One thing the Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson book Hit and Run has done is to once again focus this country's attention on war-torn Afghanistan and ask the question of whether our 12-year-long military involvement there, and the loss of 10 lives, has been worth the $300m we've spent on it?

If you're a parent of one of those who have been killed in this far-off foreign land that is as philosophically and ideologically as far from New Zealand as you could get, the answer would understandably be an emphatic NO.

But if you look at what was in Afghanistan before the Americans invaded after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, our presence there will have helped the coalition save tens of thousands of lives and rescue an equal number from female enslavement and poverty.

Travelling with John Key on a top-secret visit to Afghanistan, three months before the much-talked-about SAS attack on villages there in August 2010 to avenge the death of our first casualty there, Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, the stark reality of that country and where it'd recently come from was all too plain to see.


We were escorted around Kabul by the SAS, most of whom would have taken part in the now much-publicised village raids. The horror of the Taliban, who imposed their strict interpretation of Sharia law, was always part of the conversation.

Here's just one example of what it was like.

Walking up to the infamous Swimming Pool Hill with an SAS officer gave an imposing view of the capital city. But getting to the pool itself, and the cruelty it personified, sent a shudder up the spine.

The pool had been built by the last invaders, the Russians, to attract international competition. It was never used for that purpose. Under the Taliban, a trip to the pool meant certain death.

Disbelievers, or those who'd offended against Sharia law, who wouldn't have even attracted a penalty in this country, were lined up against the blue swimming pool wall and shot. Worse still, some were made climb the steps to the highest of the five diving boards and marched off the end, falling to their death on the concrete below.

Why wouldn't they make a run for it, or at least put up a fight? the SAS man was asked.     He shrugged his shoulders and said that part of the human condition is a belief that it'll never actually happen, until it unfortunately does.

And to an extent that's probably the view of most who serve overseas.

So has our participation in Afghanistan been worth it? The question's too subjective to objectively answer but at least the Taliban's no longer in control. If they did return it'd be the equivalent to the Nazis again being in control of Germany and the answer would then very definitely be NO.


Barry Soper is the Political Editor for Newstalk ZB