In April 1971 John Kerry, who served gallantly in Vietnam and was later Secretary of State, stood in front of a US Senate Committee and asked “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Today, we could do with a John Kerry to ask the same question about the war in Afghanistan.
On August 5 it was reported that “a suicide bomber has killed three Czech NATO soldiers in an attack in eastern Afghanistan. The victims were targeted while on a routine foot patrol alongside Afghan forces, NATO officials said in a statement. A US soldier and two Afghan soldiers were wounded in the attack in Charikar, the capital of Parwan province.”
Just what is being achieved by Czech soldiers on fighting patrols 5,000 kilometres from home is not explained by any of the authorities responsible for their deployment — and thus for placing them in jeopardy of their lives — but the usual nauseating platitudes were promptly mouthed by some of them.
The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, declared that the dead soldiers were “heroes who fought against terrorism so far from home.” Well, he should know about operating far from home. Forbes lists him as being worth four billion dollars and owning “a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Paloma, in the French Riviera” which is no doubt some consolation to the relatives and friends of the men who were killed. Babis, of course, sent his “deepest condolences to their families,” as did the ever-ready General John Nicholson, the sixteenth commander in Washington’s seventeen years of war, who, never at a loss for futile banality, babbled that “Their sacrifice will endure in both our hearts and history and further strengthen our resolve.” What utter garbage.
The “sacrifice” of these Czech soldiers won’t be felt by any hearts other than those of their grieving families, and it is insulting to claim that it will. And their deaths won’t get even the tiniest footnote in history. As to “strengthening our resolve” — resolve to do what? — to carry on mouthing phoney inanities about the utter chaos in Afghanistan?
This tawdry exhibition of fake emotion sticks in the gullet — but it’s not as sickening as the observation in The Economist that the war’s “current cost — roughly $45 billion and around a dozen lives a year — is modest enough to invite little interest from Congress or the media. That suggests Mr Trump’s strategy is sustainable.”
The talented intellectuals of The Economist think that the deaths of a dozen American soldiers every year in the unwinnable Afghan War indicate that the policies of Trump and the Pentagon can be maintained indefinitely. What’s a dozen lives, after all?
Well, listen to me, you clever little intellectuals and you swaggering military strategists, because I’m going to tell you a few home truths.
The soldiers who have died — and those who are going to die —have relatives who love them. They have parents, brothers, sisters, wives, partners, children, all of whom suffer when the lives of their nearest and dearest are sacrificed by a bunch of no-hopers as part of a “modest” cost in a supposedly “sustainable strategy” in a country that is ungovernable.
The Costs of War Project at Brown University estimates that more than 100,000 people have died in the war in Afghanistan. They weren’t all soldiers, of course, because in conflicts like this, the civilian population always suffers from action by both militants and the armed forces involved. In July, the UN reported that 1,692 Afghan civilians were killed, and 3,430 injured in the first six months of 2018, which is the record for that period in the seventeen years of this catastrophe.
But let’s get back to the soldiers who are dying.
On August 9 it was finally acknowledged by the Kabul government that over twenty Afghan soldiers had been killed in an insurgent attack on August 3 in Uruzgan province. There were no US-NATO troops involved, so there has been little reporting of the disaster by the western media, and no mention of it whatever by NATO headquarters, but it is the most serious setback suffered by the Afghan Army for several months.
Consider what happens to the dependant families of dead Afghan soldiers: the widows are entitled to pensions, of course — but Afghanistan is the third most corrupt country in the world. Do you imagine for a moment that these anguished women receive a fraction of the tiny amount to which they are entitled? Of course they don’t. Usually, they don’t get a bean, because the money is stolen by crooked and heartless government officials. What have you to say to that, General Nicholson? Does it strengthen your resolve to do anything?
As reported by the Japan Times, “Help for Afghan Heroes, an Afghan non-profit organization supporting 5,000 families of wounded or dead security forces, said corruption is a key reason many women do not receive assistance.” Nasreen Sharar, special projects officer for the group, said that “they are asked to pay a bribe to get the application processed and they often don’t have the money.”
Of course they don’t have the money. They are just tiny inconsequential and stricken blobs in a “sustainable strategy” that costs $45 billion and “around a dozen lives a year.”
Hashratullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for Kabul’s Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, told Arab News “We are in a state of war. The number of women who become widows is increasing. Those who fight on the government side and those on the side of the Taliban and the militants have wives and mothers too. People on both sides suffer and women on all sides are affected more than anyone in this war.”
But what about the Czech army soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan? The western media carried the 130 word Reuter's report about their deaths, and then forgot all about them, which makes a sick joke of Nicholson’s pompous pronouncement that “Their sacrifice will endure in both our hearts and history.”
They were Staff Sergeant Martin Marcin, 36, and Corporals Kamil Benes, 28, and Patrik Stepanek, 25, about whose deaths the Czech Defence Minister Lubomir Metnar declared that “We have witnessed a tragedy that can hardly be prevented when you serve in the army.” I would really like to be able to put that grubby politician on a patrol in Afghanistan, along with the intellectuals of The Economist and all the other smart-assed commentators to whom soldiers’ lives and grieving widows mean nothing.
Not that the Czech government told us much about the widows or other relatives of the soldiers Mr Metnar sent to die in Afghanistan. All that was reported by Czech Radio was “One leaves behind a widow and a three-month-old baby.”
At least, she’ll probably be paid her pension, unlike so many widows of Afghan Army soldiers who also died for… What?
In all the years of useless conflict in Afghanistan the western media has never listed the names of Afghan Army soldiers killed in action, because these soldiers don’t matter in the greater scheme of things — the “sustainable strategy” — in which they are but inconsequential pawns, as are all the civilians who are killed by bombing, whether on the ground by the Taliban, or from the sky by Afghan-US-NATO airstrikes.
The BBC reports that “Since President Trump announced his Afghanistan strategy . . . the number of bombs dropped by the US Air Force has surged dramatically. New rules of engagement have made it easier for US forces to carry out strikes against the Taliban” and this surge in aerial blitzing has certainly had an effect.
In the first six months of 2018 the UN documented “353 civilian casualties (149 deaths and 204 injured) from aerial attacks, a 52 per cent increase from the same period in 2017. The mission attributed 52 per cent of all civilian casualties from aerial attacks to the Afghan Air Force, 45 per cent to international military forces, and the remaining three per cent to unidentified Pro-Government Forces.”
While Afghan and foreign air forces blitz the country, and the Taliban and other militants wreak havoc with their constant attacks, all that happens politically is that corruption thrives and the murderously criminal vice-president, Abdurrashid Dostum, returns from self-imposed exile to create further chaos. The place is ungovernable, and the foreigners should get out, now.
As John Kerry said, almost fifty years ago: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”