Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Our Afghanistan embarrassment

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Official closing ceremony of Kiwi Base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Photo / NZ Defence Force
Official closing ceremony of Kiwi Base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Photo / NZ Defence Force

Last Sunday morning I was on TVNZ as a Q+A panelist.

One of the guests was Major General Dave Gawn, the head of our army. He was asked, now we are leaving, whether our more than decade-long mission in Afghanistan was a success.

His extended pause was the answer. The best he could come up with was that he hoped the locals would remember our presence fondly after they return to their pre-invasion status. Presumably he wasn't referring to the families of the locals who died in the US-led mission.

Our original mission in invading Afghanistan was to help the US capture Osama bin Laden. On arrival, the western armies overthrew the zealot Taleban rulers and corrupt government made up of brutal warlords nominally headed by a US puppet.

Embarrassingly, after blunders by US politicians, bin Laden and his entourage decamped to Pakistan.

After bin Laden's departure, no one could think of what to do next. In lieu of any strategy, New Zealand was assigned as the occupation force in the Bamiyan province.

As propaganda, our troops built schools and hospitals as our elite SAS and killed Afghan resistance. For political cover we label them al Qaeda, although that group as a force no longer really exists in Afghanistan.

Our evacuation leaves the people of Bamiyan to the rule of the victorious Taleban, who even the most ardent supporters of the invasion acknowledge will play the key role in the post-occupation government.

As admission of our failure, we brought our military's 33 Afghan interpreters and their families to New Zealand. If we had left them behind they would have been arrested and possibly executed for collaborating with the foreign occupation. Hardly the actions of a government that believes we won over the people of Bamiyan.

It's a pity thousands of Afghans and 10 Kiwi soldiers had to die because a delusional bin Laden, a former ally of the US, financed 17 of his fellow Saudis to fly a couple of planes into the Twin Towers.

Afghanistan has parallels with Gallipoli. On Thursday, like many Kiwis, I attended an Anzac ceremony.

We want to believe the sacrifices of our soldiers mean something noble. But at Gallipoli and in Afghanistan we fell over ourselves to invade another country at the behest of a super-power. We killed peasants defending their own country. Wouldn't we defend our country in those circumstances?

Despite our superior troops and armament, we lost.

The answer to the question on whether our Afghanistan mission was a success is simple. It was not.

At Anzac services attendees are solemnly urged to remember the lessons of Gallipoli. Yeah, right.

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