Do we know why we're in Afghanistan?
Does anyone out there understand why we are in Afghanistan under arms?
Is this the least understood, least cared about conflict involving British troops dying under fire since, well, Northern Ireland? That’s not fair, people did understand Northern Ireland. They didn’t like bombs exploding in British mainland cities.
Of late the same argument has come to be advanced over the war in Afghanistan. This is a war to make British streets safer, the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth told us recently. Does that explain why the terror threat level in the UK has just been lowered? Are we winning?
The war in Iraq was well understood. It was a war of choice, the country had oil, we wanted to retain our trans-Atlantic ‘influence’ with the United States. But Afghanistan?
I first went there in 1969. I drove a bus across the gorgeous desert wastes. I drank sharp brown sugared tea in Kandahar. Couldn’t do that these days. It felt like a place worth living for, but dying for?
I was next there on Boxing Day 1979. I had crossed from Mashad in North Eastern Iran where I had been covering the Islamic Revolution. This was during the first week of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Even then, I couldn’t see then why Russians would want to die there. And they didn’t. They were gone in a decade.
Britain has now been there, this time round, for very nearly as long – nearly eight years. Today four dead British soldiers will be flown home. The observant and dutiful people of Wootton Bassett will do their stuff and we shall move on. Or shall we?
Will we so easily be able to ignore today’s court case in which the Ministry of Defence attempts to cut the compensation paid to soldiers injured in the line of fire and duty?
Will we be able to ignore the court case in which the charity Reprieve tries to get to the bottom of the UK’s involvement in ‘allowing’ prisoners to be rendered through British territories like the Indian Ocean islands of Diego Garcia to be tortured?
Are we bored when the subject of Afghanistan dominates the news agenda? Do we give a damn? Or is this the nature of modern war?
We were once told that if people had KNOWN of the wholesale slaughter in the First World War, there would have been a rebellion over sending any more of our fathers and sons to die.
Today we know almost nothing of the true scale of amputation, paralysis, brain damage, mental breakdown that is flowing from the poppy fields of Afghanistan. We know nothing of the numbers of death and injury amongst the Afghans themselves.
If we did, would it affect the way we felt about the war? Perhaps it would, perhaps that is why we don’t know the true scale and nature of injury that accompanies the recorded British deaths in action.