Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the SAS in Kabul, and the media’s duty to report on their actions

January 25th, 2010

The saga of media coverage of the SAS in Afghanistan took another turn on the weekend with National MP Eric Roy bizarrely blaming Helen Clark for the ‘ degeneration’ in media coverage of our special forces. According to Roy, Clark triggered the whole unraveling of media secrecy by publicly acknowledging Colonel Willie Apiata when he received his Victoria Cross a few years ago. By this ludicrous logic, Apiata was somehow supposed to anonymously receive his VC ? Yeah, that would happen.

If the NZ Herald had been having any second thoughts about its decision to run the contentious Apiata photo last week, Roy’s dopey intervention would have sealed the matter. As I said last week, pure politics and not the security of the troops has been driving this secrecy issue all along. If Apiata – having been made into the poster boy of the armed forces for the past three or four years – now wants anonymity, perhaps everyone now decrying the Herald could start with the NZDF itself. And ask why, as Greens MP Keith Locke has done, a photo of a bearded Apiata apparently out in the field, has been prominently featured on its own website.

The reality is that it has suited the armed forces and the government to turn Apiata into a media star. Having done so, it is they who have put Apiata at risk by sending him back into one of the most highly publicized war zones in the world, where he was photographed walking in full combat gear down a public street of the capital of Afghanistan, in the wake of a firefight. Demanding obedience and a pact of secrecy from the media in those circumstances is absurd. Furthermore, if the MoD and the government want the media to play ball, perhaps they can start by telling the truth when approached by the media for comment.

Instead, the first response by armed forces spokesperson when asked about the initial New York Times report was to deny the story – and misleadingly couch their reply not in terms of the SAS being present at the Kabul firefight, but in terms of the defence personnel attached to the ISAF command, who were clearly not present. Then Prime Minister John Key and defence Minister Wayne Mapp conceded the SAS were present, but claimed they were not involved in the firefight or in its vicinity. Now, foreign media reports indicate that the contentious Apiata photo was taken just after he and other SAS soldiers emerged from a room in which three bodies were found, in circumstances which strongly suggest our special forces were jointly involved in the fighting. As a rule, wilfully misleading the media is never a good way to win their co-operation.

None of this would be happening if the government operated a more sensibly open policy with regard to information about our special forces. Of course this does not mean telling anyone in advance where they will be, or what they will be doing there. After the fact though, there is no reason why summary information on the kind of tasks they are engaged in cannot be released. This is normal practice for almost every other country involved in the conflict.

Only last week for instance, Radio Netherlands carried a report about how the pullout of Dutch forces might affect Australian operations, got comment on this point from the Australian general involved, and cited the presence of 300 Aussie SAS forces in the province. Contrast this with a New Zealand refusal to say which province the SAS are in, much less what kind of work they are doing. It was only when the Norwegian media reported that our SAS would be replacing their special forces that we learned our contribution would no longer be, as previously, in long range patrols beyond Kandahar but in operations within an urban setting in and around Kabul.

Also, Since the Norwegian press had freely reported their special forces were involved in finding and neutralizing those responsible for making and placing roadside bombs, running the finance networks and drug running operations (while also training the Afghan counter-terrorism units ) we can reasonably conclude that our SAS are currently doing much the same. What possible value is there in concealing such information from the public? The Taliban know that’s what they are doing. So does every other country involved in the conflict.

The only reason is political. It is all about a domestic political agenda in New Zealand, and has nothing to do with the security of troops in the field. By keeping a lid on any information about the role of our special forces in Afghanistan, the government stifles the grounds for protest about our involvement. The less that people know, the less they can complain about. That how totalitarian regimes operate. In any real democracy though, the government should expect the media to challenge that agenda of secrecy, and not be browbeaten into colluding with it. Top marks to the Herald, for rising to the challenge on this occasion.


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    1. 6 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the SAS in Kabul, and the media’s duty to report on their actions”

    2. By Mark on Jan 25, 2010 | Reply

      The problem for National is that if they were honest about their real intentions in many areas of government they would not be in government The only way the National party can ever do what they really want to do and remain in office is by deciet or perhaps in the future installing electronic voting machines and rigging the vote as happens a lot in the US. My gut instinct tells me they are waiting for the new world currency and are faking as best they can for now. My darkest suspicion is that John Key is privy to the plan for the New World Currency/World Order and that they are marking time and will do anything to stay in government untill the point when a world dictatorship will back the long wanteed National Party agenda.

    3. By Valerie on Jan 25, 2010 | Reply

      Thanks for your post and usual excellent analysis. Of course, the government wants to keep us in the dark about what the SAS is doing for political, not military reasons. The propaganda campaign waged around the deployment of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north of Afghanistan, and the constant ‘feel good’ media stories about this deployment fostered widespread support of this force. In other countries, debate about military involvement in what has traditionally be the ground of humanitarian agencies has abounded. In NZ however, the Labour government sold people on the idea that expanding Karzai’s regime outside of Kabul was a good idea, and thus sent ‘our boys’ to help out with the task. It seems only now that Mr Goff has awoken to the beast he helped create. This war, like all the others waged by the US, is simply a self-interested grab for power and resources. The SAS are there to secure American power, and so we shall reap the seeds that we sow.

      The NZ government continues to create a ‘national identity’ based on warfare and our society becomes more inured to the violence ‘over there’ with each passing day. It honestly makes me want to weep.

    4. By Jane on Jan 25, 2010 | Reply

      New Zealand out of Afghanistan!
      It is not a “good war” as it has been portrayed in the world media. If you go back to the so-called reasons for being there, it’s something to do with that date 9/11, I seem to recall. Bin Laden. Now just why have they not found him yet? And oh, right, let’s forget that the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were actually Saudi. And the opium crop just gets bigger.

    5. By Mark on Jan 25, 2010 | Reply

      Heres a link to an old article on the BBC website about a planned pipeline through Afghanistan.

      “Afghanistan hopes to strike a deal later this month to build a $2bn pipeline through the country to take gas from energy-rich Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India.”

      “US company preferred

      Mr Razim said US energy company Unocal was the “lead company” among those that would build the pipeline, which would bring 30bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas to market annually.”

      This is all about US (Multinational) corporations getting business. We are involved in a corporate war for the interests of the wealthy and no doubt there are strategic long range “Empire Building” strategies in plays.

    6. By Mark on Jan 25, 2010 | Reply

      Here’s another link to a very interseting article that may shed some light on the real reasons for this BS war.

      “The Eurasian Corridor: Pipeline Geopolitics and the New Cold War – by Michel Chossudovsky”

      “The Silk Road Strategy (SRS) constitutes an essential building block of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.
      The SRS was formulated as a bill presented to the US Congress in 1999. It called for the creation of an energy and transport corridor network linking Western Europe to Central Asia and eventually to the Far East.
      The Silk Road Strategy is defined as a “trans-Eurasian security system”. The SRS calls for the “militarization of the Eurasian corridor” as an integral part of the “Great Game”. The stated objective, as formulated under the proposed March 1999 Silk Road Strategy Act, is to develop America’s business empire along an extensive geographical corridor.”

      If you search silk road at there are several other interseting articles on the topic.

    7. By Mark on Jan 26, 2010 | Reply

      Here’s a link to other articles about the Silk Road.

      Caucasus, Central Asia and the Silk Road Strategy Forum.

      Articles include

      The “New Great Game” in Eurasia is being fought in its “Buffer Zones” Moldova: Caught between NATO and Russia? – by Mahdi Darius

      Who is behind Moldova’s Twitter Revolution? – by José Miguel Alonso Trabanco

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