On the day that the Afghan government said it had taken over responsibility for combat operations across the whole of the country and after 12 years of invasion, war, occupation and counter-insurgency the Americans announced that they are to start diplomatic talks with the Taliban.
This is good news. Soldiers may fight wars, but it is politicians who not only start them, the politicians getting around a table and talking also finish them. In a dirty and nasty war which has cost over 35,000 people’s lives, the only real way to come out with a solution to the annual cycle of fighting is to discuss it. Talk about it. Consider the other side and compromise.
This is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It is only through talking that the problems that run so deep in that country can be solved. It is a sign that it is time to move on from drastic and inflammatory rhetoric where you are either ‘for us or against us’. It’s time to move away from ‘victory’. It’s time to start the process of dialogue and conversation – which will ultimately lead to that compromise that will bring peace.
A quick look around the internet, across social media and in the worst place of all – the comments sections of news articles on this subject show that there is a lot of opposition to the talks. Some talk about betrayal. About wasted time, wasted lives. That by entering into talks with the Taliban we are turning our backs on those that have given their lives in this war.
So far, 444 British Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have been killed in the Afghanistan War. On basic estimates at least 6,500 western soldiers have been injured there. Some 2,220 Americans have been killed, with another 600 other nations troops dead, bringing it to a total of some 3200 NATO and Coalition troops. The Afghan security forces have lost over 14,500 with at least 19,000 Afghan civilians killed. A terrible, terrible loss of life. On all sides.
But by talking it does not betray any one of them. Talking and compromise to bring about peace does quite the opposite. We are not turning out backs on the 444 – they did not die for nothing – they died for two things.
Firstly, without their sacrifice, we would not be in the place we are now. The fact that the Taliban are willing to talk shows that they have fought bravely and showed the enemy that they fought for a reason and that reason is the second thing that they dies for.
They fought and died because they were doing something that they loved. Most of them didn’t think they were bringing peace and security to a far off land. They didn’t consider what they were doing out there as defending Britain from terrorists or making this country safer.
They did it because they were doing a job that almost pretty much to a man (and woman) they loved. They were doing it because they were part of the Army, the Navy, the RAF or the Marines and they were there because they enjoyed being part of that wider service family. They were there for their mates, for adventure, for a multitude of reasons – but they gave their lives doing something that they wanted to do and that they enjoyed doing.
It was fun. I enjoyed being in Afghanistan. Yes, like many, I griped about the conditions, the food, the heat, the patrolling, the filth, the people, the organisation, the lack of mail, the lack of communication, missing my family – just about anything it is possible to gripe about, but when I look back on my time out there I am glad I went and I miss it.
I miss the camaraderie. I miss the gripes. I miss the people going through the same things as me. I miss the jokes, the laughs, the evening chats outside the tent. I miss the excitement of going out on a patrol. I miss the possibility of getting into a ‘scrap’, the adventure, of putting my self and my training to the test.
And I know that the only reason that people have gone back there again and again is that they like that stuff too. Living out there was simpler, easier. And although the possibility of being injured or dying did scare me (and others), you just accepted it. It was part of the job. It came with the territory of what you had signed up to do. And it was a risk that you weigh up against all the benefits that the military life has.
I have left the military now; been a civilian since December. And whilst I miss a lot about the life I left behind, the thing I miss the most is the people. You join up to be with like-minded people. To have experiences with people who think the same way as you, who want to do similar things as you, who want to test themselves as you do. I found that there were a lot of bloody good soldiers in the British Army. There were people who did brave and heroic things, and the reason that they did them wasn’t because of Queen and Country.
They didn’t put themselves in harms way for the Queen or those those back home. They did it for each other. And they will keep on doing it for each other. For as long as there are wars and conflicts and reasons to have a military, there will be young men and women who are happy to take part in those wars – not for lofty aims and ambitions. Not for freedom. Not to protect the country, but for other people. For the people they are fighting alongside. And in Afghanistan, they did the same. They fought and are still fighting for their mates and mukkas. Often, sadly, they pay the ultimate price and die for them too.
The by-product of their death, though, is bringing the politicians to the table to talk. Soldiers may fight wars, but politicians talking end them. The greatest memorial to those who have died in that country, 5000 odd miles away from their homes and families, isn’t more fighting – it’s talking.
If the enemy wants to talk to us, and in this case they do, we don’t betray the dead by talking, we honour them.