Helicopters in Afghanistan

Lord Soley

I know that this is a contentious issue but I think the debate on Afghanistanoften misses an important point about the nature of the conflict. This is not just a group of ill equipped tribesmen fighting the international forces but a mixture of sophisticated and very determined groups with a common aim of restoring Taliban rule.

To combat that we need a real hearts and minds effort as well as a military effort. The latter has been more successful then people give it credit for. The supporters of the Taliban are not stupid. They change tactics and are now using terrorist methods to undermne the morale of local people and of the overseas troops.

They make good use of the internet and know that successful attacks on British or other forces gets high publicity and it is intended to raise doubts about the willingness of those forces to stay. Local Afghans who show no sign of wanting the Taliban back are nevertheless worried that the international commitment will weaken and that they will be left to face them on their own.

That is why I think we need to choose our criticisms with care. The troops do have to make a conscious choice about different types of transport. Excessive use of helicopters or of heavilly armoured vehicles makes the hearts and minds operation harder. The choice can have deadly consequences as it had recently.

In the following question I tried to make that point drawing on my memory of the Northern Ireland debates where we were faced with similar choices. Troops going to and from certain border areas often had to go by helicopter but they also chose to go by land rover. Then, as now, it had at times deadly consequences. These are not easy choices and it shows the exceptional courage and training levels of our troops.

None of this should be taken as meaning there are not equipment short falls but the way we express this matters. We should not give a propaganda advantage to our opponents.


4 comments for “Helicopters in Afghanistan

  1. Senex
    07/07/2008 at 9:24 pm

    Can it be that most of us are unable to understand what Islamic culture and faith represents?

    The physical existence of ancient Rome is long gone but its intellectual presence is everywhere within our contemporary civilisation except perhaps within the body of Islamic intellectual thought.

    When the physical nature of Rome disappeared a dark age engulfed the then known world. From this darkness sprang a new monotheism that became Islam. It was born of violence against those who practised polytheism and who would not submit to the authority or will of Islam. The slaughter was something the Romans would have related to.

    This violent genesis split Islam into two components: a strong, enduring and violent lower self and an enlightened higher spiritual one that historically has never managed to tame its other self.

    Here we are today, our Romanised civilisation is under assault from an old way of life that has never had any of Rome’s ‘civilising’ ways or literacy built into it.

    The word literacy is important because a very large proportion of the followers of Islam cannot extract meaning from ancient Arabic. They are taught the phonetics of the language and all can read fluently within this context from their holy book.

    It is this that allows the lower half of Islamic faith to dominate and provide individuals to convey contemporary meaning to individuals who cannot extract meaning themselves from ancient prose. Much is lost in translation and much is accepted in good faith; many are led astray, especially the young.

    The violence in Afghanistan, Iraq or any other country is an adverse reaction to our Romanised civilisation. In a way Rome is still under siege and its aggressors are bent on destroying it. It is the anarchy of a faith that has no central body that represents its aims and objectives.

    How will we ever persuade the animal part of Islam that they are not fighting polytheism as their emissary did but they are fighting other monotheists who have as much right to their faith and way of life as those who practice Islam?


  2. Clive Soley
    08/07/2008 at 8:25 am

    I think this argument is a bit wobbly! You don’t have to dig very deep to find Christian ideas of monotheism. I was brought up with intense arguments going on about Catholics insisting that you convert to that religion if you married someone of that faith!

    Islam has a variety of views within it. I agree there is a struggle going on for the heart of that religion but we should no more assume that the extremists will win then we should with other religions. To a large extent these problems are about modernisation – and not just of religious change.

  3. Senex
    08/07/2008 at 8:50 pm

    My view is a quintessential one.

    > I think this argument is a bit wobbly!

    The point being made and lost it seems is that when Islam as a faith was constructed, faiths do require infrastructure, its designers must have been privy to Roman and Greek intellectual methods and practices.

    It seems to me that they deliberately avoided anything Roman or Greek in setting up that infrastructure. Why was this done? Both must have appeared as failed or despised paradigms for them to go about this, to reinvent the wheel so to speak. It is inconceivable that they were entirely ignorant of both of these intellectual giants.

    Of course an Islamic scholar may come back and endorse your view of this as being entirely wobbly. I like to think of it as a different but vulnerable viewpoint.

    > I agree there is a struggle going on for the heart of that religion but we should no more assume that the extremists will win

    The extremist will win within the framework of Islam because they always have done so. Islam is stuck in ‘Latin’ mode, and most of its followers have to take second hand interpretation of Islam’s scriptures. This gives enormous power to individuals who set themselves up as the enlightened elite of Islam.

    If you scratch the veneer of our civilisation you will find too many things that are of Greek or Roman origin. This intellectual legacy permeates every thing we do or think about in some way or another but not so within fundamental Islamic culture. This places us immediately at odds with Islam and its workings. We simply cannot relate to it.

    How do we deal with this? We are doing it the Roman way at the moment and sending armed forces to tame what any Roman would have regarded as a failure to bow to the will of Rome. Failing this we might build high (Antonine) walls to keep them out as well as setting boundaries. Perhaps we could reach an accommodation with them, dialogue must be better than stonewalling and cheaper than bullets.


  4. Bedd Gelert
    08/07/2008 at 9:46 pm

    Lord Soley,

    the whole ‘equipment for the troops’ is a very vexed one indeed. Mentioning no troops in particular, I did find myself thinking, over recent headlines, that the deaths of troops in ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers were a completely avoidable waste of life without anything to show in return by defeating the enemy in combat, winning territory etc. etc.

    Stepping back from that rather dark thought – one realises that if we embark on such an exercise [and let us assume for a minute that it is a justifiable, winnable and useful one] we have to accept that there will be inevitable casualties and that they will not all be combat related.

    The problem is that rather as with spending money on people in old age, if one saves them from one thing, they can go ahead to die of another thing. Sorry if that is rather morbid – but I’m afraid that is what we are dealing with here. So we should replace the ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers, because they are a ‘death trap’ according to Patrick Mercer MP. But let us not believe for one minute that this will then ensure the safety of the troops because it may just keep them alive for long enough to be killed by something else.

    This is when tasteless and difficult decisions have to be made on the ground about how much risk and danger can be taken on with available equipment, and at what point the commanders say ‘NO!’ until the will is found to provide improved equipment. Let us take the difficult cost of human life out of the equation for a minute.

    If this were a business enterprise, one would cost carefully what money was being spent, and for what return. The banker always talks about ‘cashflow’ as one can have a profitable enterprise but lack the ‘lifeblood’ of cash – and a profitable business can still go bust for a lack of cash. If things turn sour for the business there is always the temptation to ‘throw good money after bad’, in the hope that the trading performance will improve.

    In military terms, I am not sure what the objectives really are in Afghanistan, and whether we could survive a continued ‘downturn in trading’ – there are plenty of ‘Taliban’ and they have time on their side. We aren’t in a trough yet – but one has to ask what would be the plan if we were ?? For how long would be keep on throwing lives at the situation in the hope that things would improve ? Would an ‘Iraq style surge’ work in Afghanistan ?? Do we have the manpower and the political will to find out ??

    Economists talk about the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ – people believe if they have spent £100, 000 trying to get a business through a tricky time, then it is worth chucking another £100, 000 on the bonfire to try and get it back to profitability. But the fact is that losing £100,000 may be preferable to losing £200, 000 which may well be the result unless drastic action is taken to fundamentally change direction.

    My worry [and I’m sorry for the depressing nature of this post] is that we would get to a point where we think “Well, having lost all those lives, we can’t walk away and lose the gains we have achieved” and than go on and double our losses without any guarantee that we will extend [or even protect] any gains we have made there.

    This is a dangerous and slippery path we are on, and politicians are often rightly punished for ‘cutting and running’ – but can we really say honestly that we know what it will take to see the end point in Afghanistan, and that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming in the opposite direction ? As someone has wisely said ‘there is no situation bad enough that it cannot get a whole lot worse’.. Let us hope for once that doesn’t describe our Afghan situation .

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