Not Saussure

October 27, 2006

Talking to the Taleban

Filed under: Afghanistan, BBC — notsaussure @ 4:21 pm

Newsnight recently showed an interview between David Loyn and, somewhat extraordinarily, the Taleban’s official spokesman in Helmand Province.

Well worth watching, at the link above. There’s a fair old ding-dong going on in The Editors about this (to which I contributed a couple of ecus’ worth).

There are plenty of (somewhat predictable) accusations of showing ‘Taleban propaganda’, but I genuinely couldn’t see it. It’s clearly a fact, albeit a somewhat alarming one, that the Taleban can apparently move around the area far more freely than we’ve been led to believe, but surely that’s worth knowing — not least because it appears they enjoy this comparative freedom of movement because the Afghan Army are too busy taking bribes at illegal checkpoints to do much about them.

There were some predictable claims and counterclaims about the circumstances in which some villages had been bombed, but you expect those (well, I do) and I have to say that I rather expect that, when you’re fighting a war, you’re going to hit civilians by mistake now and again. There were also references to how fed up the Afghans are with being invaded and how unhappy they are with some elements in the Northern Alliance, but comes as no particular surprise. Be rather odd if they weren’t.

Certainly there was one clear attempt at propaganda by the Taleban chap, who heated denied allegations that his blokes were deliberately trying to sabotage our attempts at helping with reconstruction by burning down schools; never dream of such a thing, strict orders against it, all the fault of the Northern Alliance and the Afghan Army. Then the very next sequence was a Taleban area commander explaining to David Loyn that they only burned schools that taught secularism and girls to wear uniforms that showed their legs, so that was alright really. I hope for his sake his superiors don’t catch that bit of the programme.

Interestingly the posts from serving or recent soldiers are pretty sympathetic to the programme — for example, this (from an American soldier), this, this and this. ‘Know your enemy,’ seems to be the idea, plus this from someone whose recently left the Royal Marines:

In my opinion, he wasn’t getting the story of the Taliban Central Command but that of the young men, sons, brothers and fathers that are on the ground doing the fighting. These are uneducated and easily influenced men who know only what they have been told by their own propaganda machine.

For some of you to call it ‘treason’ to get these young men’s story is ridiculous. It was an important and insightful look at how the other side thinks from the perspective of the lowly foot soldier.

I do feel that it would be prudent of the BBC to perhaps run a similar story about our own lads. How often is their point of view heard? How often does our government listen to their gripes and groans and get their side of the story? Take it from me, almost never!! Give it 3 months for the guys to start hating the place and for friends bodies’ to start arriving back at Brize Norton and then ask the question; ‘So how do you like it here?’

A lot of people have made comparisons with World War II, asking whether the BBC would have shown an interview with Hitler in the middle of the war (which left me rather wondering how they’d have got one, but there you go); someone commented

Picture if you will a BBC journalist “embedded” with Waffen SS soldiers during WWII, or with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces in the 1970s. Sheer asininity on the part of your news organization. How can you explain such activity to the families of British soldiers killed by the Taliban? Very poor judgement in my book

to which someone else replies

Fine. Let us indeed picture a BBC journalist embedded with Hitler’s SS. Had there been some, we would have learned about Nazi death camps and slave labour several years before we actually did. We would also have understood the enemy better than we sometimes did. All this seems like a good thing, no?

There’s also a lengthy post from an Afghan living in Britain, giving his take on the situation there with particular reference to what some of our Northern Alliance allies are like — generally held about the same low regard as are the Taleban, apparently, so some people who have to live there seem to think there’s little to choose between the two sides.

In some ways, I’m a bit puzzled about the thinking behind some of the complaints. I take it as axiomatic that the Taleban are shooting at British soldiers and our allies so they’re ipso facto the enemy. Even if I felt sympathetic to them, that would still be the case. Doesn’t matter what I thought of the invasion of Afghanistan at the time or what I think about our presence there at the moment; I’m British, the soldiers are British and I hope they win whatever war they’re involved in — whatever I might think of the rights and wrongs of the war. The idea that we have to be the Hollywood good guys and the enemy have to be the Hollywood bad guys — and that anything that might detract from that image is dangerous propaganda — seems completely to miss the point.

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October 11, 2006

Helicopters for Afghanistan

Filed under: Afghanistan — notsaussure @ 11:02 pm

The desperate shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan has forced the Ministry of Defence to seek the help of a private helicopter company, the government has admitted.

OK, the Telegraph has its axe to grind with the government, but I don’t see why this news should be regarded with any particular alarm. Seems eminently sensible to me; the MOD can hardly be expected to keep itself fully equipped for combat in any theatre of operations anywhere in the world. This company’s got the specialised kit needed, so it makes a lot more sense to hire it in than to spend several years and pots of money developing it, particularly since

The Russian-made [though now British-owned and operated] helicopters are specifically designed for use in Afghanistan’s “hot and high” conditions with the Mi26 able to carry 100 combat troops or 20 tons of equipment.

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September 27, 2006

Newsweek censors front cover — hides from rest of world what’s really important in USA

Filed under: Afghanistan, press, Spin, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 12:10 am

From MSNBC, via a a comment from to an item at A Big Stick and A Small Carrot about how the American media are losing interest, on the eve of the mid-term elections, in matters that might be disadvantageous to the White House.

The Newsweek article, about how

‘Afghanistan is “unfortunately well on its way” to becoming a “narco-state,” NATO’s supreme commander, [as] Marine Gen. Jim Jones, said before Congress last week’,


the harsh truth is that five years after the U.S. invasion on Oct. 7, 2001, most of the good news is confined to Kabul, with its choking rush-hour traffic jams, a construction boom and a handful of air-conditioned shopping malls. Much of the rest of Afghanistan appears to be failing again. Most worrisome, a new failed-state sanctuary is emerging across thousands of square miles along the Afghan-Pakistan border: “Jihadistan,” it could be called. It’s an autonomous quasi state of religious radicals, mostly belonging to Pashtun tribes who don’t recognize the Afghan-Pakistan frontier—an arbitrary line drawn by the British colonialists in 1893. The enclave’s fluid borders span a widening belt of territory from mountainous hideouts in the southernmost provinces of Afghanistan—Nimruz, Helmand and Farah—up through the agricultural middle of the country in Ghazni, Uruzgan and Zabul, and then north to Paktia and parts of Konar.

and how

‘Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups now have a place from which to hatch the next 9/11. “This standoff could go on for 40 or 50 years,” says a retired U.S. general who served in Afghanistan, speaking only on condition of anonymity. “It’s not going to be a takeover by the Taliban as long as NATO is there. Instead this is going to be like the triborder region of South America, or like Kashmir, a long, drawn-out stalemate where everyone carves out spheres of influence.”‘

makes depressing reading. Unless you’re reading the American edition, of course, in which case the photo-story about how

In her new book, Annie Leibovitz, [Newsweek’s] most famous photographer, places celebs side by side with surprisingly personal images of love and loss.

is very interesting, too.

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September 23, 2006

Whistling in the dark?

Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq, Spin, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 2:31 pm

Andrew Roberts, who really ought to know better, attempts to derive some comfort from historical parallels between our current problems in Afghanistan and Iraq. He writes

By early September 1942 – only weeks before Stalingrad and El Alamein – Hitler seemed to be winning the war both in Russia and the Middle East, while, had it not been for the battle of Midway, the Japanese might well have rolled up the entire Pacific theatre.

Well, quite, and if I felt at all confident that, for example, there was any likelihood of launching an unexpected counter-attack, thus trapping the Iraqi insurgents well out of supply in an unbreakable blockade like Zhukov’s Operation Uranus, or destroying the Taleban’s tanks in a major battle, I might see the point.

As it is, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a passage in Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld novel, Jingo , where Lord Rust is discussing the military situation with one of his junior officers. (more…)

September 10, 2006

‘Smashing bloke, eh?’

Filed under: Afghanistan, Blair, Iraq — notsaussure @ 10:30 pm

Iain Dale reports that there is, not surprisingly,

incredulity in Iraq amongst our soldiers that the Prime Minister has found time to meet the families of the captured Israeli soldiers.

Every sympathy goes to them as fellow soldiers but this is the PM who has never attended a UK military funeral, visited an injured soldier in hospital (and there are many more than the Govt will admit too) and has never met with the families of UK soldiers either killed* or injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. Smashing bloke eh?

Of course, Mr Blair doubtless reasoned he’d be at far less risk of embarassment when visiting the families of the Israeli soldiers than some of the British families; his last encounter with Reg Keys, father of the late Tom Keys who was murdered, along with five of his colleagues in Iraq, must have been rather bad for the Prime-Ministerial ego.

*110 British soldiers killed in Iraq as of September 4; 27 in Afghanistan since August 1.

September 8, 2006

‘You know, there are important things going on in the world…’

Filed under: Afghanistan, Blair, Boris, hubris, Iran, Legacy, nemesis, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 12:16 am

From that statement

“…You know, there are important things going on in the world.

“And I think I speak for all my cabinet colleagues when I say that we would prefer to get on with those things because those are the things that really matter and really matter to the country.”

Such as, perhaps

Six bomb attacks in Baghdad killed at least 17 people and wounded more than 50 today, hours before a highly anticipated ceremony in which the US-led coalition was to hand over control of the country’s armed forces command to Iraqi authorities.

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Violence rocks Baghdad on day of power transfer

and in Afghanistan

The alliance’s top commander, Gen James Jones, said Nato had been taken aback by the scale of violence in the region [Southern Afghanistan].

But he predicted that the coming weeks would be decisive in the fight against the insurgents.

Commanders on the ground had asked for several hundred additional troops and more helicopters and airlift, he said.

The greatest English Conservative is not impressed:

Here we are, with British soldiers being killed almost daily in Iraq and Afghanistan on missions that are growing in scale and horror. We have rises in gun crime, rises in unemployment, rises in interest rates — and these flaming lunatics in Downing Street seriously expect the nation to line the streets with bunting and shower Tony with confetti as he goes on a six-month lap of honour, a “farewell tour” in which he accepts the praises of a smiling people..

On which subject, The First Post has been playing with PhotoShopto make some suggestions for ‘the most striking buildings of his 10-year-rule’ that The People’s Tone might visit on his fairwell tour; The Millennium Dome (‘Symbol of New Labour’s vaulting ambition. The development was £7.1bn over budget and has been empty since 2000’ — though not much longer when Mr Prescott’s confident friends get their way, of course) is an obvious one, but the others are equally fun, too. (Hat tip Guido Fawkes esq)

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