Having lost thousands of men during the First World War’s misguided adventure in Gallipoli, the British and ANZAC forces eventually decided to cut their losses completely and beat a retreat. The commander who orchestrated the evacuation (which paradoxically was the only success in the whole bloody adventure) was highly commended for getting so many off the Turkish peninsula, in what became a desperate rescue mission. He shunned any praise and later said, that as he watched the bedraggle of his defeated army skulk off the beaches and back to the boats in the dead of night, that his stare fell uncomfortably upon the silhouetted multitude of crudely nailed together crosses that marked the makeshift graves of his men. And on being informed by his second in command that all was seemingly going to plan, in that the Turks hadn’t yet noticed their quiet departure, had replied sombrely while pointing toward the crosses: ‘Damn the Turks! I just hope to God they haven’t noticed us leaving!’
Now admittedly, Gallipoli was maybe a poor example; it being, after all, a mere side show to the main event happening back in the blood-soaked trenches of the western front, but there’s a parallel to this here in Afghanistan, as in a lot of wars. When do you cut and run? Get out? Are the powers that be, the instigators, ever brave enough to hold up their hands and quite unequivocally state they got it wrong? No! For in doing so, like the commander in charge of the forces in Gallipoli , in cutting your losses you are suggesting that those that had fallen in what you now perceive as a misguided venture, died in vain. And so, like a gambler, the politicians keep throwing in one more hand; fingers crossed on a wing and a prayer. They gamble lives for their reputation and legacy.
The difference, it seems, with the Afghan conflict, is not perhaps when or if we should get out, but should we have gone in, in the first place! We have so long since lost sight of the original goal. The whys and wherefore’s have become misplaced in a jumble of contradictions. Just post 9/11, the original goal was to expel Al-Qaeda and capture or kill Osama bin Laden (remember him?). That goal was never achieved and seemingly got put on the back burner as the western coalition got itself embroiled and then apparently sidetracked by different objectives and agendas; with the main aim now being to defeat the Taliban. Remember, that was never the original goal. The Taliban, after all, are not international terrorists; they have no desire to spread their form of Islamic fundamentalism beyond their borders, and as insidious as their twisted stone-age ideology may be, they actually hold no threat what-so-ever to the west. The Taliban, don’t forget, were in power a long time prior to 9/11. And in all that time what did the west do in challenging in any way this evil regime? Well, apart from calling them an ‘evil regime’, nothing!
And then 9/11 happened. And although it’s proving to be anything but, Afghanistan was a soft target, in the initial retaliatory response that preceded it. Some of the bad guys where there and it was stated the Taliban were harbouring them—although, whether the west would have been so quick to attack a more potent country for having Al Qaeda camps within their borders, like, say, North Korea, China or even Pakistan, and not a country that had already been bombed back into the dark ages, is another question. Afghanistan was the target and the propaganda machine then went into meltdown as they presented it as such and consequently tried to sell us the reasons why. We were spoon-fed daily a dose of ‘Taliban evil this…’ ‘Taliban evil that…’ forgetting that the Taliban were an evil this and that, long before 9/11, when, as I said, we chose to do, nothing!
As history now shows, Afghanistan was merely a stepping stone to the main objective—Iraq. Iraq, whom they would have attacked firstly, but as try as they might, they just couldn’t find Saddam’s finger-prints at the scene of the crime, back on that dark day in September 2001. And while Saddam was being taken care of, for a while, Afghanistan became the forgotten war.
And now, many years on and countless lives lost, the main objective in Afghanistan, having been blurred so many times, is now all-but forgotten in the mist of time. In a lot of respects, the Afghan conflict has become a straw-man argument; the goal-posts are being constantly moved to suit. Every week someone is nailing a different cause to the conflict. ‘We’re stemming the flow of the heroin trade!’ we’re told. ‘We’re stopping an exodus of refugees from reaching our shores!’ we’re told. ‘We’re bringing them democracy!’ we’re told.
Democracy? That word is almost likened to the sprinkling of magic dust that somehow instantly rights all wrong. It is very naïve to think that in a cut-throat tribal country like Afghanistan, democracy would actually work, in the true American sense of the word, anyhow. I mean, two wolves and a sheep deciding who’s for dinner, is a form of democracy. Not a good one, if you’re the sheep, but a democracy all the same. It is of no surprise then that the form of democracy we have forcibly imposed there has proved to be riddled from top to bottom with corruption and fraud.
The latest sound-bite being heralded is that we’re fighting the war on terrorism over there so we don’t have to fight it over here. Ironically, seeing how all the terrorists that have perpetrated their hideous and cowardly form of jihad on these shores have been so-called ‘home-grown’, maybe our forces might have been better deployed on the streets of Bradford, London or Birmingham.
And so the war goes on. And while the propagandists search for our latest reason for being there, the fact remains that we can’t get out. We’re stuck to it; embroiled and embedded in the quagmire of an un-winnable war. For getting out now just might provoke one of the many grieving mothers to ask that one rather awkward question: ‘What did my son die for?’
Coalition deaths in Afghanistan (as of, 18th Feb 2010) 1,568…..and rising daily!
Afghans killed (based on lowest credible estimate) 18,000