Saturday, July 31, 2010

Afghanistan and Ireland – Same old story!

Last month this blog stood in the Guildhall Square in Derry and watched as the relatives of the 14 innocent victims of the British Parachute Regiment expressed their delight at the Saville report’s conclusion that the 14 were innocent victims.

At the time the dead were labelled as terrorists by the British government. The British system and to its shame much of the British media, accused those who had been shot of being ‘gunmen’ and ‘bombers’. Lies were told and a cover-up concocted and the British establishment closed ranks to defend the actions of its Army. That lie persisted for decades.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for what happened. I am sure the words of regret and remorse he made that day were heartfelt and the people of Derry welcomed them.

However, Mr. Cameron then sought to expunge the violent record of the British Army in the north by claiming that: “Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969-2007.”

He was wrong. Bloody Sunday did define the British Army’s role in the north. In Ballymurphy six months earlier the same Regiment – the Paras –shot dead 11 innocent victims; in Springhill five month later they shot dead 5 more. The victims were accused of being ‘gunmen’ or in one case a ‘gunwoman’.

On Friday in a welcome development the Catholioc Bishop of Down and Connor gave the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre archive documents, including eye witness statement from Church records of the time.

They validate the families case.

The Ballymurphy and Springhill killings were par for the course for the British Army.

In countless actions over decades of war the British Army and RUC strategy employed shoot-to-kill operations; plastic bullets; mass raids on homes; torture; curfews and intimidation, and collusion between state forces and unionist death squads, to kill many hundreds of citizens and tried to intimidate a whole community.

The full resources of the British state including legal, judicial, and propaganda were brought to bear. It was claimed that victims were gunmen or women whose weapons were spirited away by hostile crowds; or who made actions which gave the soldiers cause to believe they were armed or a threat; or who ran away from patrols justifying their being shot; while others were accused of attacking patrols or trying to run them down in cars. The truth is still denied to relatives in many of these cases.

It was also often said that the north was the British states training ground for its military and intelligence system.

The truth of that is evident in the revelations contained in some of the 90,000 US military files that have been posted on the Wikileaks website and carried in detail in a number of newspapers, including the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegal.

The files are from a variety of NATO military sources operating in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009 and they reveal a depth of failure to the military strategy of NATO than has heretofore been evident in the media coverage of the war.

The Afghanistan experience and the techniques and strategies and propaganda employed in that war are not exceptional. They fit a pattern which will be familiar to people in Ireland and especially the north.

The Wikileaks documents provide previously unreported actions in which Afghan civilians were killed or wounded. In 144 incidents detailed almost 200 civilians were killed and hundreds more injured. This is almost certainly a serious underestimate of the true scale of civilian casualties.

The Wikileaks files provide a list of actions involving the British Army. These are some.

November 15th 2006: In Helmand the British Army’s Marine Commandos fired warning shots at a vehicle, killed two civilians and wounded two others, including a child.

October/November 2007: a cluster of shootings by British soldiers in Kabul lead to the death of the son of an Afghan general. The British soldiers are unidentified and the US report reveals that; ‘Investigation controlled by the British. We are unable to get [sic] complete story.’

March 12th 2008: Helmand. British troops call in gunships and claim three enemy dead. The bodies of two women and two children are later found.

November 19th 2008: Marine Commandos fire ‘warning shots’ at a vehicle. They kill a child.

January 19th 2009: Marine Commandos use a drone to attack the Taliban. Two children are wounded.

January 27th 2009: Marine Commandos shoot at two people ’watching the patrol’. A man and a child are wounded.

May 19th 2009: Ghurkhas call in air strike and kill 8 civilians and destroy a family compound.

September 30th 2009: Helmand. The Rifles regiment call in an air strike on a compound housing two families. 7 killed.

November 10th 2009: Helmand. Coldstream Guards kill a driver of a vehicle.

When asked to respond to these accusations the British Ministry of Defence said: ‘We are currently examining our records to establish the facts in the alleged casualty incidents raised.’

The British Army is not alone in carrying out these kind of actions. French troops shot at a bus full of children killing 8. A US patrol did the same and killed 15. In another incident US Special Forces dropped six 2,000lb bombs on a compound killing up to 300 people.

Human Rights Watch which reported on the war in the north of Ireland and is now doing similar work in Afghanistan said: ‘These files bring to light what’s been a consistent trend by US and NATO forces: the concealment of civilian deaths.’

Also revealed is the existence of Taskforce 373 – a covert operations unit whose task is to ‘remove’ the enemy.

All of this just scratches the surface of another dirty war that is being fought using modern versions of old strategies and techniques, and is failing.

Will the publication of the battlefield and intelligence documents by Wikileaks make a difference? ‘None’, according to the British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

His retort could just as easily have come from the mouth of Reginald Maudling or William Whitelaw or Roy Mason or Tom King or any of the previous British Ministers who had responsibility for prosecuting the British war in Ireland. And whose policies sustained a conflict that could have ended much earlier.

But then should we be surprised? Should those of us who survived be taken aback by the stupidity of the British military and political mind?

A former Commander of the British Army in Afghanisatan Colonel Richard Kemp recently claimed that the British Army won the war in Ireland.

If Colonel Kemp, who presumably was the British Army’s key strategist in Afghanistan, could get it so wrong in our country why should anyone expect him to get it right in Afghanistan? And if he and William Hague are reflective of British thinking today then the British are destined to make the same mistakes in that part of the world they made here.


Timothy Dougherty said...

Good reporting Gerry,
So often said that the north was the British states training ground for its military and intelligence system. The concealment of civilian deaths and British thinking today. Britain's 19th century experience in Afghanistan offers a cautionary tale,as well.Rudyard Kipling
Poem THE YOUNG BRITISH SOLDIER about a young British soldier, wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains. "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains." That sounds like good thinking.1838. This first Anglo-Afghan war was a disaster.British had gone in; they thought they had won an easy victory. They had installed their own compliant ruler on the throne, only to find, about two years later, there was a strong resistance against them, this culminated in a terrible retreat of the British forces from Afghanistan. The vast majority were killed. The legacy of the British experience weighs heavily,even today. If the British have any lesson to learn, it is North Ireland, where they did sit down and speak to the IRA. What lies ahead course of sitting down and speaking with people in the name of the greater cause of stability,peace and of an end to a civil war that's been raging since 1978.

Micheal said...

It is difficult to make an impact on policy directions in very large pluralist countries like the UK, precicely because it is so large and plural. Power is diffuse and hard to pin down and the parliament acts mainly as a laborious instrument of legislating.

Individualism is promoted, and embraced, as a benefit of a liberal political philosophy and as a result of that the collective is often found wanting in response to atrocious foreign policy initiatives, usually involving the military.

I'm very sorry about what happened in Northern Ireland from 1970 onward. I'm aware of the way in which the british military contributed to and even escalated the violence with their tactics and it is my view that they deliberately set out to do that. They had a clear stategy in 1970, which they implemented, and the killing of civillians was part of that.

The IRA had it's role to play in the macabre circumstances that evolved, just like the Taliban has it's role in what is happening in Afghanistan today. They were waiting in the wings right through the centuary, with srategy's such as the "Operation Harvest" 1958-1962. The rebel hand was often willing to "set the heather blazing"

Of course none of this excuses the actions of the British army in killing innocent civilians in Springhill or Ballymurphy, or the assasinations of Sinn Fein politicians. Or even the shoot to kill murders of volunteers. I would never again stoop so low or be so ignorant as to suggest that. But what I will say is that it wasn't all their fault, and that the powers that be in London maybe don't have, or didn't used to have the power to be so evil as you sometimes seem to infer.

Good work Gerry. Your role as leader in bringing peace to Ireland is key. I am confident that all of the outstanding issues will be concluded succesfully and that all of the relatives of those unlawfully killed will get justice. The truth is well known, it's just not as widely acknowledged as it should be.

James and Linda said...

Wikileaks is an example of what I love about the internet--instant access to information about what's really going on.

Our government and the Pentagon are horrified by it, of course, 'cause in the future, the war mongers are going to have a really, really hard time selling the idea of war to a public who knows better.

Imagine how differently things would have turned out if there had been video cameras and YouTube in 1972. The families wouldn't have had to wait 30+ years for justice, that's for sure.