BOOK REVIEW: 'Into the Killing Zone: Dispatches from the Frontline in Afghanistan'
'Into the Killing Zone: Dispatches from the Frontline in Afghanistan', Sean Rayment (Hardback, 288 pages, Constable, rrp £18.99, available £13.29)
With the media reporting that citations for bravery earned by soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) in Afghanistan, may have been falsified, it is perhaps timely to consider the role of our neighbours in that distant land.
Amnesty holds no views on these matters, but personally I have long regarded the military intervention in Afghanistan as a doomed enterprise. Temporary troop 'surges' (as ordered by President Obama) may bring temporary battlefield results. But, in the end, when the NATO soldiers inevitably return home, native Afghans – whether Taliban or their opponents – will be left in charge.
Having just finished 'Into the Killing Zone: Dispatches from the Frontline in Afghanistan' (due out in paperback at the end of the month), by Daily Telegraph journalist Sean Rayment, I have no doubt that UK armed services personnel are responsible for individual and collective acts of bravery in that theatre.
Rayment, a former Para, with tours of duty in Northern Ireland under his belt, is a sympathetic reporter of the ordinary soldier's plight. The book is filled with tales of Boy’s Own derring-do and personal tragedies, of patrols into dusty no-man's land, incoming RPGs and deadly US Apache fire.
Every few pages, it seems, there is a report of injury and death, as seen from behind British Army sandbags or in Helmand's Green Zone. Every few pages, too, there is verbatim quotation from mentions in dispatches and honours citations, recording incredible acts of courage and fidelity and fraternity under fire.
Of course, given the current military police investigation into alleged falsification of evidence as a basis for the awards of some honours to troops serving in Afghanistan, one cannot be certain that a few of the tales contained therein may not be subject to some exaggeration.
Yet, the young men returned home in flag-draped coffins, or with limbs or mental faculties missing, tell their own undeniable truth: our neighbours are being killed – and are killing – in significant numbers in Afghanistan.
So, why are they there? The young soldiers – average age 19, just as in Vietnam forty years before – complain that people back home in the UK don't know and don't care. It's just another misguided Iraqi-style adventure to most people. To the troops, according to Rayment, it's a hot war, being fought against 'Terry Taliban' to secure Afghanistan for peace-loving Afghans.
To most Afghans, it's another foreign intervention, in a long history of foreign interventions, in their country. Mostly they try to keep their heads down, maybe tend their animals or their poppy crop, and wait to see who emerges victorious.
Of course, the latest war came to Afghanistan because the 9/11 attacks were likely coordinated from there and because the United States therefore, somewhat understandably, decided to overthrow the Taliban regime which provided cover for Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda faithful. Seven years on and Bin Laden proves as elusive as ever.
Curiously, Rayment's book only gets to the other reasons for the NATO military presence in the final two paragraphs of his book. He finally deduces that much is due to Afghanistan's strategic location, between the former-Soviet 'Stans', Iran and Pakistan – arguably the most volatile region of the world (or at least vying with the Middle East for that unenviable title). "
Then there is the oil," opens his final paragraph, as if in belated after-thought. 21 billion barrels to be precise. Maybe, just maybe, that offers a reason for all the spilt blood, the acts of heroism, the Military Crosses (deserved or not), and the deaths of literally countless thousands of Afghans – Taliban, government-loyalist and civilian alike.
Rayment, based on his discussions with senior military figures, reckons it "could well be the middle of this century before NATO eventually leaves Afghanistan. By that stage the country will be of an economic standing equivalent to that of Bangladesh – in short it will still be one of the poorest countries of the world."
Operation Enduring Freedom, indeed.
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