Friday, 23 July 2010

Urban with the Green Howards

In the course of Mark Urban's hour-long film (BBC 2, 19 July 2010) following the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), we hear not a single reflective thought on the problematic point of the UK-US presence in Afghanistan.

As with his other recent embed reports, there's no caveat questioning the UK's stated war objectives. Nor is the purpose of the regiment's patrols ever contested. Instead, Urban asserts:
"It's meant to bring security to the people."
The sentence is delivered as a simple matter-of-fact, a given, a straight repetition of UK-Nato claims. The geopolitical reasons behind the occupation are never mentioned. Britain's role as America's dutiful ally in an illegally-launched war is never considered. The troops are just there, so we're assured, "to bring security."

The film also lacks any serious examination of Afghan resistance, a quite considerable omission if we're being asked to understand why the troops are there fighting and the type of forces they're fighting against.

Instead, the Taliban are merely spoken of as "an elusive, resilient foe" by Urban, a set of labels which lacks not just illumination of their military abilities and objectives, but helps pitch the UK 'mission', in contrast, as one driven, purely, by open, humanitarian priorities.

Nor do we find the slightest exploration of how such young soldiers, many economically adrift, are being used and sacrificed in a war now massively opposed by the public.

Throughout the film, we witness the fear and difficulties of families split apart, waiting for the dreaded knock on the door. But Urban consciously refrains from asking whether those soldiers should ever be where they are.

Instead, he concludes:

"They'll be ready to do it all again."

Kirsty Wark's follow-up Newsnight studio discussion with some of the troops and families involved in the film was, similarly, vacant in its failure to question the war and needless deaths of so many, Afghans and British, soldiers and civilians.

Mark Urban would, no doubt, have us believe that his film is simply a human-based account of the daily difficulties faced by soldiers and their families. But its real effect is to legitimise Britain's presence in Afghanistan. We can, of course, share humane sympathy for those who suffer in conflict. Soldiers are victims, as are their families. But so are all Afghans.

It's enormously significant that, while Nato fatalities are carefully counted and publicised, there's no official count of the thousands of Afghans killed by the same forces. The absence of such statistics and the media's failure to highlight this discrimination over death counts tells us all we need to know about how Afghanistan and other occupied places are really regarded by the UK and its stenographer journalists.

Urban's film fits dutifully into that power-serving exercise. It's a selective chronicle of British losses and hardship, offering no explanatory context or probing comment. And, by drawing a veil over the strategic, imperialist reasons for Britain's presence in Afghanistan, it merely helps prolong the suffering of all involved.


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