Thursday, July 29, 2010
UK pays Tonga to enter Afghanistan war in Helmand province, site of previous UK losses
by Larry Geller
If the UK is paying Tonga to send troops to Afghanistan, does that make the Tongan soldiers mercenaries?
British troops lost big in 2006 in Helmand province—the same area of Afghanistan where a fizzled US campaign was serialized in your daily paper earlier this year:
Most of the UK's 294 Afghan fatalities have occurred in Helmand province.
"We didn't realise the complexity and the character of the context in which we were going to fight. In fact, we didn't envisage we were going to fight." [BBC, UK's Helmand province mission was 'flawed', 6/12/2010]
Now, somehow, they have convinced Tonga to send troops to Helmand:
The Tongan government has agreed to deploy 275 soldiers to Afghanistan over the next two years at the request of the British government.
He said the deployment would help to ease unemployment in the nation of 104,000 people, as well as foster closer ties between Tonga and Britain. [New Zealand Herald, Tonga sending troops to Afghanistan, 7/29/2010]
I wonder how close ties will be should Tongans be killed.
Perhaps the money had something to do with this:
Brigadier Tauaika 'Uta'atu, commander of the Tongan Defence Service, welcomed Parliament's support for the deployment.
'Uta'atu said the British government would pay 2.6 million pounds ($4 million) to cover Tongan costs the first year, including uniforms, ammunition, accommodation, travel expenses and a stipend of 30 pounds a day for each soldier in Afghanistan.
The British think an assignment in Helmand is safe, even given their own losses from a similar bad call:
"It looks safer than Iraq," he said. "Our soldiers will not be doing street patrols where there have been a lot of deaths. We will be doing force protection, and security on the boundaries of a camp, which is in the desert."
“Safer than Iraq” is damning with faint praise. Iraq is one of the most dangerous places on the planet right now, even if the news seldom makes American newspapers.
The UK’s leading role and large losses in Helmand province were hidden from both the UK and American public until 2004 as the UK government focused public attention instead on its battles in Iraq.