The Point Of The Spear: Far from "mentoring" (such a wonderfully un-military term) Afghan policemen from a safe distance, the New Zealand SAS always seems to be in the thick of the action. And, sometimes (as happened in the Tiger International raid of 24/12/10) the point of our spear gets driven into the wrong targets.
SOMEWHERE in the city of Kabul, the parents and siblings of two slain security guards, Mubin and Sadiq, still mourn the loss of their sons and brothers.
They died at the hands of New Zealanders: SAS troopers; acting in our name.
Local officials called the killings “murder”. It’s not hard to see why.
On Christmas Eve, 2010, Mubin, Sadiq and their co-workers, Hamid and Barialy, were keeping watch over the property of Tiger Group International – a local company contracted to supply logistical equipment to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Hardly surprising, then, that when the security team encountered bearded figures in the Tiger Group car-park, they assumed they were under Taliban attack, and challenged the intruders to identify themselves.
But, the intruders weren’t Afghans, they were Kiwis. And when the security guards challenged them the New Zealand SAS troopers opened fire on them at close range – killing Mubin and Sadiq, and wounding Hamid and Barialy.
The raid on Tiger International was a botch-up from beginning to end. The operation was launched on the basis of bad intelligence, and the required co-ordination between the ISAF, the Afghan authorities and the NZSAS was deficient. Our troopers killed Mubin and Sadiq for doing no more than their job.
To date, the New Zealand Government refuses to say whether it has formally apologised to the families of the slain security guards, or made any offer of compensation.
This refusal to accept responsibility for our soldiers’ mistakes will undoubtedly encourage ordinary Afghans to lump our SAS in with the rest of the ISAF. Little distinction will be made between New Zealand’s special forces and all the other Nato contingents operating in Afghanistan. The deaths of Mubin and Sadiq will be attributed to the same lack of care that sees village wedding parties decimated by US missiles and helicopter gunships.
The Afghan people will, once again, hear the loss of innocent civilian lives described as “collateral damage” – and the foreign perpetrators will be reviled for their indifference.
NOT THAT our armed forces chiefs will admit to any of this. Following the most recent Taliban attack in Kabul, during which two SAS troopers sustained minor injuries, the Prime Minister, John Key, spoke approvingly of the “mentoring” role our special forces were playing in relation to the Afghan Government’s Crisis Response Unit.“Mentoring”: it’s such a reassuring – and decidedly non-military – expression.
In the New Zealand context we tend to associate the word “mentor” with those public-spirited individuals who help young people, and young businesses, grow and mature. No doubt the public relations staffers who dreamed up the idea of calling military advisers “mentors” were well aware of such connotations.
It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that whether our SAS troopers are engaged in operations initiated by ISAF, or the Taliban, the role they play is very far from that of the passive advisor.
On the contrary, all the evidence emerging from Afghanistan suggests that our SAS leads from the front, and that such Afghan Government support as may be found in these operations is located (how to say this politely?) at some distance from the action.
In other words, when the Taliban come a-calling, our special forces are regularly being deployed as “the point of the spear”.
Spear-points don’t “mentor” anything: spear-points strike hard, and they strike to kill.
And, sometimes, as we have seen, they kill the wrong people.
WE SHOULD TRY to imagine how we would feel if those slain security guards had been called Bruce and Wiremu, instead of Mubin and Sadiq. How we would react if our nation’s skies were filled with helicopter gunships, and our city streets with foreign soldiers?
What, exactly, would we make of a prime-minister telling his people that their special forces were “mentoring” the security police of a corrupt government?
Mentoring them to do what? Rely on the same bad intelligence that our SAS relied on before unleashing the deadly force that killed Mubin and Sadiq? Trust the same people who unleashed the raid on the hitherto loyal village of Band E Timur on 24 May 2002?
Three civilians, including the village head-man and a six-year-old girl, died that day. Fifty-five were handed over to US personnel who no longer considered themselves bound by the Geneva conventions.
Our SAS spear-pointed that operation as well.
THE ONLY “MENTORING” the NZSAS is doing in Afghanistan is in how to kill. But, after more than thirty years of war, there is little we can teach the Afghans about death and misery.
My heart goes out to the families of Mubin and Sadiq.
If I could, I would tell them that their boys did not die at my bidding.Not in my name.
This essay, originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 5 July 2011, could not have been written without the investigative efforts of journalists Jon Stephenson and David Beatson.