Victory, Or Defeat?

War is sickening. I’m not sure at what point in my life I came to that conclusion, but it was probably around the time I realized that blowing someone else to bits was really no different from someone else blowing me to bits, and I didn’t fancy that one little bit.

War is all about bits. Invariably, the winner is whoever manages to spread the most bits of their opponents over the biggest area. There used to be rules governing how the bits were created, and how to avoid becoming bits by something called ‘honorable surrender’. But that’s all gone now.

Now, how you dissect your opponent into bits is left entirely to your discretion. Anything goes, including the last vestiges of that old-fashioned idea known as ‘honor’.

Take the case of Stephen Farrell.[1] Stephen’s a British journalist working for the New York Times. He regularly wanders into war zones with “PRESS” plastered all over his flak jacket, and then expresses surprise when he’s shot at or kidnapped.


Stephen hasn’t yet realized that bits of a journalist scattered over the battlefield count in the score just as highly as bits of anyone else. Consequently, he gets shot at a lot, and kidnapped frequently.

The first time he was kidnapped was in Fallujah, Iraq. The last time was in Kunduz, Afghanistan, just a few days ago.

Stephen set off with an Afghan journalist/interpreter to ‘investigate’ the recent US strike on two fuel tankers captured by the Taliban. The airstrike killed around ninety villagers, many of them children. Their bits don’t count as they were on the wrong side.

True to type, Stephen was kidnapped by the Taliban, along with his Afghan interpreter. The Taliban are not given to beheading western journalists too often, but they do have an affinity for separating Afghan heads from Afghan bodies, so with hindsight Stephen’s actions could be considered, at best, a trifle selfish.

As it transpired, Sultan Munadi, for that was the Afghan interpreter’s name, need not have concerned himself with losing his head, for instead he was cut down by a hail of British bullets as the UK equivalent of the Seventh Calvary arrived to rescue Stephen.

The operation was hailed a great success. Only one British soldier, the Afghan interpreter, and two innocent Afghan villagers died, and Stephen Farrell was returned safely to the bosom of the New York Times with enough stories to keep its front page blooming for at least a couple of days.

However, count the bits and they tell a different story.

So far as can be ascertained, no Taliban died in the attack. All the bits belonged to four bodies – one British and three Afghan.

Surely, that’s a clear victory for the Taliban?

But, like I said earlier, there’s no rules anymore.

And I doubt Stephen Farrell will be counting the bits as he writes his, no doubt, award-winning copy for the New York Times today.

[1] “Four die in Afghan rescue mission” BBC, September 9th 2009

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2 Replies to “Victory, Or Defeat?”

  1. To quibble about some facts,reports suggest around 48 Taliban killed. Also noone has said Munadi was killed by the British. Farrell said he didn’t know either way.

  2. Tim – I appreciate the ‘quibbles’. Not sure where you’re finding the figure of 48 Taliban killed. Reports I’ve read state possibly one Taliban commander – a fellow called Baz – plus a woman and small child. However, details are still somewhat sketchy. You’re quite right to state that no-one knows whether the bullets responsible for Munadi’s death were stamped with the Union Jack, but given that the SAS arrived in helicopters, a gunbattle was inevitable and I doubt Munadi cared much where the bullets came from. Negotiators were optimistic the pair would be freed within days, and the Times’s Kabul bureau had asked that a military option only be taken as a last resort. The decision to send in troops was hastily decided by the British government, in cahoots with the Pentagon, and it is at their door the responsibility for Munadi’s death must lie.
    As I wrote, there’s no rules anymore and Afghan civilians are no more than ‘collateral damage’. Just as were the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis who died in the last great combined UK/US military blunder.

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