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Five British soldiers killed in the forgotten Afghanistan war

In the past week five British soldiers have died in Helmand province, bringing the total close to 400. Their deaths received little attention -- nothing compared with the weeks of features and human-interest stories which dominated the run up to Remembrance day. Then the line between remembering the dead of previous wars and justifying the present ones was repeatedly crossed.

The media and government do their best to relegate Afghanistan to the forgotten war. There is virtually no direct coverage of the war. There are few shots of soldiers in combat, even less of the nightly raids on Afghan families in the name of counter terrorism. The civilians killed and injured in air strikes remain anonymous.

When a British soldier is killed, there is a brief report on the news programmes, then another a day later showing a still photograph of the soldier concerned with his name and regiment. That’s all.

To say anything more would be to perhaps open up a discussion about why they are there, what is the purpose of the war, and how can it be ended. That would not serve the interests of the military or the governments who pay lip service to sacrifice but ensure that such sacrifice will continue for as long as it is politically convenient.

It would not suit the politicians who cannot really explain why the war continues –other than for reasons of ‘national security’ which few really believe -- to seriously report the war. So we either hear nothing or we are expected to believe that these deaths are part of a long tradition of dying nobly for queen and country.

The substantial majorities in opinion polls who oppose the war suggest that many do not accept this view. Instead they question why young men should die for seemingly little reason.

The economic conscription which drives many in areas of high unemployment to join the army is well documented. With unemployment among young people now standing at over a million, the fear is that many more will join up for want of any alternative but living on benefits.

The government’s austerity measures will further impact on jobs, training and education opportunities, while ensuring that funding for wars remains high.

While this continues, those on the ground know that the war is not being won, despite the more than 100,000 foreign troops who now occupy Afghanistan. Taliban insurgency continues. The fate of most ordinary Afghans is grim. There is now the danger of serious food shortages and famine in the north of the country --  exacerbated by the policies of the occupying powers to send more food aid to the south where it is used as a counter insurgency tool.

Winning hearts and minds has long since ceased to be a serious objective. The British have been here before. The poet of British imperialism in the region, Rudyard Kipling, expressed the mood of soldiers fighting in the 19th century when he wrote:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll out your rifle, and blow out your brains.
And go to your God like a soldier. 

What a tragedy that so little has been learnt in the last 100 years,

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