Wednesday 4 August 2010

The Price

Blood on Our Hands: Is the price of New Zealand’s re-admission to the Anglo-Saxon club now to be measured in the blood of her children?

IT’S THE OVERPRESSURE WAVE that poses the most immediate threat.

The detonation of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) compresses the surrounding air and blows it outward in a deadly shockwave. The speed at which this shockwave travels is measured in milliseconds and the resulting high-energy pulse can cause serious damage to the human body’s "hollow organ systems" – that’s your ears, lungs and abdominal cavity.

An overpressure pulse of just 4 psi is powerful enough to kill any human-beings located in the immediate vicinity of the blast. At 10 psi human bodies simply disintegrate.

The shockwave is followed by the fragmentation effect. The enormous heat and pressure generated by the explosion disintegrates all but the most solid adjacent objects - sending superheated fragments flying outwards at supersonic speed.

Following the detonation of an IED, the metal container in which the explosive mixture is packed is instantly transformed into hundreds of lethal shards called "shrapnel". Depending on the sophistication of the bomb, the shrapnel may simply disperse in all directions, or be "shaped" to discharge in a single direction, like a shotgun blast.

The effect of a sudden large explosion is extremely disorientating. The flash, the overpressure pulse, the fragmentation effect and the deafening noise simply overwhelm the senses and render the individual acutely vulnerable for at least several seconds.

This is why the detonation of IEDs is such an effective military tactic. Deployed in conjunction with carefully positioned machine-guns and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, they give the attacking force a deadly window of opportunity to pour fire into an enemy who is, at least momentarily, incapable of fighting back.

That the twelve person unit of New Zealand infantry ambushed this morning (4/8/10) in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, by a so-far unidentified insurgent unit utilising a combination of IED and small-arms fire, emerged from the engagement with only one fatality is remarkable. It speaks volumes about the superb training of the New Zealand foot-soldier.

As the independent NZ war correspondent, Jon Stephenson, observed on Radio New Zealand – National’s "Nine to Noon" show, if an ambush is properly organised there should be no one left to walk away. And yet we are informed that the Kiwis were able to return fire, and in spite of the misty conditions (which prevented effective air-support and the swift evacuation of the wounded) held off the insurgents until the arrival of a relief force.

Even so, the casualty rate of this engagement was a sobering 25 percent (not counting the Afghan interpreter who was one of the three persons wounded in the attack). New Zealanders should, therefore, take the opportunity provided by this deadly encounter to consider the wisdom of their country’s continuing participation in the Afghanistan conflict.

Our participation in the Bamyan Provincial Reconstruction Team had been blessedly casualty-free up until today. Bamyan, we were told, was a "safe" and "friendly" province where the winning of hearts and minds by the Kiwis was proceeding apace. Clearly this is no longer the case.

Though the local Hazara population may be the historical enemies of the largely Pashtun Taliban militiamen, this has not prevented the insurgent forces from repeatedly infiltrating the province. Today’s attack suggests that those forces are now moving backwards and forwards across the mountainous terrain with increased freedom and enhanced military effectiveness. If New Zealand’s soldiers remain in Bamyan more casualties are unavoidable.

The Prime Minister, John Key, has declared that, in spite of this morning’s fatal attack, it is not New Zealand’s intention to "cut and run". Viewing the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, however, "cutting and running" seems like an eminently sensible suggestion.

If Bamyan is no longer safe (and the failure of locals to pass on their usual warnings to the Kiwi patrol is as worrying as it is significant) then nowhere in the whole war-torn country is safe.

More and more of the participants in the ISAF are declaring the battle for the Afghans’ hearts and minds to be lost, and that the US counter-insurgency strategy has failed. The government in Kabul is simply too venal, too corrupt, too ineffectual and too compromised by its relationship with the occupying NATO forces to command the loyalty of the Afghan people. They simply will not send their sons to die for Hamid Karzai and his drug-running mates.

And if the Afghan people themselves are not willing to die for the discredited and dysfunctional Afghan State – a regime installed, funded and protected by the armies of the West – then why should young New Zealand soldiers?

Is the price of New Zealand’s re-admission to the Anglo-Saxon club now to be measured in the blood of her children? If so, then the price is too high. We must not allow the bravery of our soldiers to be harnessed to the folly of our politicians.

It’s time to go. 


Allan said...

I agree with your article. When I was reading Key's comments about fighting in Afghanistan to protect NZ from terrorism, something seemed rather familiar. Then it came to me, aha, that's only a one word variation of the justification when NZ soldiers were sent to Vietnam, except in those days the bogey was 'communism' not 'terrorism'.

Apart from that, the similarities are frightening, such as the involvement in a civil war in order to keep the USA happy with us.

Anonymous said...

Damn right.
Why not have the soldiers here, making our streets safe and building infrastructure for us.
You know us, the people who are paying the bills.

Petero Civoniceva said...

"As the independent NZ war correspondent, Jon Stephenson, observed on Radio New Zealand – National’s "Nine to Noon" show, if an ambush is properly organised there should be no one left to walk away."

Really? With the exception of the two American navymen who got lost in Logar, I'm unable to think of a single instance where a unit/column/convoy of Allied soldiers has been wiped out to a man. By Stephenson's logic, we can only conclude the Taliban are militarily inept.

Chris Trotter said...

An entirely fair assumption, Petero.

Now, ask yourself: How many Taliban fighters generally walk away from an ISAF ambush?

Training is everything.

Don Franks said...

Whose price is it?

In that quest, an open letter to Keith Locke mp.

I read this in the Herald, attributed to you:

"We are proud of the good peacekeeping and reconstruction work that our Provincial Reconstruction Team has done in Bamian Province, and we mourn the loss of one of its members."

If those words are not misquoted, then I'm really angry at your misrepresentation.

What's going on here?

You've read all the books and been constantly active in the anti imperialist movement for literally half a century. You must be much more acutely aware than most people that the so called Provincial Reconstruction Team that the New Zealand state sent to Afghanistan is not about peacekeeping, or reconstruction , or is, in any way, "ours".

You must similarly know that unless someone belongs to or chooses to identify with the New Zealand ruling classes, or is a bought hack journalist, or has not had access to the most rudimentary understanding of class politics, that: "our Provincial Reconstruction Team" is not based in Afghanistan for peacekeeping, good or otherwise.

Death in war is an understandable trigger for human emotions. So lets get the whole picture here. How many Afghanistan people have been killed by New Zealand invaders of their country? When do we mourn and how do we begin to try and make amends?

People die every day in the course of their calling. The NZ army officer killed by Afghanistan people trying to evict invaders from their land is the first invading New Zealand trooper to die there since 2003. How many industrial deaths have there been in New Zealand since that time? How many flags were lowered, how many media voices theatrically quavered and how many Prime ministers broke routine for those working class victims of the class war?

Let the ruling classes do their barbarous inhuman dirty work alone and unaided.

Our little time on this earth has more urgent and honorable calls on it; to revive the antimperialist antiwar movement in this country.

Don Franks

Anonymous said...

A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but MORE merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain....

...If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever.

An excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984.
The effects of DU are just beginning as it has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Thus the doctors of Fallujah are going to have their work cut out.

"We are seeing a very significant increase in central nervous system anomalies," said Falluja general hospital's director and senior specialist, Dr Ayman Qais. "Before 2003 [the start of the war] I was seeing sporadic numbers of deformities in babies. Now the frequency of deformities has increased dramatically."

Holiday in Fallujah
The destruction of Fallujah, once an ancient university town, into a radioactive, bombed out, corrupt, open air prison gives a chilling vision of what happens when the US military decides to punish a population for resisting occupation. Fallujah is the archetypal dystopian city brought into existence by US imperialism.

Pablo said...

Good post Chris.

What is worrying is that there were at least three ambushes in the previous 14 months and the NZDF did not alter its patrol routines. That may be due to manpower and equipment issues rather than training, but it is a concern.

I agree that a combination of good training and Taliban hit and run tactics lowered the casualty rate in the patrol (I am not buying the NZDF line that the firefight lasted hours--unless the Taliban are massed in force along the lines of 10:1, they usually follow up the IED blast with small arms fire until such a time as the ISAF forces find cover, regroup in defensive positions, then counter-attack (which is the standard way of countering an ambush). The Taliban tend to retreat as the ISAF guys are establishing their defensive perimeter so there is no counter-attack needed. That means that most ambushes and subsequent firefights are less than 30 minutes in duration--time enough for a lot of bad to happen but usually not enough to lead to the annihilation of an entire patrol).

The issue now is whether National has the political will to stay with the NZDF commitment in the face of wavering public opinion in the lead up to elections. I reckon not.

jh said...

I guess it must make a difference what sort of paradigm you have for interpreting the situation.It is useless discussing the merits of being involved in a particular war if that paradigm is different as firstly you have to understand each others paradigm.
To put it differently if you were to put the discussion into an argument map we would have had to go back a node.

Anonymous said...

Honestly Chris- there is no use training soldiers if you whinge every time they have to do their job.They sign up for fightinhg not joining a sewing circle.