The six young men who were patrolling north-east of Lashkar Gah in Afghan’s Kandahar province on Tuesday night are likely to have been thinking of many things, but not of their imminent deaths.
Corporal Jake Hartley was to celebrate his 21st birthday on Saturday. The soldiers had all left Wiltshire as recently as Valentine’s Day.
They had thus had time to learn next to nothing about Afghanistan, nor indeed about life, before out of the darkness erupted a vast explosion which tore through the armour of their Warrior vehicle, killing all its occupants.
An Improvised Explosive Device, the foremost tool of the Taliban’s campaign, had once more done its terrible business. The impersonality of IEDs corrodes soldiers’ morale in a way no firefight can do.
As Western forces have imported ever heavier vehicles to counter the threat, the Afghans have responded by merely planting ever bigger bombs.
This latest incident has gained more attention in Britain than any deaths in Afghanistan for many months, because of the number of young men whose lives were tragically foreshortened.
But the surge of public dismay also derives from people asking: ‘What’s it all for? Where are these sacrifices getting us? We’re quitting anyway in 2014. Why not now?’
These are all good questions, to which there are no comfortable answers.
I am one of those who has argued for years that we have lost the Afghan war; that even if we stay for another two decades, we would change nothing in that implacably alien society. Read More