Fiddling While It Burns

Afghanistan: respecting expertise, seeking knowledge

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Photo: Department of Defence

I’ve got a piece published on Crikey. An extract:

Part of the problem is that military expertise is simply not accepted as real expertise. Current and former military personnel are treated as biased and unreliable. Consider Senator Bob Brown’s admission on The 7:30 Report last night to having never sought a Defence briefing on Afghanistan to confirm his strongly held position; similarly, an academic recently told me that Lateline was irresponsible for interviewing David Kilcullen on Afghanistan, because his position makes him biased. To some, the only time soldiers can be telling the truth is when they’re criticising the war or their superiors.


Are kill or capture missions lowering the Taliban’s effectiveness?

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From the Telegraph in the UK:

Quarter of senior Taliban killed by SAS in ‘kill or capture’ targeting

The Taliban in Helmand are being killed by the SAS on an “industrial scale” with a quarter of senior commanders killed since spring, leading to a dramatic drop in British casualties.

My personal bugbear is that war coverage is binary and partisan. There’s the left-leaning media, to whom war is always bad and almost everything is a new reason to drop the whole thing and level war crimes charges, and the right-wing, who revel in their jingoism, adulate ‘our men and women in uniform’, and wouldn’t oppose anything up to and including concentration camps and public executions of anti-war protestors.

War is a complex business, and military leaders and academics study for years or their entire lives to best understand and execute it, yet war policy is a slave to these two strains of empty-headed populism. (Of course, there’s also a vast empty-headed consensus populism which is neither strongly for or against, but I’ll leave that to one side.) So, both criticism and support are inadequately informed, which allows debacles both ways – the invasion of Iraq and criminally incompetent strategies of the first couple of years of the occupation when the war-drummers get their way, and the undermined bleeding-away of the war effort that’s happening right now in Iraq. It’s a situation where objective facts exist, indicating evidence-based courses of action, but two false realities obscure our views and make it impossible for the professionals to do their jobs.

That said, this article, although ridiculously canted and egregiously overstating its case, is still informative about the role of the British SAS in Afghanistan when read with a critical eye. Read in conjunction with this press release, it’s a little peek behind the veil.