Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Ron Smith: Afghanistan and the SAS
Almost as sadly predictable was the response of New Zealand politicians, with the exception of those who are actually politically responsible for the deployment at the present time. All the rest, including those who had been politically responsible at earlier times, and who ought to have known better (for example, Phil Goff) dutifully answered in the affirmative, ‘Yes, the SAS detachment should be brought home’. So what are we to make of this?
Is the threat from Islamic terrorism actually over, or nearly so? Nobody who has noticed the recent news from Somalia or Nigeria, or the continuing story from Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or the episodes of less prominence from sundry other places, and observed what the activists are saying, can possibly believe this. As far as the ‘war on terror’ itself is concerned, we need to be prepared for a long campaign, although that may not necessarily require major occupations, like those of Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, it may require the use of conventional military forces on other occasions.
All this said, it is clear that military operations in Afghanistan by western forces will be steadily reduced over the years immediately ahead and, in this context, present government policy to review the SAS deployment early next year seems appropriate. Whatever doubts we may have about the capacity of the Karzai government to deal with the Taliban insurgency on its own, the responsibility for this must be progressively transferred and the close-support training that the New Zealand SAS contingent is providing is (in its small way) vital to this. Of course, as has been observed elsewhere, the timetable for the reduction of US forces in Afghanistan has been significantly impacted by political considerations, especially the 2012 Presidential elections due next November, and this will be a key factor in determining the context for decisions about New Zealand forces.
The bottom line here, is that fundamentalist terrorism is going to continue to be a threat for some time to come, not only to the citizens of Islamic countries (and countries with substantial Islamic populations), who are the main victims at present, but also to western countries and western and international agencies. This is clear from the words of al Shabaab, Boko Haram (Nigeria) and the various spokespersons and interpreters of the now dispersed al Qaeda movement. The fact that there have been fewer successful attacks in western countries in recent years, ought not to blind us to the fact that the aspiration is still there, and for some in the Islamic world, the secular, pluralistic West continues to be an anathema. In the matter of terrorism, security and intelligence processes may have become more effective over ten years but the need remains. As far as New Zealand is concerned, we need to continue to cooperate with those committed to combat this threat.
There is a broader question that intersects with the threat of international terrorism and that is the general issue of New Zealand security, and the defence of New Zealand’s interests around the world. For this we need effective military forces ourselves and we need reliable allies. For nearly a hundred years, the ally that has both shared our values, and been willing to commit itself, has been the United States. That seems likely to continue to be the case into the future, and unless we see a brave new world in which there are no threats to our vital interests, it seems prudent to continue the relationship. There is an additional benefit: operational experience for New Zealand forces, with American units, is beneficial in terms of maintaining capability (as well as being generally supportive of the relationship). If it also supports a significant security need (to combat Islamic terrorism) it would seem to be a ‘win-win’, all-round.
at 3:05 PM