Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stephen Farrell's Rescue: 'It's Not Fair!' and Assumptions of Omnipotence

The death toll for the rescue of Stephen Farrell, a British journalist working for The New York Times, is now four. Besides a British commando and Sultan Munadi, an associate of Farrell, a woman and a child were killed.

For once, it isn't mostly the fault of the Americans. It's the fault of the British. Or NATO. According to an Afghan journalists' group, anyway.

Darkness, Bullets in a Pre-Dawn Raid

A CNN article filled in more details of what happened during the rescue, and what people felt about it.
"The British journalist recently freed in a NATO military operation described his Taliban hostage-takers as 'hopelessly inept,' and praised his Afghan colleague who died in the rescue.

"New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell described his four days in captivity in a blog on the newspaper's Web site, posted late Wednesday just hours after he was freed.

"Taliban militants kidnapped Farrell and Afghan journalist, Sultan Munadi, on Saturday. During a pre-dawn raid Wednesday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force plucked Farrell to safety, but did not retrieve the body of Munadi, who died during a fierce firefight between troops and Taliban militants. A British commando was also killed, as were a woman and child...."
From the sounds of it, soldiers with NATO weren't all that pleased about rescuing a journalist - Western or no.
"... International troops, including British forces, have expressed their unhappiness about having to extract a Western journalist from the area, a Western military source in Kabul told CNN. Meanwhile, NATO has come under fire from a coalition of Afghan journalists working for foreign news outlets who called the pre-dawn raid 'reckless and double-standard behavior.'

"The Media Club of Afghanistan issued a statement Thursday saying it 'holds the international forces responsible for the death of Mr. Munadi because they resorted in military action before exhausting other nonviolent means.'

" 'There is no justification for the international forces to rescue their own national, and retrieve the dead body of their own soldier killed in action, but leave behind the dead body of Sultan Munadi in the area. The MCA deems this action as inhumane.'..."
I can see the MCA's point. It would have been nice to recover Sultan Munadi's body. I'm sure that the Munadi family would have preferred it.

British, Yes: Omnipotent, No

Let's look at what was happening when Sultan Munadi was shot.
"...Someone loomed out of the dark. I lost my balance and fell back, my leg still somewhat impaired from the motorcycle accident.

It was Sultan, in the last minute of his life. He held out a hand, steadied me and asked if I had my contact lenses in, which I had. With him already in front we crouch-ran along a very narrow ledge of earth — less than a foot wide — along the outer wall of the compound.

It was dark. There were trees to our left and a high mud-brick wall to our right. We could see nothing more than a few feet in front of us.

We had no idea who was where, and there were bullets flying through the air....

British commandos found Farrell, after he called out and signaled with a camera light.

"...I lay on the ground, gave my name and newspaper and pointed to where Sultan was lying behind me, telling them I thought he had been shot.

"The body was lying motionless in the ditch where I had seen him go down. I hoped he had dropped and was lying still. I knew it wasn't the case. They told me they had his picture and would look for him, then dragged me away past the house across a rutted field and toward the helicopter landing zone.

"It was over. Sultan was dead. He had died trying to help me, right up to the very last seconds of his life...."
(Stephen Farrell, At War Blog)
My guess is that the fallen soldier's comrades knew where he was when he was shot, and that he hadn't moved all that far afterward. That body would have been relatively easy to spot.

Sultan Munadi was 'somewhere out there,' in a ditch. It was dark, and bullets were flying.

I've been outside city limits at night. It's dark: not the hard-to-read-a-newspaper dark you get between streetlights; the can't-see-the-fence dark that makes getting around a chore. Never mind searching for a body while someone's trying to shoot you.

Even assuming that the commandos had night vision equipment, Sultan Munadi's body was a lump in a ditch. And he was in no condition to flash a light to show where he was.

There's a tendency to assume that policemen, mayors, soldiers, and others in positions of authority, have 'powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men' - and it just ain't so.

I'm quite willing to believe that the commandos searched for Sultan Munadi's body. Within the limits imposed on them by the situation. They didn't find it. That's sad.

The deaths of the woman and child, who presumably weren't involved in the firefight is sad, too. I grieve for the families.

But - blame the British? I'm sure we'd all be happier if "nonviolent means" had been successful - but I don't know enough to guess what the chances were of that. I do know that outfits like the Taliban have a less-than-stellar record for being nice to hostages: As Leon Klinghoffer found out, on the Achille Lauro. (August 5, 2007)

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.