Soldiers are required to do just one thing. Kill the enemy. It's their job. Everyone knows it's their job. It's obvious it's what they do. But when you are a member of the Royal Family... should you actually say that you have?
Prince Harry, sorry Captain Wales, has just finished a five month tour of Afghanistan. He was the co-pilot and gunner in an Apache gunship. Now when you look at an Apache, it is pretty clear just what it's job is - it's call-sign out there is 'ugly' and it is just that. An ugly machine designed to engage with the enemy and kill them... and it's a gunners job to aim the weapon and to press the button to make it fire.
When you are on the ground, walking through the fields of Afghanistan, nothing is more comforting than having an 'ugly' over you, protecting you. The Taliban are petrified of them you see. The equipment on them can 'see' through the hedgerows and cover that they like to use, meaning that when they see an Apache they basically 'do one.' It's not worth them trying anything on as they always come off second best in an engagement with one. But they do end up being used quite a bit, and it's quite normal to be sitting in a check point and hear the 'bopbopbopbopbopbop' of the '30 mike mike' (30mm) chain gun firing somewhere in the distance.
I make no bones about it. I love them. I felt re-assured and, well, safe. The infantry on the ground out there are often referred to as taking the fight to the enemy. True, but the Apache drivers do just as much, probably more. They are the ones who provide the top cover for a patrol and are often the first ones to fire at the enemy, in the words of Harry, "taking a life to save a life."
I have a great respect for Harry. He didn't have to be out there, and he like a lot of people who go to Afghanistan, volunteered to be there, in the firing line. Given his position, a lot of people would argue, and did argue that he shouldn't have been there, but the fact he did go, and go for a second time after his first deployment was cut short due to media attention, proves he's a top lad, and as a leader - make no bones about it, even though he'll never be king, he is a leader - he proves that some members of the establishment aren't hypocritical enough to ask other people to do their fighting for them.
And his deployment there, and the way he talks about it, shows he has the same experience out there as a lot of troops do. It is simpler out there. You get up, you do your job, you try and relax, you go to bed if you can, and you start the same thing the next day. No days off, no distractions of the 'real world', you can focus totally on one thing. Doing your job.
And Harry is, was, a soldier out there.
He is that member of the establishment. He is part of the Royal Family. And so his actions mean more than a normal gunner of an Apache would. The way the media has portrayed his role out there, with the reporting that he 'killed members of the Taliban' plays back into the Taliban's hands. Whilst it might tell us exactly what he was doing out there, and that his role was a combat one where he was just another 'squaddie', he isn't. We don't need to know exactly what he was doing. Yes, it's pretty self evident what he was there doing, but we didn't need to be told.
The media handler shouldn't have allowed the question to be asked, even if the answer "take a life to save a life" was a subtle as possible. That answer can then be turned and twisted and used against him, and us out there.
The Taliban are clever. Something that the media here seem to play down. They too are subtle and fight a smart war. They change tactics to counter ours, when we come up with a countermeasure to defeat their tactics, they change their methods. The move from ambushes to IEDs to infiltrating the Afghan security forces is evidence of this. But they also fight the war using the media. Maybe not in the same way as we do, theirs is more vocal, more insidious. In areas of Afghanistan where literacy is low, they talk. They go into the villages and spread their 'news'. They tell the locals who often can only get news by one or two state (and ISAF) sponsored radio stations or by being told face-to-face. And it is often easier to persuade someone more effectively face-to-face.
It allows the line to be used that we are 'crusading' against Muslims in Afghanistan. This is of course, absolute tosh, but it doesn't stop the Taliban using it. In communities where hearts and minds are being fought for day in, day out, this sort of subtle gossip is dangerous.
Even more dangerous is how it can be used back here. It plays into the hands of the hate preachers who are not the true reflection of the masses of muslims here in the UK. It allows the fundamentalists to spread their lies that the war is a war of cultures or civilisations, Christianity against Islam. Of course it isn't, but the only thing louder than the truth are lies...
I don't blame Captain Wales. He answered a difficult question very well. But that question shouldn't have been asked. The media handler who was there (out of shot of the pictures and cameras) shouldn't have allowed that to have been asked. And even though Harry's answer was as vague as possible - not saying exactly and definitively that he DID pull the trigger - it leaves enough space for his actions and his words to be used and mis-used by anyone with an agenda to further. And there are plenty of them, on both sides of the fundamentalist divide.
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