Monday, January 3, 2011

Ron Smith: Who fired on the ambulance?

Accounts of the recent shooting incident in Kabul, involving the New Zealand SAS, showed a quite familiar pattern. In one account (largely supplied by the owner of the warehouse that was the focus of the operation, to a Times of London reporter) it was yet another military/American blunder in which innocent Afghan citizens were killed by NATO forces. No shots were fired, other than by the troops, and no weapons and no signs of a plot to attack the US Embassy were uncovered. In the other (official) account, the operation was conducted on the basis of plausible intelligence and the NATO force responded to incoming fire; weapons were found. Media judgements were then made on the basis of which account of events the commentator preferred.

What was largely absent from the media reports was any consideration of what the evidence might have been for the claims made and, thus, what confidence we might have in the commentary that was offered. Common practice in this sort of military engagement is to prepare an ‘after-action report’, given that the military force concerned had control of the scene. Such a report (if it was done and reported) would have answered a lot of questions. By merely picking up and identifying spent shell cases and noting where they were found, it could have been determined how many shots were fired, from what location and from what kind of weapon. As matters stand, this data is not available and we are largely left with presumption and whose account we choose to believe. As far as presumption is concerned, we also may presume that an after-action investigation was conducted and that the official account was based upon it. We might also understand why, in the course of an on-going conflict, such material is not released

As has been well publicised, the Rules of Engagement (ROEs) for NATO forces in Afghanistan only permit the return of fire. On this basis it might be thought unlikely that disciplined forces like the SAS would have fired first. Of course, this is not the same as knowing that they did not. Indeed, it might be argued that the present ROEs are unduly restrictive and (to speak generally) ought not to be followed, since they have contributed to greater losses amongst the NATO troops and diminished military effectiveness. Again, this tells us nothing about what happened on this occasion and we do have an unequivocal account from our own Defence Force; the SAS soldiers came under fire.

But after all this there is the ambulance. Not quite a formal after-action report but clearly one of the few pieces of actual evidence that is in the public domain. Television reports of the incident featured an ambulance which had clearly been shot at. There were multiple bullet holes along its side. Who do we suppose fired these shots? If we take it that it was not the SAS (does anybody seriously think that they did?) then it is clear that there were other armed parties present. This seems to me to make the claim that the NATO force was fired at, altogether more plausible. Of course, this does not prove that it was the armed security guards (who were subsequently shot) who fired the initial rounds which invited return fire. On the other hand, if they were in any way allied to those who did initiate the firing, they might be considered (in the words of the Geneva Conventions) to have been ‘participating in hostilities’. On this basis, they would not have been ‘innocent citizens’ but rather ‘combatants’.

If it were the case that the security guards were not at all associated with the other armed party (on the face of it, unlikely, in my judgement), then they would have been yet more unfortunate collateral harm in a war that continues to kill many civilians. In this connection, it might be noted that a recent UN report concluded that most of this innocent killing is being done by the Taliban and its associates and, moreover, this latter killing is for the most part intentional killing of civilians. This is an important distinction. Whatever else we may conclude about the events in Kabul in late December, we surely cannot think that our troops went to that warehouse with the intention of killing arbitrary Afghan civilians. The most we might conclude is that in the course of a security operation they shot persons who might not have been shooting at them. But they were persons who were armed and on the premises where the action was taking place and who might well have had some association with the insurgent activity that resulted in a shot-up ambulance. In the greater context, not a major story, one might think.

1 comment:

Brian said...
Reply To This Comment

It is always amazing that in such “incidents” as commented upon by Dr. Smith; that the Media in general always jump at once to the conclusion that Allied Forces are at fault! No doubt in the case of the N.Z. Herald they are encouraged by regular contributions from such newspapers as the so-called “Independent” and by its roaming icon reporter Mr. G. Dyer.

If this War is going to be conducted by self analysis after every bullet fired by the Allied Forces together with a “post mortem”, our soldiers will have another enemy to contend with and one actually more dangerous that the Taleban, namely with an ability to damage military morale.

The so-called Rules of Engagement as now drafted for NATO forces show the lack of any credible intelligence by world politicians on the aspects of conducting warfare. The “Permit to Only Return Fire” in an engagement is ludicrous, as well as being downright criminally stupid. Its basis seems to indicate that any enemy shooting at the Allied troops will be bad shots!

This hypocrisy is small comfort to those Allied troops engaged in the heat of battle, and what is really criminal is our leader’s inability to realize that in Afghanistan, men and boys have a tribal culture of total warfare. Furthermore they are not the demented, disorganized irrational mad zealots as depicted in the western media. They now possess access to intelligence networks, agent recruitment at a high level which now equates into an effective organized professional soldier/terrorist.

No doubt safe behind their Parliamentary Walls our Politicians can pontificate to their heart’s content, smiling and confident in the knowledge that they are conducting this venture in Afghanistan in a very humane method. Suitable fodder for the appeasement ridden populace, especially in here in New Zealand, with its overall lack of knowledge or general interest in this conflict. Or indeed any concern of any future disaster should we abandon operations in Afghanistan, and leave it to the tender mercies of the Taleban

No doubt if alive today, that Victorian writer and Poet Rudyard Kipling would have adapted to this situation with his usual cryptic verses on the P.B.I. and their Political Masters!

Judging from reports, it is likely that our SAS will be withdrawn, using the normal excuse of costs probably just before the next election, ensuring a happy comforting feeling that little N.Z. has done its bit.


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