A book titled Brigade Commander describes in stirring fashion the experiences of a British Army senior officer when fighting a war in Afghanistan. It is a fascinating diary, which the publisher rightly states is «an essential book for anyone interested in warfare in Afghanistan».
Brigadier Henry Brooke recorded, amongst other perceptive observations, that «an Afghan is so natural a liar that no one thinks of believing them, and among themselves they are never weak enough to put any trust one in the other, and in this they are quite wise, as a more treacherous lying set of beings do not, I suppose, exist on the face of the world». He wrote this in April 1880, during Britain’s Second Afghan War, and was killed four months later, gallantly fighting for a lost cause.
Britain’s First Afghan War (1839-1842) resulted in the deaths of 4,500 Indian and British Army soldiers and 12,000 camp followers (what would now be known as logistics support contractors), and the Third Afghan War of 1919 ended in a draw, with Afghanistan winning the right to conduct its own foreign relations without British interference.
Not much has changed in Afghanistan since then. Both invaders and Afghan citizens continue to be merciless and, most regrettably, there are compelling indications that British troops were involved in grave misconduct during the most recent conflict. The BBC reported on September 28 that «an independent policing unit set up to investigate alleged war crimes by British troops in Afghanistan has received around 600 complaints».
All in all, British military conquests in Afghanistan achieved little except increased distrust and hatred of foreigners who tried — and continue to try — to interfere in the affairs of a fiercely independent and ungovernable mixture of tribal fiefdoms.
It might be thought that the horrible experiences of its futile Afghan wars would have given Britain, of all countries, pause for thought when the United States invaded Afghanistan at the end of 2001. But no : the sacrifices and bitter lessons of Britain’s previous wars were ignored, which brings to mind the old saying that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.’
In 2001 the British government leapt to collaborate with the George W Bush Administration in Washington, and joined its insane foray into Afghanistan in which 3,520 foreign soldiers have died. Nobody knows how many Afghan soldiers have been killed, and nobody cares, except the thousands of grieving families. (On September 30 the Afghan news agency Khaama Press reported that another five Afghan soldiers had been killed in a US airstrike in Farah Province, but there was no mention of it in the western media, although, to be fair, the Washington Post carried a piece on September 30 revealing that «During one week in August alone, between Aug 22 and 29, Afghan [medical evacuation] recovered 125 Afghan troops killed and more than 280 wounded, according to US military documents».)
In its Fourth Afghan War, Britain’s armed forces suffered 456 deaths for no clear reason. Nothing was achieved, and, as noted by the BBC, 448 of those who died were killed in Helmand Province where at the height of Britain’s involvement it had 9,500 troops. On April First 2014 Britain quit Helmand and handed over to the US Marines, and now, as stated in Britain’s ultra-nationalist Daily Telegraph (a sadly distressing but noisy shadow of its former responsible self), «British troops are facing a fresh wave of criminal investigations into alleged abuse after the Ministry of Defence quietly set up a new inquiry into soldiers’ actions in Afghanistan... new figures... show that more than 550 historic allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan are now under investigation by a special police unit...»
The newspaper then quoted sources supporting its unshakeable belief that British soldiers would never be involved in war crimes. A former army captain, John Mercer, now a member of parliament, declared that «we are now prosecuting these same soldiers who we were asking to fire only when fired upon, to use the most minimal force necessary to preserve life, to bear huge personal risk of violent death and injury whilst fighting a violent insurgency on the Government’s behalf».
Mr Mercer forgot that three years ago «two British soldiers have been sentenced for abusing civilians, including children, during the war in Afghanistan». Sky News further reported that sexual violation of young children resulted in negligible punishment, in that «a 22-year-old former serviceman was fined £1,000 for two charges of conduct to the prejudice of good order and service discipline, while a 23-year-old [corporal] was reduced to the ranks for a racially aggravated offence».
The old military charge of «conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline» is all-embracing and can be farcical because no matter the gravity of the offence, the sentence is subject to the whim of the military judge. In this case the Judge Advocate «said he accepted there was no sexual motive behind Soldier X's behaviour when he held a child of around five on his knee and told him to touch his privates,» and ordered that the names of the two criminals should not be made public because that «would result in their names ending up on Jihadist forums on the internet».
The judge said the offences were committed during a «demanding operational situation with risk of attack... Many soldiers develop their own strategies for dealing with the pressure of life on operations. The boundary between what is acceptable and what trespasses into unacceptable behaviour is sometimes unclear and difficult to distinguish».
So if you’re a British soldier under pressure in Afghanistan it’s all right to develop your own strategy and hold a little boy on your knee and tell him to «touch your privates». Your conduct, as declared by a senior legal dignitary, might possibly «trespass into unacceptable behaviour» and you will be fined one thousand pounds and walk free out of the courtroom.
We noted that Brigadier Henry Brooke wrote about Afghans that «a more treacherous lying set of beings do not, I suppose, exist on the face of the world». That’s true about Afghan politicians and the CIA-supported warlords and the drug-barons and the Taliban and the tribal leaders and almost everyone, in fact — BUT the defenceless five year-old Afghan boy who was held on the knee of British ‘Soldier X’ was not lying, because Soldier X «admitted pulling the hand of an Afghan child towards his crotch while saying ‘touch my special place’». And it has to be asked if all the 150 Afghans who have said that they were subject to abuse by British soldiers are lying, too?
Most British newspapers are trying hard to stop the Westminster government ordering an independent inquiry into atrocities in Afghanistan. They are determined to have the whole thing dropped. And they’ll probably win — which tells us a great deal about New Modern Britain.