting the lives of New Zealand troops at risk was not a decision a government took lightly, he said, nor was it an issue to play politics with.
Mr Goff identified a big change since Kiwi troops were first sent to Afghanistan.
The conflict no longer involved rooting out international al-Qaeda terrorists. It had become a much more local conflict between disparate ethnic, religious and political elements in Afghanistan.
Afghan courts at that time had ruled it was legal for a man to starve his wife to death if she denied him conjugal rights. Under Islamic Sharia, furthermore, people could be executed for changing their religion.
Mr Goff found it difficult to want to sacrifice Kiwi lives to help a corrupt government maintain those values. But in Bamyan, he insisted “we have won the battle for hearts and minds” and helped establish stability and security. There was less risk to those Kiwi troops. This had been an effective deployment.
Three years on that picture clearly has changed along with the strength of the Taleban. Our policy should be reviewed accordingly.
- Waikato Times