Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Get our soldiers out of Afghanistan

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Misplaced loyalty to a superpower 'ally' is not a good enough reason to stay.

Like the Vietnam War, we're again on the losing side... Photo / Alan Gibson
Like the Vietnam War, we're again on the losing side... Photo / Alan Gibson

The Prime Minister's macho stand to keep the troops in Afghanistan "and continue to do the things we're doing", is predictable enough. It's frowned on in military circles to signal to the enemy you're rattled by the death of two soldiers and the injuring of six others.

But we should be. The two young New Zealanders who were ambushed last weekend and paid, in Mr Key's words, an "enormous price" supporting the United States' crusade to wipe out al Qaeda deserve a better justification for their sacrifice than that. So do the five other Kiwi soldiers who have lost their lives since 2002, along with the 140 New Zealand soldiers and policemen who remain targets in this increasingly risky and pointless battleground.

As in the Vietnam War, we're again on the losing side, lured into a war not of our making, by misplaced loyalty to a superpower desperately seeking extra flags to link to its cause.

The USA eventually tracked down its Great Satan, Osama bin Laden, and killed him in neighbouring Pakistan more than a year ago.

Seems we'd invaded the wrong country. For the Americans, they'd finally brought to "justice" the mastermind of the World Trade Centre terror attacks. But while tossing his bullet-ridden body into the sea from a helicopter might have been simple, exiting Afghanistan afterwards has not been. Not for the Americans, anyway. But what's holding us up? We held our friend's hand in their hour of need, but a decade on, it's time we let go. If the new French government can do it, why not an insignificant dot of a nation at the bottom of the world.

No doubt Mr Key doesn't want to risk upsetting its superpower "ally," but what's the worst they could do, ban our sailors from their Pearl Harbour naval base? Oh yes, I forgot, they did that last month.

The American treatment of the New Zealand navy ships Te Kaha and Endeavour during the Rimpac international defence exercises off Hawaii was so humiliating, even the US Defence Force newspaper, Stars and Stripes, headlined its surprise at the insult.

Continuing to bear a grudge for the 1985 legislation banning nuclear- powered or armed ships from our ports, the US refused to permit New Zealand ships to berth with the ships from 21 other nations taking part in the exercise. Even Japan, whose bin Laden-like sneak attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 finally brought an infuriated US into World War II, was allowed to tie up in the naval base they'd once destroyed.

But not the Kiwi kid brothers. They could cool their heels and reflect on their 1985 act of treachery down among the container ships in Honolulu's commercial port.

Mr Key tried to play down this insult, even though in 2010, when he signed the Wellington Declaration with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he claimed the declaration ended the row over nuclear weapons and showed "that the last vestiges of any concern about the anti-nuclear legislation have gone". The Rimpac snub demonstrates how untrue that is.

But most New Zealanders support the independent stance successive governments have taken in defence of the nuclear-free policy, even at the risk of upsetting the Americans. Exiting the Afghanistan battlefield should be a much simpler exercise. The only issue between the various invading armies is the timing of their departure.

Those arguing for the NZ troops to stay another year point to the good works they've done building schools and health clinics and the like.

However true this might be, this "reconstruction" work is not worth the lives of any more Kiwi soldiers. If the NZ Army wants to build new infrastructure for Third World villagers - and I'm all in favour of such ways of winning hearts and minds - then let's do it in places where all the hard work is not going to obliterated in a month or a year by another round of civil war.

Ten years of American-led occupation have only added to the misery and mayhem that has cursed this country for decades. Mr Key acknowledges the growing security problems in Bamiyan province where the NZ troops are based.

In a recent Guardian article, the paper's Kabul correspondent notes how Bamiyan is no longer immune from the "rising tide" of insurgency. Early last month nine police officers were killed by two buried roadside bombs.

As for the mission to deliver democracy to the country, that's become a joke, the Karzai regime being riddled with corruption and division. Just last weekend, parliamentarians voted to sack both the ministers of Defence and Interior.

And while the occupying forces have been scouring Afghanistan for a decade seeking international terrorists, a greater threat to the Western world has flourished under their noses - the trade in opium. Since the Taleban government was defeated by the Western forces, the poppy crop has flourished, a United Nations' drugs and crimes agency estimating that by 2005, Afghanistan produced 87 per cent of the world's opium.

Four years ago, departing British commander Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said a military victory over the Taleban was "neither feasible nor supportable" and that where the Government had no control, the people were "vulnerable to a shifting coalition of Taleban, mad mullahs and marauding militias". Endangering the lives of New Zealand soldiers for another year is not going to change that. We've held the Americans' hand in this folly long enough.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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