Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Afghanistan’s Taliban: cowards or fearless warriors?
U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have often called the Taliban cowards for planting crude roadside bombs, the biggest killer of troops and civilians. They should come out and fight like men, instead of planting these improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and then slipping away into the countryside. If you are out on a patrol with the forces, that’s the kind of thing you often hear.
But some people are questioning this kind of labelling, asking if it is right to dismiss your enemies as cowards, especially one in this case that has fought the world’s most powerful military to a draw, if not a possible retreat.
Can you really call the Taliban who go to war wearing robes, sandals and turbans and armed with assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and whatever else they can lay their hands on as cowards, asks NightWatch, an intelligence firm that produces regular assessments. They are fighting an army that comes with the most advanced equipment in the history of warfare – body armour, tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, backed by helicopter gunships, artillery and surveillance aircraft.
And above all, the drones – the unmanned aircraft that hover over the skies for hours at a stretch beaming back high resolution pictures down to the numbers on the license plate of pick-ups that the Taliban use in the mountains that straddle Afghanistan and Pakistan. And these unmanned planes are being remotely controlled all the way from the United States.
What kind of bravery is that, flying these planes from a tractor trailer in the Nevada desert, hunched over computer terminals and firing missiles like it was a video game, asks John Treep in a piece in The MinnPost. Except that in this case the death and destruction is real.
I do not criticize modern American warriors for choosing the close-to-home computer terminal over a tent and a Humvee on the Afghan-Pakistan border — I’d make the same choice in a flash. But does it really make sense to describe our warriors as brave and our enemies, people apparently eager to give their lives for what they believe in, as “cowards.”
Does it really matter what you call your enemies? It can, actually, because you run the risk of underestimating them. Dismissing the Taliban as burqa-wearing cowards who strap explosives to their chests may not be the best way to tackle them, especially now that they control large parts of the countryside.