Dom Post on Afghanistan

April 8th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Many Kiwis will question whether the engagement in a conflict 13,000 kilometres away was worth such a high cost. Others will question whether now is the right time for the PRT to pull out, given the Taliban remains strong in the northeast of Bamiyan, and Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain.

However, there is no denying that New Zealand was right to join the international efforts to confront al Qaeda and weaken it to the point where it no longer posed a grave threat to innocent people all around the world. The horrific September 11 attacks on the United States showed the terrorist organisation’s intent and capabilities. It had to be crippled. That mission, at least, has been accomplished.

It was also right to send the PRT to help sow the seeds of democracy and stability in Bamiyan. Likewise, now is the right time to come home.

The PRT has done everything that could have been reasonably expected of it given the harsh and dangerous conditions in which our troops were asked to operate. They have improved medical facilities, built roads and bridges and created the conditions for some semblance of what Kiwis would regard as a normal life to flourish.

Its presence has resulted in the opening of hundreds of schools, seen a rise in the number of girls getting an education and laid the foundations for improved infrastructure and a big improvement in health outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, the deployment has given the people of Bamiyan the confidence to believe they can be masters of their own destiny.

It is difficult to see what more could be achieved by the PRT remaining, and the reality is that the looming withdrawal of the rest of the international community in 2014 makes it impossible for it to stay in any case.

What annoys me most about Afghanistan is it was Labour who sent in the SAS (which was the right decision), and renewed their mission several times. Then the moment they are in Opposition they attack the Government for keeping the SAS there.

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NZ withdraws PRT from Afghanistan

April 5th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

The New Zealand flag has been lowered for the final time at Kiwibase in Bamiyan marking the official close of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and this country’s 10-year involvement with it.

The United States and Malaysian flag, representing other nations in the PRT, were also lowered leaving the Afghan flag flying alone. …

At the flag-lowering ceremony Governor-General Jerry Mateparae said the final “crib 21″ rotation could now start the 13,000km trip home.

“You leave a legacy of which you can be proud.”

Sir Jerry read out the names of the 10 Kiwi soldiers who died in Afghanistan: Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, Private Kirifi Mila, Corporal Dougie Grant, Lance Corporal Leon Smith, Corporal Dougie Hughes, Lance Corporal Rory Malone, Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer, Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris.

He said they had come to resists tyranny, promote democratic values and bring peace to troubled lands. …

Nato’s deputy senior civilian Andrew Steinfeld, who arrived with other official in a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters just before the event, thanked the PRT for its effectiveness. It had helped make big improvements in health outcomes, especially for children and had lifted the number of girls going to school.

He said it was appropriate Afghanistan now take the lead, but it would not have to do so alone.

Bamiyan Governor Habiba Sarabi thanked Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman for the PRT’s “remarkable service” and said the withdrawal should not indicate the end of the friendship and support of New Zealand but expected “a more sustainable friendship and … continued humanitarian support”.

New Zealand will continue to support two “legacy” aid projects including agriculture and the establishment of three solar powered generators that will start coming on stream in May and provide power for 2500 users in business, government buildings and residents.

Afghanistan is never going to turn into a post-war Germany or Japan. But life is way way better for the ordinary Afghani since the fall of Taliban, especially for women.

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From beheadings to Eton

February 26th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Daily Mail reports:

When three-year-old Rohid Zamani and his family fled Afghanistan to escape the terrors of the Taliban regime, they could only hope to reach a better place.

But never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined such a spectacular outcome for their little boy.

While the family have built a new life in Britain, Rohid, now 16, has defied overwhelming odds to win a full scholarship to Eton.

His extraordinary story began in the city of Jalalabad, where the Zamanis lived in fear of the extremist Islamic rulers and civil unrest raging around them.

Among the horrors they witnessed was a man who was decapitated because he put gel in his hair to style it.

‘He was dragged out in the street and they chopped his head off,’ said Rohid.

Afghanistan is far from perfect today, but those who claim it is no better than under Taliban rule have never lived there!

Rohid’s father, who worked as a civil engineer, decided to risk everything by fleeing the country with his wife and two children.

Their journey took them across 3,500 miles, including crossing rivers in Russia in a leaking rubber dinghy.

Rohid said: ‘My mum was scared we were going to sink. She put her hand on the hole.

‘I was really scared. After that we had to wait for a van and the van broke down so we had to go through a forest.

‘There were wolves and dogs, everybody was just so scared.’

The family also became separated at one point.

They spoke no English when they arrived in Hull but they soon adapted and were allowed to settle in the UK. And Rohid showed his dedication to learning early on.

An incredible journey.

As well as being bright and hard-working, he excelled at rugby league and athletics. When the school suggested Rohid apply for an Eton scholarship he jumped at the chance and was among hundreds who took part in a tough four-day interview process.

‘Luckily I was picked so I must have done OK,’ he said. 

He starts at sixth form in September, studying A-levels in maths, biology, chemistry and physics.
Rohid’s father now works as a van driver – but the family won’t have to pay a penny of the £30,000 annual fees and have been given a £1,500 bursary to help cover school uniform and other expenses.

The teenager now knows there is no limit to what he can achieve. He hopes to become a surgeon. Commenting on the Eton life that awaits him, he said: ‘It’s a huge step, a bit like going to university two years early.

When people talk about equality of opportunity – this is what it means. A very heart-warming story.

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A humane decision

October 26th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Up to 26 Afghan interpreters will be given asylum in New Zealand when Kiwi troops withdraw from Bamiyan next April.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said Cabinet agreed on Monday to offer the interpreters a resettlement package in New Zealand.

The details will be released next week when Dr Coleman returns from a visit to the Middle East.

The interpreters, working with the Provincial Reconstruction Team, are being notified of their packages.

Including the interpreters’ families, 75 Afghans would come to New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key said earlier this month he was sympathetic to Afghan interpreters working with Kiwi troops who say their lives will be in danger.

The interpreters have said their work over a long period has made their identities known to insurgents, putting them at risk after New Zealand leaves the region.

I think this is the right decision. This incidentally doesn’t mean an increase in refugees – rather that they get allocated 75 out of our annual (I think) 750 places.

UPDATE: They do not qualify as refugees, so in fact are additional to the normal quota.

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Winston “hundreds of thousands”

October 9th, 2012 at 7:27 am by David Farrar

3 News reports:

Prime Minister John Key says he won’t close the door on Afghan interpreters who say their lives are at risk after working with New Zealand troops.

Twenty-six interpreters work with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan. They say the Taliban will target them as soon as the troops pull out.

When the PRT leaves Afghanistan in April next year, they are planning to leave behind the interpreters. But Mr Key wants to be certain the risk is as bad as has been presented before he welcomes them here.

“We just need to assess the risks – whether the risks are real and genuine to them,” says Mr Key. “We need to work through the issue and see what it might all mean. I’m not closing the door to them.”

If there is a genuine and significant risk, we should take them. Of course the claims may be exaggerated in order to be allowed to move to NZ, as even if there is no risk to their security – NZ is always going to be a far nicer place to live than Afghanistan.

But by opening the door at all, New Zealand First says it could be impossible to close again.

“Well they will have effectively jumped the UN queue for a start,” says Winston Peters. “The second thing is they will be bringing hundreds of thousands as well with them. That’s the previous model.”

So 26 interpreters will bring in hundreds of thousands of family members? Why do the media give such statements any credibility? If Shearer or even the Greens said such an obviously false thing, they’d be pummeled by the media. But as usual, there is a double standard when it comes to Peters, where lying is seen as just Winston being Winston.

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Farewelling their colleagues

August 28th, 2012 at 2:19 pm by David Farrar

I only found this video because Piers Morgan from CNN tweeted it. Very moving. The Defence Force explain at You Tube:

Haka is used throughout New Zealand by many, not only Māori, to demonstrate their collective thoughts. There is a haka for each of the Services, as well as the Defence Force. Units with the NZ Army have their own haka. This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their Unit haka, powerfully acknowledging the lives and feats of their fallen comrades as they come onto the Unit’s parade ground. It is also an emotive farewell for they will leave via the waharoa (the carved entrance way) for the very last time.

Haka –sometimes termed a posture dance could also be described as a chant with actions. There are various forms of haka; some with weapons some without, some have set actions others may be ‘free style.’ Haka is used by Māori (indigenous people of New Zealand) for a myriad of reasons; to challenge or express defiance or contempt, to demonstrate approval or appreciation, to encourage or to discourage, to acknowledge feats and achievements, to welcome, to farewell, as an expression of pride, happiness or sorrow. There is almost no inappropriate occasion for haka; it is an outward display of inner thoughts and emotions. Within the context of an occasion it is abundantly clear which emotion is being expressed.

They will not be forgotten.

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A stupid insensitive idiot

August 26th, 2012 at 9:59 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

A filmmaker who posted inflammatory comments online about a woman soldier killed in Afghanistan has gone into hiding following a barrage of death threats to her and her family.

Barbara Sumner-Burstyn’s remarks on Facebook, accusing Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker of “killing innocent people”, attracted a vitriolic attack from some army colleagues.

“Oh, so fallen soldier Jacinda Baker liked boxing and baking – did they forget she also liked invading countries we are not at war with, killing innocent people and had no moral compass” Burstyn wrote on her Facebook page.

“She 100 per cent does not deserve our respect for her flawed choices. We are not at war. We are helping America invade another country for their oil. No more than that.

“Go to war expect to be killed. You can’t have it both ways – oh nice little career with the military and shock horror when you get blown up.”

The post went viral around the internet and last night 19,000 people had joined a Facebook group called “Sumner Burstyn give back your NZ Passport!”.

Sumner-Burstyn seems to be a very stupid person, as she repeats a manta “war for oil” without even understanding it. Afghanistan is not an oil producing country.

More to the point, one can have a legitimate view on the conflict in Afghanistan and express it in the context of deaths. But Sumner-Burstyn crossed the line by making claims about Jacinda Baker personally, and almost expressing satisfaction that she had died. She seems to lack any empathy for fellow human beings such as Jacinda’s familiy, friends and colleagues.

It goes without saying that while of course people will get angry at Sumner-Burstyn for her vile remarks on Jacinda Baker, that anger should never become threats as a few did. That just allows Sumner-Burstyn to portray herself as the victim.

It‘s a shame such a talented film-maker is so lacking in basic human empathy and decency.

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Labour’s political management

August 21st, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Bryce Edwards wrote:

Of course Goff and his party played the crucial role in sending New Zealand into the Afghanistan war, so his current stance would appear, to some, to be hypocritical. Goff refuses to say that Labour’s intervention was wrong, essentially suggesting that it has only been wrong under the National Government, but few will be convinced. Goff’s view of the future is bleak: ‘Afghanistan was slipping towards civil war…. He said success in Afghanistan relied on a local administration that could capture the “hearts and minds” of its people. The Karzai administration had failed on that front, and Goff said it was “deeply corrupt”. “It is involved in drug trafficking, supports war lords, and hasn’t got the support of the people. Why are our guys dying to defend an administration of that nature?”‘ Ironically, those criticisms were, of course, the exact ones made during Goff’s tenure as Minister of Defence. Goff’s words now amount to an admission of defeat.

David Shearer’s position on the withdrawal appears to be more cautious than Goff’s, and is effectively the same as the Government’s. When interviewed today Shearer said: ‘I don’t think we should be cutting and running, because that will undo the very good work we’ve done over the last nine years. But we shouldn’t be staying any longer than we have to – I’m talking about months, rather than a year and a half’ – see TV3′sFirstline – Leave Afghanistan ‘as soon as practical’ – Shearer.

Labour’s position has been all over the place. Goff has been saying one thing, and Shearer another. Plus Shearer’s position varied throughout the day.

This suggests to me that Labour’s parliamentary unit is not operating as effectively as it should be. The moment news of the three further deaths broke, there should have been a quick meeting to determine what the Leader would say, and then if he signed off on it, it should be communicated to all MPs with clear instructions that no Labour MP is to say anything beyond that.

This is not advanced political management. This is basically Politics 101. A party needs to speak with one voice on issues like this. Goff is saying the mission (which he started) has failed, while Shearer is saying it has not.

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Labour says pull troops out early

August 20th, 2012 at 10:38 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Opposition parties are calling for New Zealand troops to come home from Afghanistan early, following the deaths of three Kiwi soldiers yesterday.

Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman and former defence minister Phil Goff said the deaths made it more important for New Zealand to withdraw.

“It’s not a case of cutting and running, it’s a case of managing an orderly transition out of Bamiyan which the Government should have been embarking on already.” …

Labour leader David Shearer added his weight to Goff’s comments, saying the troops must be brought home as soon as practicable.

This angers me, especially as it was a Labour Government that approved the PRT going to Afghanistan around nine years ago.

The mission is scheduled to end in 2013. There is no debate that the troops will come home. The debate is about how.

To renege on our international commitments, and pull the troops out a year early, would be a massive blow to New Zealand’s international credibility and reputation.

I hate the fact we have lost five soldiers in less than a month. But again it is not credible to change policy on the basis of the fact that soldiers die in war zones.

Now if our commitment to stay until 2013, isn’t to a specific month within 2013, obviously it would be preferable for it to earlier in 2013 than later. But one has to balance that against how ready local forces are to step up.

While grossly imperfect, Afgahnistan is a vastly better place for most than when the Taliban ruled and sheltered Bin Laden. Women especially now have basic rights such an education. I have no doubt that the US and allies had to take action in 2001 after the Taliban refused to stop sheltering Al Qaeda.  It was clearly self-defence.

NZ troops will return home. But let’s do it in a way that doesn’t see NZ renege on its word and commitments.

UPDATE:

What shameful grandstanding. In Leighton Smith this morning Shearer clarified that by “bring them home early” he means:

“I think we could have them out early/mid next year”

Now John Key had already earlier said on Breakfast:

“That will be in 2013, it’s possible it will be in earlier 2013 than later 2013.”

So in fact Shearer is agreeing with the Government’s timetable, but just trying to get headlines.

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Mourning three more soldiers

August 20th, 2012 at 7:12 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Taleban has claimed responsibility for the bomb attack that killed three New Zealand soldiers only two weeks after the deaths of Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer in a firefight.

The Defence Force said that at approximately 9.20am (Afghanistan time) yesterday, the last vehicle in a convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device, North West of Do Abe, Bamiyan, on the road to Romero.

As always thoughts are with the families, comrades and friends of the dead soldiers.

My thoughts are also with the wider families of all those serving in Afghanistan. It is obvious that the situation for the PRT has become more dangerous. The other families will be hoping for no further incidents during this final 12 months in Afghanistan.

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Two killed in Afghanistan

August 5th, 2012 at 9:30 am by David Farrar

The NZ Defence Force has announced:

The New Zealand Defence Force can confirm that two personnel serving with the NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan have been killed during an incident in the North East of Bamyan Province.

At approximately 1900hrs (NZ time) yesterday, NZ Defence Force personnel came to the assistance of local security forces who encountered suspected insurgents near a village south of Do Abe, in the North East.

A further six NZ Defence Force personnel were wounded during the incident, and they were evacuated to a military hospital.

Two local security personnel were also killed, and a further 11 personnel, including one civilian, were wounded.

The Defence Force is in the process of informing and supporting next of kin. The Defence Force will not release the name of the personnel for 24 hours to give the families time and space to grieve.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said, “We are deeply saddened by this loss and, on behalf of the entire New Zealand Defence Force, I extend my deepest sympathies to the family, colleagues and friends of the personnel involved.”

It sounds like a very nasty attack, with a total of 4 dead, and 17 wounded. Six kiwis wounded and two dead is, off memory, the largest number of causalities since maybe Vietnam? Anyone know?

As always thoughts are with the family, colleagues and friends of those killed and wounded.

Some have tried to suggest that the PRT presence in Afghanistan is just about building things, and that they are not there as soldiers. This is a sad reminder of how untrue that is.

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Goff on SAS

December 23rd, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The SAS is to be withdrawn from Afghanistan on schedule in March, the Government announced yesterday – but the move was met with Opposition calls to ensure they are never deployed again.

Never ever ever ever ever again.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed the Special Air Service troops would be returning to New Zealand after two and a half years working alongside the Afghan Crisis Response Unit in the capital, Kabul.

And they have made a difference.

Mr Goff said he welcomed the decision on the SAS, but it had to be long term – not simply a break between deployments.

“That does not mean he won’t redeploy them in six months or a year’s time. That’s a question Mr Key won’t answer. What is important is to seek a commitment that they won’t be sent back there.

Of course Key won’t give guarantees for years into the future. It’s called the responsibility of being in office, as opposed to stupid opposition.

Mr Goff said the Labour Government deployed the SAS to combat al-Qaeda and international terrorism. The Afghan conflict was now more in the nature of civil war and President Hamid Karzai’s regime did not have the support of the people.

Asked what circumstances might warrant a redeployment, Mr Goff said there would have to be clear evidence Afghanistan was being used to host international terrorism.

“I don’t think there are likely to be circumstances that would warrant a redeployment of our troops there.”

Except of course Labour do support NZ troops being in Afghanistan. They support the PRT continuing its work there.

This is just like the hypocrisy Labour had over Iraq – attacking National for potentially sending troops there, while ignoring Labour did send troops to Iraq.

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Doubly revolting

December 14th, 2011 at 8:59 am by David Farrar

Bad enough this story, which has been around for a while:

An Afghan woman who was jailed for “forced adultery” after a relative raped her, and then officially pardoned after an international outcry over the case, is still in prison nearly two weeks after a judicial panel announced she could go free.

At least she no longer has to marry her rapist. But still, so incredibly fucked up.

Now we have the Saudis:

Rights group Amnesty International has described as “deeply shocking” Saudi Arabia’s beheading of a woman convicted on charges of “sorcery and witchcraft” saying it underlined the urgent need to end executions in the kingdom.

Saudi national Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was executed on Monday (locall time) in the northern province of al-Jawf after being tried and convicted for practicing sorcery, the interior ministry said, without giving details of the charges.

“The citizen… practiced acts of witchcraft and sorcery,” Saudi newspaper al-Watan cited the interior ministry as saying. “The death sentence was carried out on the accused yesterday (Monday) in the Qurayyat district in al-Jawf region.”

God, where do you start.

  1. There is no such thing as sorcery
  2. Hence sorcery should not be a crime. It’s like making astrology a crime.
  3. Executing someone for a fictious offence is barbaric
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Afghanistan Electoral System

November 30th, 2011 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

Had a fascinating meeting this afternoon with a group of a dozen or so people from Afghanistan and Democracy International. They were from civil society and/or the Afghanistan Electoral Commission, and were out here to observe our referendum, plus meetings with various experts, lobby groups and commentators.

Afghanistan uses SNTV, and we discussed the pros and cons of MMP, STV and FPP, plus associated issues such as thresholds, list MPs, stability vs inclusion.

We also talked a bit about polling and focus groups, and specifically polling around the teacup tape which they had all heard about.

A very enjoyable discussion, and a real privilege. I’m going to add Afghanistan to my list of countries to monitor in terms of electoral politics.

At one point I discussed the importance of the right vs wrong direction country indicator in polling, and how this tends to indicate a Government’s survival chances. I was surprised to learn that a recent (independent) poll in Afghanistan had 70% saying the country is heading in the right direction. It’s a reminder that we often only hear the bad news.

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What will they think?

November 16th, 2011 at 1:28 pm by David Farrar

I’ve just been asked to meet a group of civil society leaders from Afghanistan who are coming to NZ to observe the election.

I hate to think what impressions they will go away with, based on the media coverage of the election. They will think New Zealand is such a perfect country with no crime, no poverty, no unemployment, no trade issues, no defence issues, no economic challenges, no debt as the major focus of the media has been on whether the Prime Minister said that NZ First support is dying off – something that has been said hundreds of times before by political reporters and commentators.

How will I explain to them that this gets more coverage than any other issue of the campaign?

When they refer to the debt crisis in Europe, and ask what did the party leaders say about the fact that France is hovering on the brink of a credit downgrade also, and what impact could this have on NZ, I’ll have to say I’m sorry but that wasn’t deemed worth talking about.

Thanks to TV3 everyone knows more or less what was said in the chat. There was obviously a reference to it being hard work to manage Don Brash at times, and to NZ First support base dying off. Neither of these statements are remarkable. The language used was not as delicate as one would use in public, but that is the difference between a private conversation, and a private chat. when you are chatting to someone one on one with no (known) recording devices in front of you, you don’t carefully consider every vowel you utter. This is not hypocrisy or inconsistency – it is human behaviour.

I do heaps of media work now. How I talk on air is quite different to how I talk one on one to people. I never say anything I don’t believe, but I carefully weigh up my words on air. The same goes for every journalist in the land, except maybe Colin James whose columns and conversations are near identical :-)

So yes John Key said the NZ First support base is dying off. Wow wee. Does this mean he hates pensioners and wants them all to drop dead so they can’t vote for Winston? Of course not. He simply told John Banks why he didn’t think NZ First were likely to make it back.

UPDATE: For my 2c worth, if I was the PM I would go on Close Up tonight and give Sainsbury permission to quote from the transcript and have PM answer questions on it. Then everyone sees what a beat up it is, and the election can focus on the important issues.

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Hager’s book

September 2nd, 2011 at 9:11 am by David Farrar

Two different takes on Nicky Hager’s latest book. John Armstong writes in the Herald:

Those who think Nicky Hager is just another left-wing stirrer and dismiss his latest book accordingly should think again.

Likewise, the country’s politicians should read Other People’s Wars before condemning it.

Whatever Hager’s motive for investigating New Zealand’s contribution over the past decade to the United States-led “war on terror”, it is pretty irrelevant when placed alongside the mountain of previously confidential and very disturbing information his assiduous research and inquiries have uncovered.

With the help of well-placed informants and thousands of leaked documents, Hager exposes the cynical manner in which the Defence Force has purposely misled the public by omission of pertinent facts and public relations flannel.

This is particularly the case with regard to the “candyfloss” image the military has built around the deployment of New Zealand soldiers in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan.

That image is of our soldiers acting more like peacekeepers armed with nothing more dangerous than a shovel.

The last couple of paragraphs do resonate with me to a degree. People forget that Helen Clark sent soliders into both Iraq and Afghanistan. With the exception of the SAS deployment (which she simply wouldn’t talk about), they were portrayed as just being engineers and builders who happen to be soldiers. Their role we were told was purely to help the locals, and nothing to do with those nasty wars.

Fair enough. But the Defence Force has sought to paint this deployment in a completely different light. Hager has cut through that pretence with the evidence to prove what has always been surmised – that the real reason for such deployments was not to help the inhabitants of Bamiyan but to impress the hawks in Washington.

Hopefully it is a mixture of both, but I’ve never doubted that Clark sending troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan was about keeping the US and to a degree the UK happy.

Vernon Small has a different take at Stuff:

A speed read of Nicky Hager’s latest book shows his usual impressive access to detailed documents and meticulous sourcing.

The insiders’ claims about ministers being kept in the dark may be true; the SAS in particular is obsessive about secrecy to the point that even a description of the ceremony farewelling Corporal Doug Grant was refused.

But the lens Hager uses gives a different view of New Zealand’s base at Bamiyan than one gleaned from a week-long visit there last month.

For instance, he claims that, despite media visits and hundreds of soldiers passing through the base, the military managed to keep secret the fact that they shared the Bamiyan camp with a United States intelligence base.

In fact, I, and other reporters before me, were introduced to US intelligence and communications staff at Bamiyan and at other Kiwi forward bases and ate and chatted with them. The stars and stripes flies alongside the New Zealand flag at Bamiyan to advertise the US contingent.

I’ve said before that Hager has good research skills, but his failing is he sees (or portrays) everything as a conspiracy or deep dark secret.

It was not a surprise that New Zealand is plugged in to the US-Nato intelligence and communication system across the war-torn country. It is something this reporter was specifically briefed on, although with a request not to publish details for operational security reasons.

Suffice to say that, from my observations, the information Kiwi troops glean is far more extensive than anything that flows the other way. Was the CIA there? I don’t know, and Hager only surmises.

The links tell New Zealand forces where other coalition forces are operating and let them call in US air support, both key factors in a multi-national force. Problems getting air support were highlighted in the report on the attack that killed Lieutenant Timothy O’Donnell.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Hager also points to a lack of understanding among the public about the Kiwis’ role in Bamiyan; that coverage was all airbrushed PR spin showing “friendly New Zealand soldiers handing out gifts to smiling children, building schools and wells”.

He may have had a case in the early years.

But for almost three years now, after the 2009 attack on the base at Do Abe and the first Kiwi casualties caused the military to upgrade its armoured vehicles from Hiluxes to LAVs, there has been no shortage of coverage highlighting the risks and the dangers.

Far from trying to cover that up, the soldiers on the ground I talked to were eager for the New Zealand public to know they were fighting in a dangerous war zone.

I think this is right. Early on things were somewhat sugar-coated, but I think in recent years we’ve come to understand better how the Bamiyan mission is not some safe engineering operation.

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The SAS

April 25th, 2011 at 12:55 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial on the SAS:

Just five days before Anzac Day it was revealed that SAS troops were part of an operation in Afghanistan last August in which nine Taleban fighters were killed. Critics of New Zealand’s deployment there have sought to portray the operation as some sort of “revenge killing” following the death in action of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell. This suggestion was not only incorrect but was also an affront to the SAS.

Undoubtedly SAS troops would have been angry at O’Donnell’s death but these soldiers are also part of one of the most professional and disciplined military forces in the world, which does not undertake unauthorised revenge or rogue operations.

Their job in Afghanistan is to protect the provincial reconstruction team from insurgents and inevitably this involves military action when intelligence reports indicate the presence of Taleban fighters.

And the operation in August had been mandated by both the Afghan Government and the International Security Assistance Force of Nato.

The real message that should be taken from the SAS raid is that it is a reminder of the valuable work being carried out by New Zealand soldiers in a range of overseas theatres. In doing so, these military personnel continue a proud tradition of this nation consistently punching above its weight in its contributions to war campaigns and peace-keeping operations.

The Press is absolutely right.

The people who called it a revenge killing should be ashamed. The job of the SAS is to stop the Taleban fighters from killing people, and the harsh reality is they do this by killing them. It’s not revenge – it’s war.

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RIP Cliff Mila

February 16th, 2011 at 12:55 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The New Zealand solider killed in a vehicle crash in Afghanistan has been named.

Private Kirifi Mila, 27, died when the Humvee vehicle he was in rolled down a steep 30m cliff in Afghanistan’s north east Bamyan province. Three other soldiers were injured in the crash.

The incident happened about midday local time on Tuesday (9pm NZT) while the soldiers were on a routine patrol near Ferosak village, 14km east of their base in Bamiyan.

Private Mila – also known as Cliff – was born in Western Samoa and joined the New Zealand Army in 2006. He was deployed to Afghanistan last year as part of the 2nd 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment based in Burnham Military Camp.

He had been due to return to New Zealand in April.

A very sad accident, not caused by combat – but still while on active service. Condolences to his family, colleagues and friends.

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Goff exposed

December 23rd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil has highlighted two Wikileaks cables which show Phil Goff supporting not just the SAS returning to Afghanistan, but also in 2006 sending troops back into Iraq.

First the SAS quote:

Goff told the General that he could expect a positive outcome on redeploying the PRT past Sept 2006 and was reasonably assured the SAS (Special Forces) would deploy again after regeneration.

And the Iraq quote:

Goff noted Senator McCain’s comment that New Zealand should think about replicating its success in Bamiyan by heading a PRT in Iraq.

The Minister said he told McCain that New Zealand was not averse to doing so once the security situation had stabilized.

If I was a Young Labour member who has stuck up posters about how Don Brash would send troops to Iraq, I’d be looking for a new party, or at least a new leader, about now.

Fran O’Sullivan also whacks at Goff:

Frankly it’s been rather delicious to watch Phil Goff squirm on the head of a proverbial pin as he flatly denies the insinuation in a WikiLeaks cable that the former Labour Government was prepared to trade “blood for milk” in Iraq. …

Inevitably, there will have been a number of factors in the former Labour Cabinet’s decision to deploy New Zealand engineers alongside the British contingent in Basra.

But it would be pushing credulity to claim the Clark Government did not consider the clear desire by New Zealand business – particularly Fonterra – to ensure its Iraqi trade did not go down the tubes when the postwar reconstruction contracts were doled out. Particularly when America still controlled the game.

I think it was a good thing that Helen Clark and Phil Goff were mindful of NZ’s commercial interests, when they decide to send troops to Iraq.

Goff, while speaking about nations like France and Germany which had also opposed the invasion, said then that “they will want to be part of whatever benefits will flow from reconstructing Iraq and rebuilding the relationship [with the United States]“.

Given their respective comments in 2003 it would be fatuous indeed to believe the decision to commit troops to the reconstruction effort did not have a tinge of economic reality.

More than a tinge I say.

Goff’s problem is that he is embarrassed by the WikiLeaks revelation.

He should look closer to home.

He had no compunction using notes of a private meeting between former National leader Don Brash and a visiting United States delegation to claim New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy “would be gone by lunchtime” under a National government.

The WikiLeaks documents have something to say on this score too.

Former United States ambassador Bill McCormick wrote in November 2006 that Goff had “misquoted” an Mfat staffer’s notes from the meeting to claim that Brash had promised the nuclear ban would be “gone by lunchtime”.

Julian Assange at least releases the full cables and notes, unlike Phil Goff who broke a decades-long convention and quoted a small extract out of context.

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A death serving the country

August 4th, 2010 at 7:23 am by David Farrar

John Key has announced:

It is with great sadness that Prime Minister John Key has learned of the death of a soldier serving with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan, Afghanistan.

The soldier was killed in an attack while he was on patrol.

Another two New Zealand Defence Force personnel and a local interpreter in the patrol were also injured.

“This is New Zealand’s first combat loss in Afghanistan and reinforces the danger faced daily by our forces as they work tirelessly to restore stability to the Province.

“This soldier’s contribution and that of all New Zealand Defence Force personnel should never be underestimated.

“It is with enormous sadness that I acknowledge that this soldier has paid a high price and my thoughts are with his family and the families of the injured.”

My thoughts are also with his friends and family but also all those serving in the military – it is a sad reminder of the risks we rely on our servicemen and women to take.

Hopefully those injured will make full recoveries.

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Editorials 24 June 2010

June 24th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald focuses on the topical Afghanistan:

Tensions between generals in the field and their civilian masters are a fact of life. Armed forces chiefs are able to focus solely on battlefield strategy and having the necessary manpower and resources.

The purview of politicians must be wider, not least in considering the popular appetite for war.

Not surprisingly, generals often become impatient at what they consider interference in the prosecution of a war. In moments of candour, they might convey their annoyance to well-trusted aides. Otherwise, they keep their counsel.

They know that if such sentiments become public knowledge, their position becomes untenable. Such is now the case with General Stanley McChrystal, the United States commander in Afghanistan.

And he has paid the price.

General McChrystal’s blunder is the more unfortunate in that his strategy is the best chance of achieving a stability in Afghanistan that will pave the way for an orderly exit.

His approach has eschewed lofty goals, such as embedding a model democracy, and concentrated on “Afghanising” the conflict through the rapid training and arming of Kabul’s forces.

He also understands the importance of gaining a settlement with more pragmatic elements of the Taleban, thereby creating a political consensus. The present “surge”, which has achieved mixed results, is an attempt to accelerate that outcome.

The eminent sense in General McChrystal’s strategy means he has not been without his defenders. One of the more interesting was the much-maligned Afghan President.

A spokesman for Hamid Karzai said he believes General McChrystal is “the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan over the last nine years”.

A sad end to a fine career.

The Press looks at the breath testing of spectators for a school by rugby match:

The scene outside the front gate of Christ’s College on Tuesday was extraordinary.

Eight police officers were lined up administering breath tests to spectators arriving to watch the annual Christ’s College-Christchurch Boys’ High School rugby match. The police were required to enforce a zero alcohol policy imposed by Christ’s College for the match in an attempt to stop the drunken yahoo off-field brawling that has, over the last decade or so, become a feature of the encounter.

The policy seems to have been a success. For the first time in years, the game passed off without an outbreak of violence or indeed any untoward incidents at all. No-one was arrested or ejected from the ground, in a striking contrast with last year’s event which was, as Inspector Derek Erasmus observed, notable for “baton charges and multiple arrests”.

Something we have seen recently is that a huge amount can be done within the current Sale of Liquor Act.

The Dom Post opines on the departure of Sean Plunket from Radio NZ:

Broadcaster Sean Plunket has finally made good on his threats to quit Radio New Zealand National to seek fresh fields. Though his willingness to ask hard questions will be missed, his decision – a long time coming, given his testy relationship with his masters – will be good for him and might even be good for the company. …

Plunket’s departure, alongside suggestions that Robinson will retire within two years, gifts RNZ’s chief executive, Peter Cavanagh, and the board a rare opportunity. Does today’s three-hour mix of hard news and the odd joker work as well now, in a multi-media environment, as when the hour-long programme launched 35 years ago?

And the ODT finally comments on the China protest:

According to the police, a number of witnesses were spoken to after Green Party co-leader Russel Norman complained of assault by Chinese security agents attending the visit to Parliament by China’s Vice-president, Xi Jiping, last week.

Presumably, these included members of the force stationed at Parliament Buildings.

Police also studied film footage and photographs of the incident, and had sought, to no avail, to speak to the Chinese alleged to be involved.

It was concluded – quite swiftly in the circumstances – there was insufficient evidence to substantiate a prosecution.

This should be no surprise.

The prospect of the police mounting a sufficiently strong case was weakened as soon as it became clear that Dr Norman had apparently moved from his initial location at the foot of the steps to Parliament’s main building to the entrance of the Beehive to be very much closer to the point at which the vice-president passed, thus himself contributing to a degree to the predictable response by Chinese security guards charged with protecting their leader. …

The fact remains that he was allowed to have his protest – his “free speech” action was not suppressed and could be heard loud and clear, although it must be considered a certainty the Chinese security guards had not the faintest notion who he was.

Successive New Zealand governments have in the past decade or more routinely expressed concern – on behalf of Dr Norman and other protesters – to Chinese visitors about the infringements of human rights in China, while successfully maintaining a relationship that has resulted in China becoming our second largest trading partner.

That relationship is hardly to be jeopardised on the strength of one MP’s needless behaviour.

Working out rules for MPs (or others) protesting should not be difficult.

Should they be allowed in an area where they can be seen? Yes.

Should they be allowed in an area where the target of their protest can hear them? Yes.

Should they be allowed close enough to a VIP that they could seriously humiliate them by grabbing them, spitting on them, throwing or squiriting something at them – no.

So the question is merely how wide should the corridor be, which they can’t cross into. I’d say around 10 – 12 metres. You can protest very effectively still at that range.

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McChrystal sacked

June 24th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

US President Barack Obama has fired top Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal over inflammatory comments that angered the White House and threatened to undermine the war effort.

Obama relieved General McChrystal of his command after a private, 30-minute meeting at the White House and named General David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, to replace him, a senior administration official said.

That’s a smart decision, Petraeus is well regarded. Ironically it is technically a demotion for Petraeus, but I suspect he won’t mind being closer to the action.

Republicans love Petraeus. If things do not progress well in Afghanistan, any other appointment could have seen greater attacks on Obama’s strategy.

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Will McChrystal be sacked?

June 23rd, 2010 at 3:08 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The tiff between General Stanley McChrystal and the White House is the most extraordinary airing of military-civilian tensions since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command a half-century ago.

Which doomed any chance of Truman standing again for President. Mind you he was justified – MacArthur was a great general and leader, but he was refusing to follow orders.

The White House summoned McChrystal to Washington to explain disparaging comments about his commander in chief and Obama’s top aides. The meeting, set for tomorrow, is a last-ditch moment for the general once considered the war’s brightest hope.

If not insubordination, the remarks in a forthcoming Rolling Stone magazine article were at least an indirect challenge to civilian management of the war in Washington by its top military commander.

The comments are pretty much inexcusable. The military are sworn to not be partisan and to be loyal to their elected Commander in Chief.

However if Obama sacks McChrystal, he may doom his own strategy for Afghanistan. It will be fascinating to see what he does,

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Editorials 5 May 2010

May 5th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald calls on NZ to back Obama in Afghanistan:

No compliment was more apt than the one that came from the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal: “The forces that New Zealand provides are extraordinarily professional, as you know, and they are key members of the coalition.”

He had special praise for the work done in Bamiyan, which he said needed to be reproduced around the country.

“That’s really where we are building the foundation of Afghanistan.”

No doubt such compliments are sincere, but they come with a significant fish hook.

General McChrystal made no bones about the fact that he would like the New Zealanders to stay on and not just because they are doing good work. …

Before he left Afghanistan, Mr Key was giving some pretty broad hints himself. The PRT was likely to stay for another year, he said.

He was less forthcoming about the SAS but said that its role would also be looked at, with the possibility of a smaller contingent staying for longer. Indeed, he said this was the preference of the SAS itself.

It would be no bad thing if its wish was granted. Of course no one would want to see us bogged down. But the Obama strategy needs to be given a chance to work and New Zealand should stay with it for the long haul.

It must be noted that the Labour Government supported the Bush strategy in Afghanistan three times, sending the SAS in. However they oppose the Obama strategy.

The Press looks at airline alliances:

The last time Air New Zealand sought to forge a trans-Tasman strategic alliance it was with the biggest Australian carrier, Qantas.

That proposal was knocked back by the regulators, which was not surprising as the alliance between the two would have cornered about 80 per cent of the trans-Tasman aviation market. …

Ultimately the key question must be whether the benefits for consumers, as claimed by the proposal’s backers in terms of cost and convenience, outweigh the reality that the alliance would lead to a reduction in competition. It is this issue which should determine whether this alliance will fly.

I know I’d be pissed off to book Air New Zealand and end up on Pacific Blue.

The Dom Post calls for reality from teachers:

There has long been a suspicion that reality stops at the door to the teachers’ staffroom.

The Post Primary Teachers Association’s ludicrous claim for a 4 per cent pay rise for secondary school teachers lends credence to the theory.

The world is just emerging from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the Government is effectively borrowing $200 million a week to maintain existing levels of services, tens of thousands of New Zealanders have lost their jobs, and hundreds of thousands have received little, if any, pay rise for the past two years.

I think one could do a science experiment on whether there is a connection between the PPTA and reality.

The majority reluctantly accept that is the price they must pay for job security. At a time of crisis, everybody – employers and employees – has to tighten their belts.

For the PPTA to demand a big pay increase at such a time is to show gross insensitivity to those who pay teacher salaries through their taxes. For it to demand the increase after its members received 4 per cent pay increases in each of the past three years is to show secondary teachers, or their union at least, are completely out of touch with the real world.

As the editorial noted, we are borrowing over $200 million a week.

Yet the present pay structure does not allow schools to differentiate between the performance of good, indifferent and bad teachers. They are all paid on the basis of their years of service and the responsibilities they hold.

If teacher unions are as serious as they say they are about wanting to keep good teachers in schools, they should work with the Education Ministry to devise a formula that allows schools to pay great teachers what they are worth and send a message to poor teachers that they should review their career options.

I agree there should be performance pay of course. But not even to a formula. Principals should have the ability to pay teachers as much as they think they are worth, within an overall budget. The top teachers should be on over $100,000 in my opinion. However the lousy teachers should be on $35,000 so they have the incentive to change professions or improve their teaching skills.

The ODT talks about John Key’s visit to Afghanistan:

There really was no choice: Prime Minister John Key’s trip to Afghanistan had to have been a “secret”.

Indeed it is standard operating procedure for all high-profile politicians and personalities who visit the volatile and dangerous region. …

To the many popular faces of Mr Key has been added that of a leader not prepared to send New Zealand troops “to a destination I am not prepared to come [to] myself”.

And further confirmation of a prime minister who likes to “see for himself” – to gather information or insight first-hand to enable better quality decision-making.

He told accompanying reporters that he wanted to make his own assessment of the work of the 70-plus SAS team on active duty in the country, and of the 140 troops in Bamiyan involved in reconstruction activities.

He would also have been wanting to get a feel for how the Nato mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is faring. …

But whether the occupation and the work of the ISAF is headed anywhere but towards a stalemate – and thus whether New Zealand should recommit troops towards its mission – is the burning question.

Mr Key is right, at this point, to remain non-committal.

Personally I don’t think the PM’s visit to Afghanistan was anything remarkable. It is inevitable a NZ PM will visit troops serving overseas, as conditions allow.

What has been amusing is the howls of anguish from those media organisations who were not invited along. The reality is of course one can’t travel with a full press corps into war zones.

It could be worth considering some sort of formal roster or random selection system for future trips, so that it doesn’t look like hand picked media. One could have a policy of one rep each from print, radio and television. The trouble is these trips are so infrequent, it might not be worth the bother.

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Will NZ stay on in Afghanistan?

May 4th, 2010 at 9:06 am by David Farrar

NZPA report:

The head of international forces in Afghanistan wants New Zealand troops to stay longer and Prime Minister John Key says he will consider the possibility.

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, told New Zealand journalists in Kabul that progress in areas such as Bamiyan, where New Zealand has 140 personnel, was critical to securing peace.

The Government wants to phase out NZ’s presence in Afghanistan. The rotation for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan is set to end in September and the 70 Special Air Service soldiers in Kabul are due to leave in March. …

“In places like Bamiyan, the work we’re doing, they don’t get the headlines because we don’t have as many suicide bombs going off or violence in the area, but that’s really where we are building the foundation of Afghanistan.

“Now we will eventually make progress like that everywhere in the country but it will take longer in areas where it is violent now.”

Mr Key said the PRT commitment was likely to roll over for another year and then start reducing with more civilians coming in.

“Over time the composition is going to change away from the military capability to a civilian capability and that’s the plan. That will be starting in 2011. And that’s part of the handing back of control, if you like, to the people of Afghanistan, so there will be a military capability, it might be around 50 people.”

Mr Key said the SAS’s commitment would be looked at. “The SAS preference would be to have a smaller contingent to stay for a bit longer.”

He said the SAS had recently had a big success uncovering a “tremendous” cache of weapons in Kabul including missiles and hand grenades.

However, he would not commit himself to allowing them to remain.

It’s a tough call to make. Any extensions increases the odds that NZ soldiers will be killed in the line of duty. However this is not a risk unique to Afghanistan – four NZ soldiers have died serving in East Timor.

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