New Zealand’s legacy in Afghanistan

A documentary from Stuff on what New Zealand’s has left in Afghanistan.

Stuff: Explosive kills children

Seven children were killed in an explosion caused by a device left behind on a NZ firing range in Afghanistan.

NZ troops to be withdrawn from Iraq

Beehive:  New Zealand to withdraw from Iraq in June 2020:


New Zealand will conclude its non-combat Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission at Taji Military Complex in Iraq in June 2020, when full responsibility for basic training will be handed over to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark announced today.

New Zealand currently deploys up to 95 personnel to the BPC at Taji. Following recent Cabinet decisions this will reduce to a maximum of 75 from July 2019 and 45 from January 2020, before the mission’s completion by June 2020.

New Zealand and Australia have been jointly delivering training to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) at Taji since 2015, when New Zealand first deployed to Iraq as part of the multinational Defeat-ISIS Coalition. Over 44,000 ISF personnel have been trained at Taji since 2015.

“Four years ago New Zealand made a commitment to the Iraqi Government and to the Coalition to train the ISF at Taji and lift their capability to defeat and prevent the resurgence of ISIS. Over the next 12 months, New Zealand will be able to wind down and conclude that commitment,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The New Zealand and Australian troops at Taji have worked hard, not only to provide training, but also to ensure that the ISF are well placed to take over this commitment at Taji in the near future. The goal of any training mission is to ensure that it becomes a sustainable programme.”

“Significant progress has been made in this area, which will allow the mission to reduce in numbers and conclude within the next year, having successfully achieved what we went in to do. This is an encouraging evolution and a success not only for us but also for the ISF personnel who have trained hard to gain the skills to become a modern military force,” said Ron Mark.

Alongside the deployment to Taji, the New Zealand Defence Force will continue in a reduced number of support roles within the Defeat-ISIS Coalition in the region. Cabinet will consider these positions again by next June.

New Zealand will however increase its stabilisation funding contribution to Iraq to approximately NZ$3 million per annum for the next three years (from NZ$2.4m in 2018-19) to help affected communities recover and rebuild following the conflict with ISIS.

Stabilisation funding will come from within MFAT’s overseas aid and development fund, and will contribute to what has been estimated to be a US$87 billion rebuild of Iraq.

“Despite its territorial defeat in Iraq in December 2017 and Syria in March 2019, it is clear that ISIS remains a threat and Iraq requires ongoing international support as it moves towards recovery and stabilisation,” said Winston Peters.

“As large numbers of Iraqi people return home and begin to rebuild their lives and communities, New Zealand’s targeted funding support can make a meaningful contribution towards this.”


National have sort of supported this – with a catch.

RNZ: National supports troop withdrawal – if partners do same

The National Party is on board with the government pulling Kiwi troops out of Iraq next year – on the condition Australia and the United States also withdraw.

National Party defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell said the decision to leave was the right one, providing everyone went at the same time.

“It looks okay with us, it would be dependent on whether it’s in line with what our partners are doing – especially the Americans and the Australians,” he said.

Australia is yet to make a formal announcement but Mr Mark told media yesterday the New Zealand decision was part of a carefully planned exit strategy alongside partners.

“We took a role of about a third/two-thirds contribution in partnership with Australia. This reduces down to a quarter/three-quarters and we will be downsizing alongside them and working with them, not just walking away from the mission,” Mr Mark said.

In a statement Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia and New Zealand “consult closely on their respective deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“Australia is proud to support the Iraqi Security Forces, alongside its New Zealand counterparts. We will continue to work closely with New Zealand as it gradually draws down its footprint in Iraq,” she said.

“Australia regularly reviews its overseas operations, taking into account the needs of the Iraqi Government and the operational context on the ground.”

Whether National backs the withdrawal probably won’t make any difference, as the drawdown will have largely happened by next year’s election.

I doubt there is much public support for staying in Iraq, and there will be much stronger support for a withdrawal.

 

Documents reveal NZDF knew civilians were killed in SAS raid.

Documents previously kept secret by the NZ Defence Force with the support of the Ombudsman have now come out in advance of an inquiry.

NZ Herald:  Documents too secret to be seen – but now the inquiry into the NZSAS raid says they should be public

New documents have revealed NZDF had intelligence showing civilians were killed just days after the 2010 NZSAS raid which is now subject to a government inquiry.

The details are part of an extraordinary document dump previously blocked by NZDF with support from the Office of the Ombudsman.

The documents have emerged as the inquiry prepares for public hearings this week at which lawyers for the Afghan villagers – those people directly affected by the raid – will not appear. The lawyers representing the villagers had pulled out of the hearing after complaints sufficient funding is not available to properly represent them.

That’s as much as I can see, the rest is behind the paywall, but this seems to be a big deal.

17 years of rubble reduction in Afghanistan

It is seventeen years since the United States and Britain went to war (the latest one) in Afghanistan. There was some justof9cation for taking some sort of action, and there have been some successes, but it has largely been a failure. Long entrenched problems there remain unresolved.

It shows again that right (sort of) and might are not all-conquering. The US had already had a lesson on the futility of brute strength and ignorance in Vietnam, they were warned Afghanistan could be a mire too murky to force into being a model Western style state, but they tried anyway.

Washington Examiner:  Unhappy 17th birthday, Afghanistan War

Seventeen years ago today, the U.S. and Britain went to war to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. It was morally and politically justified by the Taliban’s failure to surrender al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The Western alliance drove the Islamic totalitarians from power swiftly, within weeks.

Yet, we’re still there. On Thursday morning, another American serviceman was killed in battle in Afghanistan. Nearly 2,400 Americans have now died in this war, and Afghanistan is still mired in poverty, chaos, and violence.

What are we doing there? Why are we still fighting this war after 17 years?

‘We’ includes New Zealand, with our army deployment extended until next year and that will be subject to review again.

The three presidents to preside over this war have all failed to focus the mission clearly toward America’s real interest, which is to prevent multinational terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda from establishing a stronghold.

Instead, we took up the hopeless and endless task of nation-building. Every audit of American efforts to build a safe and stable Afghanistan have showed failure. The waste in money and lives goes on. The problem is not American incompetence or stinginess, but that the big goal has always been unrealistic.

Billions of dollars have been spent on schools, roads, and infrastructure projects in rural areas that remain under the heel of the Taliban. These projects could work only if America ran a police state, requiring hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines.

I think the US did learn something from their Vietnam nightmare – not to put large numbers of soldiers inn the firing line, but high-tech weaponry has only helped arms manufacturers to test their products and make money.

The issue in places such as Helmand is not simply that the Taliban dominate the area and cannot be dislodged, but that the area is a patchwork of fiefdoms run by local tribes with whom we are unable to deal.

The Bush dream that guns, money, and lawyers could build stable democratic societies anywhere on Earth has been tested in the field, and it has failed. In Iraq, where there was some memory of institutions, it has largely failed. In remote parts of Afghanistan, it has failed completely.

The hubris of the Bush doctrine was deeply unconservative. President Trump has taken a humbler route, directed toward wounding the Taliban to keep it weak, but not pretending to be able to eradicate it entirely. The administration has also finally made Pakistan understand it may not support our enemies in Afghanistan.

America’s goals should be to avoid making things worse in Afghanistan, contain the Taliban, and focus more on the Islamic State. These are not lofty goals, but lofty goals have proved to be pipe dreams that produced a 17-year nightmare.

What are the goals and dreams now?

The Economist: Donald Trump is doing better on Afghanistan than his predecessor (That’s not setting the bar very high):

A ONCE-popular argument that President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy is not substantially different from Barack Obama’s is going down in a blaze of trade agreements. Yet on Afghanistan it remains broadly true. Mr Obama came to power describing Afghanistan’s conflict as the “war we have to win”, but never seemed convinced that that was possible. After a stab at escalating the conflict, he devoted his presidency to ending it.

It was time, he said in 2011, the year the war became the longest in American history, “to focus on nation-building here at home.”

Mr Trump has long said the same. His decision to launch a much smaller escalation last year came with the closest thing he can muster to an apology attached: “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts.” Even so, his record on Afghanistan, including this week a promise of peace talks to add to that modest military reinforcement, is starting to look much better than his predecessor’s.

This chiefly reflects what a low bar Mr Obama set.

Unsurprisingly, then, Mr Trump’s measures have not transformed the battlefield, where the Taliban remain in the ascendant. Instead of encouraging the Afghan government to take back territory, America is reported to be urging it to withdraw from remote outposts to reduce casualties.

The level of violence continues to be horrifying, especially among civilians. More were killed in the first six months of this year than in any previous year on record, in part because of increased American bombing. Yet there is at least more confidence that the Taliban can be prevented from taking a major town. And the 315,000-strong Afghan armed forces are said to be improving. Compared with the debacle Mr Trump inherited, this represents progress.

Progress towards what?

America and its Afghan ally have been keen to negotiate with the insurgents since the demise of Mr Obama’s short-lived surge confirmed their inability to end the war militarily.

This is still a far cry from offering Mr Trump a way out.

Stitched together by British imperialists in the late 19th century, Afghanistan’s feuding ethnic groups have never shared power uncoerced, and 40 years of on-off civil war have made them even more reluctant to. The government is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It is hard to imagine how its members might accommodate the Taliban—even if they want to be accommodated. It is unclear that the mullahs have given up on a military victory.

It is even unclear which faction of the Taliban, the fundamentalist leadership or the more pragmatic rump, their representatives in Qatar might speak for. If Mr Trump does view the putative talks as a means to declare victory and quit Afghanistan, as some suspect, he has simply given up on the place.

Foreign Policy: One Year On, Little to Show for Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy

One year after President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan, the United States appears to be no closer to stabilizing the country and quelling the Taliban insurgency, according to analysts and a report issued by U.S. Defense Department.

The strategy has included a greater focus on defending population centers while ceding much of the remote countryside to the insurgents.

Pentagon officials say the measures are working.

But the situation on the ground tells a different story. The Taliban maintain their grip on much of the country, and the civilian death toll has reached a record high, according to a recent report by the Pentagon’s inspector general. Also, the Islamic State in Khorasan, the Afghan arm of the Islamic State, continues to carry out high-profile attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.

An Afghan girl walks amid the rubble of shops in Shadel Bazar after the US military dropped a GBU-43 Moab bomb.

Seth Jones, a senior advisor to the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said data suggested that the Taliban’s control of populated areas overall, primarily in rural regions, had actually increased.

The problem with the administration’s strategy of ceding the more remote areas of the country to the Taliban is that the insurgents increasingly are using the rural terrain to conduct attacks within major urban areas, he explained.

Another component of the U.S. military’s strategy in Afghanistan is to build up the Afghan military, train the Afghan air force, and equip it with high-end gear, such as fighter aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

But the Afghan air force’s rapid increase in strike capability seems to be accompanied by a steep rise in civilian casualties.

Jones said Trump’s strategy failed in another critical way: It has done little to prevent Pakistan from harboring Taliban fighters.

“What the U.S. has not been able to do is fundamentally change Pakistan’s behavior,” Jones said. “This is serious problem with the South Asia strategy. I’m not that optimistic over the long run.”

This cartoon from seventeen years ago may still be close to the mark.

The only rubble reduction on Afghanistan seems to be it’s size.

Shaw, Mitchell question Mark on extended Middle East deployment

In Parliament today Green co-leader James Shaw took Minister of Defence Ron Mark to task after the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was extended.

4. Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Defence: Is it his intention to continue the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq beyond 2019?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Ultimately, those decisions are for Cabinet to make. This Government will undertake a strategic reassessment in early 2019. All options will be on the table at that point in time. Those decisions will be made around the strategic situation, our values, our independent foreign policy, and how we think that this Government might make a difference to the lives of the Iraqi people.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that continued military involvement of outside forces has actually further destabilised the region and made it easier for terror groups to recruit and has led to an increase in violence rather than a decrease?

Hon RON MARK: No, we don’t. We’re confident that the independent, principles-based decision that Cabinet made yesterday was the right thing to do. I think I would add that for Iraq to become a prosperous nation once again, for its people to enjoy a quality of life that we enjoy, and for them to enjoy the well-being and the support of a good Government such as we enjoy, they need security. Security is paramount to the well-being of the people of Iraq, and I think that is the greatest contribution we’re able to make at this time. But, again, come next year, this Government will reassess the situation.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that if New Zealand were to play a role beyond 2019, then the New Zealand public would rather it be focused on building schools and roads and hospitals rather than a seemingly never-ending military engagement?

Hon RON MARK: Mr Speaker, we understand that that is the view of some people, and we would share those views that ultimately that is where we would like Iraq to be. Right now the most important thing is to guarantee security. Right now where we can make a strong contribution, along with our Australian partners, is to improve the quality of the security forces there and thereby lend greater security. For NGOs to be able to deliver to those people, they need security. We’ve seen examples in Sudan where the wonderful efforts of NGOs have been interdicted by the lack of security. I would also point out that in Afghanistan alone this Government over the years since 2001 has put in over $100 million in aid. There’s another $2 million to the UN Development Programme and there is about $3.5 million going into the UN Development Programme around technical assistance for de-mining support.

Hon James Shaw: Well, would he agree that the money that we spend on these military deployments would be better spent on humanitarian aid and reconstruction?

Hon RON MARK: I guess a quick add-up of the cost of all of the deployments that the Government has just announced comes to a grand total of about $31.4 million, bearing in mind that a couple of those deployments are for two years, not one year. Ultimately, the Government will in time—and I think next year—look at how we can make a contribution. It may well be that there may not be a military contribution; the focus may be on humanitarian assistance. Of course we’d like to build hospitals. Of course we’d like to help build schools. Of course we’d like to help re-establish the infrastructure. Iraq, in particular, is looking at a $100 billion bill for reconstruction, but $31.4 million is not going to build a new school, it’s not going to build a new hospital, and it’s not going to rebuild the infrastructure. It can make a substantive difference to the NGOs who are delivering that sort of support and thereby enhancing security.


National’s defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell also questioned Ron Mark.

Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney): Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and that training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”, and does he agree with it?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member read the question, please? Read it again.

8. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and the training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”; if so, does he agree with it?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Yes, I recognise that quote.

SPEAKER: No. The member will finish answering the question.

Hon RON MARK: Yes, I recognise that quote, and on the information I had at the time, I still stand by that statement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: How does the Minister reconcile his statement on Morning Report today that there was never any attempt by the previous Government to work across parties, when New Zealand First declined a briefing, an invitation, to visit troops in Iraq with Gerry Brownlee, Andrew Little, and myself in 2016?

Hon RON MARK: I have never received an invitation from Mr Brownlee or from that member on any visit, and, in fact, that member can enlighten people about the conversation that he and I had on the telephone where that member apologised for not inviting me.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to whether it’s a fact that, contrary to being asked, with respect to consultation, the troops were already there before the invitation was sent to the New Zealand First Party in the first place?

SPEAKER: Order! That is not something the current Minister has responsibility for.

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be some confusion. The Minister stood up and said that he’d never personally received an invitation—and I was very clear about the fact that the invitation went to New Zealand First—and the Deputy Prime Minister then stood up and contradicted him and said that we did receive an invitation. Which is correct?

SPEAKER: You’re not serious? Stand up and ask a supplementary, if the member wants to.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why didn’t the Minister consult with or brief either the New Zealand National Party or the ACT Party before a decision was made to deploy our New Zealand Defence Force men and women into theatres of war?

Hon RON MARK: On numerous occasions, I have taken National Party representatives with me. In fact, I took Mr Simon O’Connor into Iraq and into Afghanistan. In those conversations that we had on that trip, it became very apparent and very clear to me what the National Party’s view was on the deployment. In fact, one would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that the National Party supported a continuation of that deployment, unless, of course, it’s just now changed its mind.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Has the Minister consulted with the ACT Party?

Hon RON MARK: No, I have not had consultation, but I would say this to that member also, and I would say it to Mr Seymour: the way that we have operated my office is that we make the door wide open. In fact, the member has been into my office for a briefing.

Hon RON MARK: We will always keep the door open, and I am fully ready, at any time, Mr Seymour, to give a full background briefing. Members of the National Party sat in on the bilateral conversations with the Prime Minister of Iraq. They sat in on the bilaterals with the Minister of Defence of Iraq and visited Afghanistan and sat in on the bilaterals with the NATO ambassador to Afghanistan. A member of the National Party has participated at all levels of those conversations and has made it very clear to me that the National Party support it. To Mr Seymour: the door’s open. I apologise for not getting round to you. I would have done that after the announcement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Mr Speaker, can I just seek some guidance from you, because—

SPEAKER: No, you can’t. The member can ask a supplementary question or, if he has a real point of order, he can do it, but if he trifles with me again, he’ll be losing his supplementary.

Hon Mark Mitchell: It is a point of order, because—

SPEAKER: Well, the way the member does it is stand up and say, “Point of Order!”

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is simply this: the Minister is talking about taking other members away on trips. That’s not the question. The question was around consultation with Opposition parties before decisions are made on deploying New Zealand Defence Force men and women.

SPEAKER: Between the last two supplementaries, that has been very clearly answered.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why hasn’t he applied his own high standards to himself in terms of a cross-party consultation and consensus in an MMP environment?

Hon RON MARK: Right at the outset of being sworn in as Minister, I think I made it very, very clear that I sought, for the benefit of the men and women in uniform, to gain as wide a cross-party consensus on defence matters as we possibly can. It is for that reason that we have gone out of our way to invite National Party representatives to attend briefings. It’s for that reason that I have never refused a request from the Hon Paula Bennett. I think there are about two or three National Party members who’ve sought permission to go on to military bases and talk with Defence Force personnel, unlike what happened to me when I was specifically blocked by the National Government at the time.

Iraq, Afghanistan ‘peacekeeping’ and the realities of international ‘leadership’

Jacinda Ardern has been promoted (or has promoted herself) as one of a radical new breed of young progressive wanting to lead the world in a new direction. But the realities for a small distant nation is that the leader largely has to follow along with allies, even in war situations.

So despite in Opposition promising to pull the troops out the Government has just announced an extension of New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Greens remain opposed.

Official announcement: New Zealand to extend NZDF deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and 3 peacekeeping missions

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, and Defence Minister Ron Mark have announced an extension of the New Zealand Defence Force military training deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a renewal of three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa.

“The decision to deploy defence force personnel overseas is one of the hardest for any government to take, especially when these deployments are to challenging and dangerous environments,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The Government has weighed a number of factors, including carefully considering the risks to our servicemen and women based on advice from the New Zealand Defence Force. The decisions themselves were taken following careful Cabinet deliberations.”

The Iraq deployment will be extended until June 2019, and the Afghanistan deployment will be extended until September 2019.  This allows New Zealand to fulfil its current commitment to both missions.

In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan the Government will be using the coming year to consider all options for New Zealand’s future contributions.

The three peacekeeping missions are to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in the Golan Heights and Lebanon and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

“The Government has decided to continue with our current commitments to three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa, where we have an established presence and proven track record,” Winston Peters said.

A quite length explanation of all the deployments and their histories then followed.

This would normally be seen as a pragmatic decision with New Zealand being seen to contributing to international peacekeeping obligations, which it is. But this is a reversal of Labour’s position. National found themselves in a similar position.

Labour press release (June 2016): Iraq mission extension case not made

The Prime Minister has not made the case for extending the Iraq deployment another 18 months nor the expansion of their mission, says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.

“Labour originally opposed the deployment because the Iraqi Army’s track record was poor, even after years of training by the American and other armies. Having visited Camp Taji, my view on this has not changed.

“It was always obvious that the Iraq deployment would not be complete within the two years originally set for the mission, and the Prime Minister has not been open with the public about the demands being made on our troops by Coalition allies.

“Today in his post cabinet briefing Key could not even confirm the troops would be home in 18 months. He has not been straight with New Zealanders, nor has he made the case for mission creep. He owes it New Zealanders to explain why we’re committing our forces to an ongoing volatile theatre of war.

The Government has announced an extension to the two-year deployment, keeping up to 143 personnel in Iraq for an extra 18 months.

John Key admits it’s a change from the initial promise, but said there’s still work to do. He said the other options are to “do nothing”, or do “something that in hindsight may be more dangerous”.

Labour leader Andrew Little…

“We can be a good global citizen by looking after the civilians who are displaced. What we don’t want to be is caught up in a conflict that goes way out of control.”

“The fact that he’s now completely indefinite about how long we might be there – we could be there for a long, long time. The real threat then is of civil war and who knows where that will go.”

Green co-leader James Shaw…

…said we shouldn’t have our military in Iraq at all

“This is mission creep, and it’s extremely dangerous. He’s broken a promise about how long we were going to be there in the first place, it could easily get extended again, both in terms of the length of time we’re over there and also in terms of the scope of the mission.’

“Our good global citizenship role would be much better deployed as part of the humanitarian effort, rather than part of the military effort. We’ve got a lot more skill in humanitarian aid.”

SBS News/Reuters (November 2017 just after Ardern became Prime Minister): NZ could pull out of Iraq deployment

Australia may lose New Zealand as a partner training Iraqi security forces to fight Islamic State militants next year.

Ms Ardern said her government will review NZ’s commitment of just under 150 military personnel in November next year.

“We will look again at the circumstances when that mandate comes up again,” she told reporters at Sydney airport before her departure.

“It’s a complex conflict and things could change dramatically between now and then.”

Former NZ Labour leader Andrew Little, who Ms Ardern replaced, has previously cast doubt on the benefits the country’s role in Iraq and had vowed to bring the troops home.

Incline (February 2018): Groundhog Day for New Zealand’s Iraq Deployment?

National’s decision might have been broadly predictable, but the same cannot be said for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led coalition. What the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues choose to do on Iraq presents a series of challenges in the weighing of international and domestic expectations.

For New Zealand First, which holds both the Defence and Foreign Affairs portfolios, the shift in position is a slightly easier one. Ron Mark prides himself on his commitment to a Defence Force that is ready to undertake missions in difficult conflict zones. At a time when his portfolio is not among the government’s top spending priorities, he needs a win for his view of the Defence Force. That Mr. Mark has been in Iraq, and has reported that the New Zealanders are doing “vital tasks” in the national interest, says all we need to know about his position on the issue.

His New Zealand First boss also seems a very likely supporter of extension. As Foreign Minister, Peters will be keenly aware of Australia’s interest in seeing New Zealand commit to a further six months and more.

We can be certain that if Jacinda Ardern announces that New Zealand will extend its mission she will not use the “price of the club” argument which landed John Key in political hot water. Explaining New Zealand’s involvement as a consequence of its five eyes connections would be exactly the message that would fire up opposition from the Greens and the Labour left.

…the Iraq decision is a more difficult test. Unlike the TPP, where significant parts of New Zealand’s business community have been strong supporters, there is no comparable domestic constituency for the Iraq deployment.

This raises an obvious challenge for the government if it does choose to extend. How does it show this choice is consistent with an independent foreign policy? Labour may think it owns that concept by virtue of its nuclear free push in the 1980s. Will Ardern be tempted to repeat the Key-English argument that New Zealand has made its own (i.e. “independent”) choice to work with traditional partners in Iraq? That will hardly convince many of the people who brought her to office.

Newshub (yesterday): Jacinda Ardern’s U-turn on pulling troops out of Iraq

The Labour-led Government is extending New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan despite promising in Opposition to pull troops out.

The Prime Minister is refusing to comment on whether New Zealand’s elite soldiers, the SAS, will or have joined them.

This is another example of Labour leaning towards NZ First preferences, with Greens opposed. The Green Party doesen’t seem to have put out an official statement, but…

In the context of the ‘War of Terror’ & ‘peace in the Mid East’, one thing we know is more foreign military presence is not working, has never worked, & has made things far worse. Bring on the sustainable, non-military led humanitarian, conservation, restoration focus.

Stop spending Mills$ joining failed military campaigns that only help weapons manufacturing nations/corporates. Instead invest in helping victims access medicine, rebuild schools, roads…And flex our diplomatic muscle to tell everyone we won’t stand for them profiting from war.

She has a point – Iraq and Aghanistan seem to be bottomless pits and graveyards when it comes to military involvement, and perhaps futile: Seventeen years after September 11, al-Qaeda may be stronger than ever

In the days after September 11, 2001, the United States set out to destroy al-Qaeda. US President George W Bush vowed to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”

Seventeen years later, al-Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, US policies in the Middle East appear to have encouraged its spread.

New Zealand is now extending support of US policie.

What US officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the Site Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that al-Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence.

It is a dilemma. Pacifism would also not have contained Al Qaeda nor ISIS. But a seventeen year military approach hasn’t solved Middle East problems either.

Ardern, Peters and their Government are doing their bit, but it’s very debatable whether that is going to help anything other than their standing in the US and it’s military industrial complex.

Operation Burnham inquiry warranted ‘in the public interest’

Attorney General David Parker announced this afternoon that there would be an inquiry into Operation Burnham, the attackn in Afghanistan that has been criticised in the book Hit & Run.

“In deciding whether to initiate an inquiry I have considered material including certain video footage of the operation. The footage I have reviewed does not seem to me to corroborate some key aspects of the book Hit & Run.

“The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village.

“However, the material I have seen does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised by the authors.

“In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted.”

The inquiry’s terms of reference include:

  • The allegations of civilian deaths.
  • The allegation that NZDF knowingly transferred a man to a prison where he would be tortured.
  • The allegation that soldiers returned to the valley to destroy homes on purpose.

Approval for Inquiry into Operation Burnham

Attorney-General David Parker has today announced a Government Inquiry will be held into Operation Burnham and related events.

The operation undertaken in Tirgiran Valley, Afghanistan, by NZSAS troops and other nations’ forces operating as part of the International Security Assistance Force took place on 21-22 August 2010.

It was the subject of the book Hit & Run by authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson which contained a number of serious allegations against New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel involved in the operation.

“In deciding whether to initiate an inquiry I have considered material including certain video footage of the operation,” says Mr Parker.

“The footage I have reviewed does not seem to me to corroborate some key aspects of the book Hit & Run.

“The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village.

“However, the material I have seen does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised by the authors.

“In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted.”

Commissioning this inquiry does not mean the Government accepts the criticisms of the actions of SAS forces on the ground, although their conduct is squarely within the inquiry’s purview and will be thoroughly examined.\

The inquiry, established under s 6(3) of the Inquiries Act 2013, will be undertaken by two persons of the highest repute, former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer. As required by statute, it will act independently, impartially and fairly.

Given the classified nature of some information that will be made available to the inquiry, it is possible that two forms of report will be provided; one a public version and a second version referring to classified or confidential information.

Mr Parker said the inquiry would seek to establish the facts in connection with the allegations, examine the treatment by NZDF of reports of civilian casualties following the operation, and assess the conduct of the NZDF forces, including compliance with the applicable rules of engagement and international humanitarian law and the authorisation – military and, if any, political – for Operation Burnham.

It will assess the status – civilian or insurgent – of the Afghan nationals in the area of the operation.

It will also assess the extent to which NZDF rules of engagement authorised “targeted killings” and whether this was clearly explained to those involved in approving the rules of engagement.

The accuracy of public statements made by NZDF and the accuracy of written briefings to ministers about civilian casualties will also fall within the inquiry’s scope.

The inquiry will also be asked to examine whether NZDF’s transport and/or transfer of suspected insurgent Qari Miraj in 2011 to the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security in Kabul was proper given, amongst other matters, the June 2010 decision of the High Court of England and Wales in R (on the application of Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence.

The inquiry, in common with all inquiries under the Inquiries Act, has no power to determine the civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability of any person. However it may, if justified, make findings of fault and recommend further steps be taken to determine liability.

Inquiry_into_Operation_Burnham__Terms_of_Reference.pdf

Media_Q_and_A_Operation_Burnham.pdf

Trump expanding Afghan war he had denounced

Candidate Trump last year denounced US involvement in the Aghan war.

President Trump has just announced an expansion of the longest running war that the US has been involved in.

Fox News:  Trump the unconventional president proposes a conventional response for Afghanistan — more US soldiers

President Donald Trump has now officially embraced and expanded the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan which Candidate Trump denounced as a waste of American blood and treasure. In his first major foreign policy speech in prime time, Mr. Trump unveiled what he called a new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, which he called “principled realism.”

But many of its key components remain infuriatingly vague, such as the number of additional troops he intends to deploy in Afghanistan and how much more money he intends to spend there. Moreover, some of the goals he espoused Monday night seemed inherently contradictory.

Mr. Trump did explain why he had abandoned his initial “instinct” to withdraw the 8,500 American forces deployed in Afghanistan immediately.

He said that after listening to the generals whose wisdom and views he had denigrated as a candidate, he had become convinced that an abrupt withdrawal would create a vacuum that the Islamic State, the Taliban, and other terrorists would fill.

That, in turn, he said, would enable America’s Islamist foes to strike America and its allies, as Al Qaeda had done on September 11th from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

While Mr. Trump said his administration would no longer engage in “nation-building,” he also said that the Afghan government in Kabul would have to do more to ensure that Afghans do the bulk of the fighting.

While he vowed to stay in the region to kill terrorists and defeat the Taliban who support the Islamists until “victory” was achieved, he also said that America’s commitment to Afghanistan was not “open-ended.”

He did not define what “obliterating ISIS” or “victory” meant, or specifically what conditions on the ground would enable an eventual withdrawal of American forces.

That cartoon is from the start of US involvement in Afghanistan 16 years aago.

Trump’s obsession with himself

Another leak, this time of transcripts of President Trumps conversations with Australian and Mexican leaders early this year, have shown again how obsessed with himself and his image that Trump is.

He said “I am the world’s greatest person” to Malcolm Turnbull in January.

And recent reports show how he seems to have trouble understanding the difference between leading a company, where the boss can dictate what he likes, compared to the complexities of the US system of government.

Reuters:  Trump, frustrated by Afghan war, suggests firing U.S. commander: officials

During a July 19 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump demanded that his top national security aides provide more information on what one official called “the end-state” in a country where the United States has spent 16 years fighting against the Taliban with no end in sight.

The meeting grew stormy when Trump said Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, a Marine general, should consider firing Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, for not winning the war.

“We aren’t winning,” he told them, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some officials left the meeting “stunned” by the president’s vehement complaints that the military was allowing the United States to lose the war.

Trump seems to have a habit of firing if he isn’t ‘winning’.

CNN: Trump’s Russia statement proves he doesn’t understand separation of powers

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the Russia sanctions bill that the Republican-led Congress had approved overwhelmingly. But he made sure everyone knew he wasn’t happy about it — and in so doing revealed, again, that he has either little understanding of or little care for the separation of powers built into the US government.

What makes Trump’s derision of the division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches different is both how brazen he is about it and how many times he has expressed sentiments in his first six-plus months in office that suggest he simply doesn’t understand the fact that everyone in the government doesn’t work for him.

And the latest leaks from Washington Post: The Post’s latest bombshell 

Produced by White House staff, the documents provide an unfiltered glimpse of Trump’s approach to the diplomatic aspect of his job, subjecting even a close neighbor and long-standing ally to streams of threats and invective as if aimed at U.S. adversaries.

With Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

The Jan. 28 call with Turnbull became particularly acrimonious. “I have had it,” Trump erupted after the two argued about an agreement on refugees. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.”

Before ending the call, Trump noted that at least one of his conversations that day had gone far more smoothly. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump said, referring to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “This is ridiculous.” … “This is going to kill me,” he said to Turnbull. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people.”

With Mexican President Peña Nieto:

“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump said. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language.”

Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. “I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,” he said. “I have been talking about it for a two-year period.” …

Peña Nieto resisted, saying that Trump’s repeated threats had placed “a very big mark on our back, Mr. President.” He warned that “my position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall.”

Trump objected: “But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.”

Jennifer Rubin at WaPo: Why the leaked presidential transcripts are so frightening

It is shocking to see presidential conversations released in this way. Some in the executive branch, as Anthony Scaramucci aptly put it, are intent on protecting the country from Trump. This is a good thing, by the way. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has obviously failed to plug the flood leaks.

These transcripts may have been leaked before Kelly took over.

Trump is frighteningly obsessed with himself and his image to such an extent that he cannot fulfill the role of commander in chief. He cannot frame logical arguments based on public policy, and therefore comes across as, well, a fool to foreign leaders.

His desire to maintain his own image suggests he’d be more than willing to make the country’s interests subordinate to his own need for personal affirmations.

Trump’s narcissism leaves him open to flattery and threats (to reveal embarrassing material, for example). That’s the worry in the Russia investigation — namely, that Vladimir Putin has “something” on Trump, which compels Trump to act in ways inimical to U.S. interests.

Trump’s interests are paramount, so a cagey adversary can easily manipulate him.

There is no easy solution.

One cannot be impeached and removed for being an embarrassment to the United States or an egomaniac temperamentally unfit for the job (that was the argument for not electing him). Unless he really goes off the deep end, invoking the 25th Amendment is not a realistic option.

That leaves members of Congress and his administration with a few options.

And Trump keeps blaming everyone else. He recently tweeted:

But he can’t fire Congress, nor the Senate. He is stuck with the political and judicial system that the US has got. And the US is probably stuck with him until he throws a major hissy fit for not getting his own way and chucks the job in.

In the meantime it is likely that Russia, China, North Korea, and much of the Middle East will be trying to work out how they can exploit Trump’s ego.

With the amount of fire power available to lash out with this has to be a major concern.

One slightly reassuring thing – Trump seems to be relying more on generals to run his administration. They may be the best chance of keeping his flaws in check.

Afghan attack, and arms supply

At about the same time a huge terrorist bomb went off in Kabul a top US general has confirmed that Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban.

Newshub: Kabul in mourning after fatal bomb blast

Kabul is mourning the victims of a truck bomb that killed at least 80 people and wounded hundreds amid growing public anger at the government’s failure to prevent yet another deadly attack in the heart of the Afghan capital.

Wednesday’s blast, at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ripped through a traffic-clogged street packed with people on their way to school or work during the morning rush hour, causing hundreds of casualties in an instant and sending a tower of black smoke into the sky.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made a televised address late on Wednesday, calling for national unity in the face of the attack, which his National Directorate for Security blamed on the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, but he faces an increasingly angry public.

“For God’s sake, what is happening to this country?” said Ghulam Sakhi, a shoemaker whose shop is close to the site of the blast.

“People leave home to fetch a loaf of bread for their children and later that evening, their dead body is sent back to the family.”

There has been no claim of responsibility but Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security blamed the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate directly integrated into the militant movement, and said it had been helped by Pakistan’s intelligence service.

The Taliban have denied involvement.

Regardless of whether the Taliban were responsible the murkiness of the perpetual civil war in Afghanistan was highlighted by this from the Washington Post: Russia is sending weapons to Taliban, top U.S. general confirms

The general in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan appeared to confirm Monday that Russia is sending weapons to the Taliban, an intervention that will probably further complicate the 15-year-old war here and the Kremlin’s relations with the United States.

When asked by reporters, Gen. John Nicholson did not dispute claims that the Taliban is receiving weapons and other supplies from the Russians.

“We continue to get reports of this assistance,” Nicholson said, speaking to reporters alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw two days ago in Mazar-e Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.”

A senior U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence on the issue, said the Russians have increased their supply of equipment and small arms to the Taliban over the past 18 months.

“Any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law unless they were coming to the government of Afghanistan,” Mattis said, speaking during his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary. He added that it would have to be dealt with as such.

In the past, Nicholson has criticized Russia’s contact with the Taliban, saying that it has given “legitimacy” to a group that has undermined the elected government in Kabul.

New American: Kabul Bomb Blast Could Be Used to Justify Increase in U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

A powerful bomb hidden inside a sewage tanker truck exploded during the morning rush hour in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on May 31, killing at least 80 people, wounding hundreds more, and damaging nearby embassy buildings.

Some have speculated that this bomb attack might influence U.S. policy on increasing troop strength in Afghanistan.

A few days agoGovernment considering sending more troops to Afghanistan at request of US

A decision on whether to send more Kiwi troops to Afghanistan at the request of the United States will be made in a matter of weeks.

Prime Minister Bill English confirmed at his weekly media briefing on Monday that the US on behalf of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) has asked that New Zealand send an additional two personnel – taking the total team to 12 in the region.

A 20% increase in NZ troops! Only two more, not many, but one has to wonder if Afghanistan can ever be fixed. Peace is unlikely to to be able to be imposed by outside countries.