Belfast Telegraph

Forget football, it’s Afghanistan that’s a disaster

By Lindy McDowell

The photo on the cover of this month’s Rolling Stone magazine shows celeb du jour Lady Gaga modelling a Gaga-esque machine gun bra.

Inside, blasting away with both barrels however, it’s the even more unlikely figure of General Stanley McChrystal commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan letting rip from the lip about senior figures in the Obama administration, up to and including the President.

The only thing that’s been fired since the mag has hit the news stands has, ironically enough, been McChrystal himself.

To use the coy language of the military HR department, he has been relieved of his command.

The story has brought Afghanistan back into the headlines at a time when the media has been more consumed by a team of overpaid divas being relieved of their lack of command back in Bloemfontein.

The McChrystal case has the whiff of Hollywood movie about it. Insubordination always makes for a compelling read.

But you don’t need a McChrystal ball to see the potentially destabilising impact this latest development may have on allied troops at a time when casualty figures continue to spiral to bloody horrific heights.

McChrystal’s sneering sniping at his civilian bosses is standard military hardman talk. His judgment lapse was in assuming this would stay between himself, his immediate staff and the bloke with the notebook.

McChrystal’s image is all about macho self-discipline. We learn that he sleeps only a few hours at night, runs for miles and eats only one meal a day. (Then again so do Madonna and Victoria Beckham ) He looks like a rangy, nerdy, older member of dance act Twist and Pulse. But the counter-insurgency operation he’d been heading up hasn’t exactly left the Taliban reeling. The idea behind the strategy has been to pummel the baddies while shoring up the shaky administration of self-regarding Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But local corruption is rampant. There’s a conviction that once the Allies pull out, the place will descend into chaos.

Barack Obama has been criticised for providing encouragement to the Taliban by announcing a 2011 projected departure date. David Cameron recently upped this to 2015. To the Taliban the message is surely hang on in there, they’ll be gone soon.

The war was launched to rout not just the Taliban but their blood brothers in Al Qaeda including, of course, Osama bin Laden (remember him?).

But while Osama is still in situ those who have been “relieved of their command” in various ways in the course of this nine-year war include George Dubya Bush, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now the gobby general.

From the perspective of the Tora Bora mountains you can see how locals may judge this one is headed.

How must it seem though, to service families in the UK watching the appalling almost daily tally of death and the terrible mutilation of young soldiers in that conflict?

Just why are we still in Afghanistan? How are we ever going to get out of there? If the Allies are, as rumoured, planning to talk to the Taliban, have all those lives been lost in vain?

Those are the questions which should be dominating national debate right now. Not the future of a football manager.

The continuing sacrifice of heroic men and women who have already paid such a terrible price deserves more attention, more recognition from us all.

We all need to know the real score in Afghanistan.

Belfast Telegraph

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