We’ve All Deceived Ourselves About Why We’re Fighting In Afghanistan
It took me a long time to work out what was going on in Afghanistan. What I saw in front of me—everyone’s behaviour—did not match any of the narratives describing the war. This mess was thrown into stark relief when I observed British company commanders in charge of the predominant fighting unit, a company of approximately 120 soldiers. My job was to train and advise such commanders, and I often worked with them from pre-deployment to the end of their tours in Afghanistan.
Before going to Afghanistan these men spoke, and mostly believed, in an ideologically defined war. By this, I mean the contemporaneous ideology in the army, the organizing principle to our actions: counter-insurgency. The population was the prize to be won, and the Taliban were a scourge on that population. In other words, they felt it really was about democracy, women’s rights, and defeating the extreme Islamist ideology of the Taliban.
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This idealism never, except in very rare cases, survived the first casualty. Then, subtly, the rhetoric would change, and the war would be stripped back to its essentials: killing the other side, and making sure that your comrade had not died in vain. The war became more visceral. I also saw something else: teams pulling together in a way that I have not seen before or since. This dissonance also extended to the people trying to kill us. It was most obvious with so-called insider attacks when the Afghan army or police that we were trying to train and mentor turned their guns on us. At first, we explained these as ideologically motivated: the Taliban had ‘got to’ certain recruits, and their ideology had caused them …read more
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