Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on what comes next in Afghanistan

August 21st, 2012

Under its current operating rules, the New Zealand forces in Bamiyan have already been given authority by Cabinet to cross over into neighbouring regions such as Baghlan – the province from which the attackers responsible for the recent deaths among New Zealand troops are believed to have originated. In the light of recent events, it would be plainly unwise for them to do so. Over the next few days (according to Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman on RNZ this morning) Defence chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones will be briefing Coleman and his advisers about the plan for a response to the recent attacks, and the logic behind it. In the meantime, the withdrawal date for the PRT force has been brought forward from September 2013 to April 2013.

It is hard to see how Jones could possibly justify any kind of ‘hot pursuit” role for the PRT troops – or for the SAS either, if restricted to a non-combat role – and the cross-border patrols that this would involve. In the public mind, there has always been a clear division. The SAS troops have done the ‘locate and destroy” work in rural and urban situations alike. The PRT role was supposed to be one of aid and reconstruction – schools for kids, education opportunities for women – in order to assist the local Hazara population, and other residents. We’ve always told ourselves that we’ve been doing great work in Bamiyan. Yet the influx of insurgents into northern Bamiyan has seen the PRT force engaging in patrols with a far more active combat dimension. Presumably, our PRT patrols have been sent out to augment the work of special forces teams from other ISAF countries. It is this intelligence-gathering role that has led to the recent casualties. It would be interesting to know how this change of role came about.

The PRT troops clearly have had their hands full in patrolling north Bamiyan as it is. To expect them to extend those patrols into territory that seems even more hostile to their presence – and in vehicles plainly unable to protect them adequately from IEDs – would be foolhardy. Such work looks more like the role carried out by the SAS a good few deployments ago – ie, when it was doing long range patrols in the south of the country, before being re-deployed to do urban counter-terrorism work and related training on the streets of Kabul.

In the current conditions, dispatching PRT and/or SAS troops into Bamiyan’s neighbouring provinces to help detect the insurgents and their bomb-makers would increase the likelihood of more casualties. In practice, the Kiwi troops would be little more than live bait to encourage the insurgents to show their hand, so that special forces can deal with them. If our troops are going to be used as lures for the Taliban, at least they should be put in vehicles able to protect them from IEDs. The simple reality is that our PRT forces are not being adequately armed or trained for the job at hand. One can easily see why the government is considering the use of the SAS for this ‘intelligence gathering’ work in north Bamiyan and Baghlan – but, Coleman and Prime Minister John Key insist, they will not be doing the actual fighting. Yeah, right. If the SAS locate the bomb-maker, it’s hard to imagine them radioing back to the ISAF for someone else to take it from there.

There are other options, of course. Reportedly, we are picking up the slack on these deadly patrols because the Hungarians won’t do it. Well, we don’t have to volunteer. The patrols currently being carried out in north Bamiyan and beyond could be handed over entirely to other ISAF nations and to their special forces, preparatory to our departure. This departure should be in October, when the current PRT deployment ends and a fresh influx of New Zealand troops are sent in to replace them. Frankly, it’s hard to see how a full departure would be all that much more difficult to organize than the rotation already envisaged. We’re talking about fewer than 150 troops, all up. There is no valid reason why they shouldn’t be home by Christmas, with their families.

If April, however, is to be the final departure date…then in the meantime, our troops should behave much as our engineers squad did in Basra when things went south in Iraq. Namely, they should wait out the remaining time in barracks. In which case, any involvement by our PRT troops in patrols in north Bamiyan should be officially suspended, and our troops put to work full time building schools and roads, digging wells etc. That’s the kind of aid and reconstruction stuff that the New Zealand public thought we were there to do, originally.


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    1. 4 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on what comes next in Afghanistan”

    2. By Mac on Aug 21, 2012 | Reply

      Mr Campbell clearly does not understand the requirements of the combat zone. The only way to ensure security to allow reconstruction work is aggressive patrolling to deny the enemy operational access. Due to numerous changes in the area the Kiwis now need to take on this roles to facilitate their primary role of reconstruction. Yet another example of the uninformed commenting on things they are not qualified or competent to do so. My qualifications are over 20 years of NZ Army service and 15 more as a private contractor / trainer in various places. Journos should pull i n their nasty little heads and allow the real men and women to do the dirty work in peace.

    3. By Robert Miles on Aug 22, 2012 | Reply

      The diffence between the PRT troops and the SAS has never been as clear cut as the public believe and media and armed forces have presented as the reality. The presence of Major Wilson in both groups shows that both have a combat. security and intelligence gatheing role.
      While the arranged allocation of our PRT troops to Baniyan province meant that the importance of their security and intelligence gathering role about the locals was lower until know that the PRT in other provinces, essentially there purposes were intelligence gathering on able and effective elements for the Americans to transfer to the west, or watch or terminate if required at an appropriate or convinient.
      Our strategic and trade needs required us to play a credible role in policing afghanistan. However that time is past. THe US is progressively withdrawing and downsizing and dehuminising its military, replacing human elements with drones and other means of Intelligence gathering. France, Netherlands and Canada have pulled out from Afghanistan rapidly. While our continuing presencce might have preserved life and relative stablity in a few provincial villages for up to 15mths the likely cost in the lives and hard militarisation of our troops, means rapid withdrawal is now the correct answer.

    4. By Tasi on Aug 23, 2012 | Reply

      Mac, I think the point Gordon is making is at least in the minds of the NZ public, the PRT role would not have included a combat role and certainly not to the point where they would be entering other provinces. Perhaps that’s a failure of the Govt to adequately inform the public (and perhaps its way to “win” over public opinion).

    5. By mh on Aug 24, 2012 | Reply

      And pray tell what are the Afghani Military doing? Where are their patrols and intelligence gathering sources? Aggressive patrolling after 10 yrs should not be our role by now. Withdraw,who cares if the Talibans or drug lords take over,if the locals themselves don’t care either thru intimidation or cultural religious differences about the loss of our troops. Has anyone read an article or seen a film clip from the head man from the local areas deploring these deaths and how angry and sad they are about them and how they have found the people responsible? Our troops have been murdered whilst in THEIR care. Bugger them,lets get out. 200 years time they might erect a memorial to them.

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