My first reaction to the Times photo of the SAS in Afghanistan was they looked really, really cool. Slightly more nuanced thoughts.
1. I can’t see how Stuff or the Herald publishing the photo puts the SAS in any more danger than they’re currently in; it seems hypocritical for the Prime Minister to critique the media for endangering the SAS – he’s the guy who sent them into a war zone!
2. If the Ministry of Defense doesn’t want the media to take an interest in the SAS they shouldn’t devote so much time and energy cultivating an aura of mystique around the unit.
3. Even if publishing details about the SAS does somehow put them in danger, once they’ve been in the New York Times a photo in the Herald isn’t gonna count for much.
4. The guy who wrote the NYT story – Dexter Filkins – wrote The Forever War, which is one of the best books of war journalism I’ve ever read. He comments on the Kiwi response today:
The presence of the New Zealanders was posted on the New York Times Web site Monday and published in the paper the next morning. When I woke up in Kabul on Tuesday, my in-box was flooded with emails from New Zealand.
As word spread, the New Zealand government publicly acknowledged that the commando team, from the Special Air Service, had been deployed here.
“A small element of the New Zealand S.A.S. members were among forces that took up positions close to the incident,” President John Key said.
President John Key? Has a ring to it though, no? Kieth Locke’s republic bill might have just gained a secret yet powerful admirer.
5. Rory Stewart wrote a long piece in the New York Review of Books that I’ve been meaning to link to: it’s a cautious endorsement of the Obama Administration’s strategy for Afghanistan.
6. When I first heard the story about biblical citations on gunsights I assumed that the soldiers were writing them themselves, but they’re actually being inscribed on the barrel by the US based manufacturer! Which sniper rifle would Jesus use?
Afghanistan is arguably the most religious country on earth, and Muslims take their own holy book very seriously – they see the Koran not as a book but as an aspect of God, like His pity or His wrath. So embossing weapons with references from rival holy books is not a smart idea when you’re fighting (and currently losing) a war for the hearts and minds of the Afghans.