Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ron Smith: Afghanistan and the SAS

It was entirely predictable that news of the death on active service in Afghanistan of L/Cpl Leon Smith of the NZ SAS detachment would be greeted by an almost unanimous media chorus of questions about bringing the troops home. It was predictable because that was what had happened on the previous occasion (the death of Cpl Grant in late August), and, with variations, on occasions before that.

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.


Ray said...

As is always the case, those who have not experienced upheaval or terrorist activity on home shores decry the use of force elsewhere, directed at those who would initiate terror.
Here in NZ we have progressively reduced our defence forces to the point where we must rely on others to support any action we might take to protect the realm. Specialist groups such as the SAS operating offshore give some creditability to our commitment to the fight against terror in all its forms.
The only countries likely to respond to requests for help in the event of onshore military problems are Australia and the US.
As for the SAS, they are soldiers first and foremost, they know the risks. I salute them.
Finally, better to fight somewhere else than on home soil.

Brian said...

Afghanistan & and SAS.
It is always amazing to me that the lessons of history are quickly forgotten, although in the case of New Zealand these days probably never learnt or taught at school.
One would expect that Phil Goff, and the Greens would use the death of an SAS soldier to turn this into an exercise to promote a “Return our men home” excellent electioneering device. Commitments or rather loyalties, during conflicts have never figured largely in any socialistic agenda.
Dr Smith raises a valid point that Islamic terrorism is far from beaten, it is a modern day Hydra; destroy it here it moves on and reappears elsewhere. Somalia and most other Muslim countries pay lip service to removing these terrorists.
In Egypt we now see the start of the eventual elimination of any religion other than Muslim, the Coptic Christians being a mere 10% of the population will be easy victims as Shiite forces head towards the formation of the new Islamic Republic of Egypt. One can but surmise what action will Israel take to avoid being surrounded by hostile well armed (possibility with nuclear weapons...not if, but when) their Muslim neighbours unite intent on the destruction of the Jewish state.
The division in the Western ranks on how to best deal with the Muslim problem of an ever increasing population lingers on, and one can but wonder if it has now reached the point of no return. If this is the case, the West and their peoples have reached “The Long Sunset”..... a repetition of the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Barbarism!
Unlike the 4th and 5th Centuries when shafts of light gave hope to the survival of Western culture ( i.e. Skellig Michael) but Radical Islam will never tolerate any opposition to its culture.
While we might feel sorry for those who are left, the greatest disaster will be the loss of Western Civilisation, its Art, its Books, its Paintings, its Architecture, and most of all
The freedom of Individual Thought.
Too pessimistic? A scenario of defeat! Unlike other civilisations which have crumbled this civilisation of ours has stood the test of time being re-born again and again.
For there is always HOPE, but it had better be tempered with the realisation very soon by Western Politicians that we are, and have been, at war with radical Islam for years; and that only the winner will write the future.

RAYMONDO said...

"Thank you Ron. Ron says "the now dispersed al Qaeda movement." This is a very important phrase or statement because these terrorists will take advantage of any soft target such as NZ. We have a small army, a tiny navy and little in the way of air defences. What the "frontline" has become is the air, sea and internet fronts. So some of the money we spend on defence must to be used for customs and other defence systems at airports and ports. Internet attacks will also increase as communication in general is a soft touch. Our electrical power systems and financial system are also at risk by means of electronic attack. Al Qaeda and other groups will be active in NZ so we need to be ready for them. They do not attack using sanity or reason but manic ideology which hates our way of life and wants to replace it with a statist, totalitarian power over all people."

Anonymous said...

Brian get a grip. Fundamentalists of all forms fail much faster than the pluralists as people eventually wake up and realise that the workers paradise, the caliphate or the thousands of virgins for the martyrs for all time weren't all they were cracked up to be.
THe best thing that coudl happen for world peace is a breakout of atheism. Those who see no future beyond death tend to value life quite highly!
People also seem to fail to understand that all members of the NZ Military, especially special forces, volunteer. Having been a military kid (not a member) myself it is very clear that these volunteers know that fighting and risking their lives is part of the job.
I'd be fascinated to know, but we never will, what the SAS themselves want to do. I very much doubt people who train to be amongst the best soldiers in the world want to spend their entire career practicing.

Steven Brown said...

There is only one thing an Afghan likes more than killing other Afghans, and that is killing a foreigner. That will not change. The Taliban is not Al Queda. The Taliban are Afghans indulging in their national sport - fighting with small arms. Leave them to it.