Posted by Allan Vester on May 22, 2017
Monday night saw the club treated to a very interesting and engaging presentation by the “boots on the ground” Commander of NZ troops in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Hall.
Richard, MBE and MNZM, led the NZ troops in Bamiyan province from October 2008 until April 2009 and a book about his reflections on Afghanistan, A Long Road To Progress was published in 2013.
In a wide-ranging evaluation, Richard, addressed the half-truths and myths that have become the staple of the mainstream media. Starting with the myth that Afghanistan has never been successfully invaded Richard outlined a history of invasion stretching back to Alexander the Great.
In addressing the myths that the Taliban has popular support and that all Afghanistan’s are united against the invaders Richard dismantled those and emphasised the complexity of the ethnic, religious and political makeup of the country. The split between Shi and Sunni plays out in Afghanistan as a Sunni Taleban not getting support from a Shia majority. Furthermore, many Afghanis regard the international troops as a gateway to peace and redevelopment.
Moving on to those myths related to the International Assistance Force [ISAF], Richard explained that ISAF comprised troops from sixty different countries and of the fifteen top ranked Generals only six were American. In the decades prior to the arrival of ISAF Afghanistan had suffered a huge loss of life to violence and a major outflow of refugees. With ISAF on the ground, the number of civilian casualties fell dramatically, life expectancy rose from 40 to 60 and attendance at school is up sixteen times with an even more significant rise for the education of girls. Prior to the arrival of the troops education for girls had almost completely stopped and teachers who continued teaching girls placed their lives very much at risk. At the same time two million Afghanis refugees who had fled the violence, returned.
Ricard finished his presentation with a horrifying account of the treatment of a young Afghani woman who was raped and who became pregnant as a result. A series of highly unusual conditions including a father who cared enough about a daughter to seek medical help and culminating in the availability of a US Army Medivac helicopter saved a life. A highly disturbing account, but one that showed clearly the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan where religious and ethnic divisions, a history of conflict and endemic corruption mean the country still has a long way to go to be a peaceful and united country.