On why War is not a funny thing, or a reason to profit.

datePosted on 00:23, September 9th, 2009 by Pablo

The title of this post is deceiving, as I am not about to write about the futility or morbidity of war, particularly in its pursuit of commercial gain. Instead, I write about a more mundane aspect of war, with a NZ angle.

To wit: I was asked by a Herald reporter about the photos of NZDF personnel posing with bombs inscribed with anti-Taliban messages and commercial logos. True to form, what appeared in the Herald were excerpted quotes, along with Steve Hoadley offering his balanced views of the subject.

This is what I actually said:

>>The photograph of the bomb is inappropriate because of the commerical use and security implications, but follows on a time-honoured tradition of soldiers writing witticisms and vulgarities on bombs destined for the enemy. The photograph of the soldier with the energy drink bumper stickers is inocuous but the commercial tie-in is a breach of military professionalism and ethics. It is the bomb photo that is the problem.

The soldiers should be recalled and reprimanded because of the very serious error in judgement and the tie to a profit-making entity, as well as the emailing of the photo back to the energy drink company (which is a breach of communications security). A very bad look.

Coverage in the media will increase NZDF personnel exposure to retailiation by Taliban forces, since the Taliban are mentioned on the bomb. That compromises the security, in particular, of the Bamyan PRT mission. The NZSAS will not be affected by this. But the damage will be done by the bomb photo, as prior to release of this photo non-NZSAS NZDF were considered to be relatively impartial within the ISAF mission. That neutral appearance has now been compromised and they could be seen as servants of the Americans, UK and Australians (who fly the jets on which such a bomb is loaded, and under whose command NZDF usually operate).

All in all, a very stupid stunt by silly soldiers with possibly lethal repercussions for their mates.<<

What is important to note is that the Bayman PRT is charged with reconstruction work that is part of the international nation-building effort in Afghanistan. They are not officially supposed to “take sides” in the fighting or be involved in combat operations (which even if a fiction gives the appearance of neutrality that in turn provides a small measure of insulation from attack). The bomb photo now exposes the NZDF bias.

I should also point out that there are Afghans in NZ who, even if anti-Taliban,  are not happy with the US presence and/or the use of air attacks as the weapon of choice against a “difficult” population that harbours anti-ISAF guerrillas. Besides the ample reach of internet communication of the photos, some of these NZ -based Afghans may feel reason to pass the pictures to people back home equally unhappy about the US approach to the indigenous conflict, not all of whom may be Taliban. Either way, the Afghan forces fighting against ISAF now have a reason to target Kiwis.

In fact, contrary to Prof. Hoadley’s assertion in the Herald article that the ethnic makeup in Bayman provides a “buffer” against Taliban attack, the proof is in the pudding: there already have been at least a half dozen attacks on NZDF personnel in Bayman before these photos were released. There is no “buffer.” It is Taliban logistical difficulties and ISAF force protection that prevents the death of a Kiwi in Bayman, not the disposition of the local population (traditionally regarded as slaves or indentured servants by the majority surrounding them). Hence, the possibility of a Kiwi death has been increased with the dissemination of the photos, and it has nothing to do with the SAS deployment. it has all to do with drawing attention to the NZDF PRT and who they are perceived to be working for.

The bottom line: the bomb picture is wrong on several levels. It will not affect the mission of the NZSAS, who are in combat. It does affect the reconstruction efforts of the Bayman PRT, many of whom are (military) engineers and medics, not hardened combat troops. If anything, the photo could hasten the return of the NZDF Bayman PRT, which by all expert accounts is the wrong thing to do. Unless the soldiers involved were National Party plants or Green Party subversives (since now there is a clear security rationale for the withdrawal of the PRT already ordered by the Key government, which accords with the Greens stance on the ISAF mission)), email dissemination of the photo-op to non-governmental sources was sheer and utter stupidity. That is what an extended tour in a combat zone can do to the average soldier.

For that reason, as well as the commercial tie-in, the photos are an affront to NZDF military professionalism and deserving of court martial for all involved in their publication. The soldiers involved can plead mitigating circumstances, but for the NZDF as an entity, their removal from the theater (especially following on the cannabis/hashish scandal) is a must. After all, it is the professional reputation of the NZDF, not the individual fortunes of these silly soldiers, that is a matter of State.

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One Response to “On why War is not a funny thing, or a reason to profit.”

  1. rich on September 21st, 2009 at 21:47

    I’d agree with all that. But I’d suggest that stupid misbehaviour is always to be expected from junior soldiers (not to mention junior officers). Giving internet access to guys on overseas operations is always going to be problematic, but I guess it’s expected these days. The Israelis had problems when cellphones first came out of kids ringing home and telling their girlfriends they were due to attack tomorrow.

    Maybe one advantage of deploying just the SAS is that they know not to do stupid things.

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