Dr Liz Gordon: Afghanistan – Twenty years on


The Alliance conference in 2001 marked the beginning of the end for that fine movement.  As with all political parties, there were many rifts and struggles and arguments over ideas, but also lots of core agreement in terms of direction. But the September 2001 (9/11) attacks on US cities using passenger aircraft as flying missiles changed so many things and wrecked the Alliance.

At the time we were in government with Labour, and within a few weeks of 9/11 the US government was calling on its allies to support a war in Afghanistan to rout out the Taliban and capture and kill Osama Bin Laden.

For some reason that is still not clear, the Alliance leader, Jim Anderton, was set on sending New Zealand troops to Afghanistan. Perhaps it was because he had been Acting Prime Minister at the time of the attacks (and famously uncontactable due to the vagaries of the Vogel House telephone system).

The arguments for invading Afghanistan, in the Alliance forum at least, did not hinge on following the USA into hell, but on the need to eliminate the Taliban itself.  There were certainly plenty of arguments for the elimination of this military and political regime, a brutal fundamentalist group that had a particular penchant for the oppression of women and children and for archaic and bloodthirsty punishments.

But Afghanistan has been at war for well over a thousand years with one group or another (many of the longest wars in history were fought at least partially on its territory; it being, of course, a cobbled together mishmash of cultures, religions and regions).

Most recently, the USSR spent a decade trying to embed a socialist state in the region, which completely failed. In the resulting hiatus, the Taliban built its based and emerged, occupying much of the country by 2000.

The United Nations did not sanction international action in Afghanistan.  Not only was the 2001 action dubious, it was also illegal.

During the debate, one of Jim’s staff came and told me I was to speak, presumably in support of sending troops over there.  The trouble was, I was completely opposed to this.  Laila, quite rightly, refused to speak and I should have done the same.  You can’t equivocate over something like this. Actually, the only time I ever got in trouble in Parliament was when I went against my own instincts or beliefs. You have to stand up for what you believe in.

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The resulting speech rambled on for a couple of minutes about how bad the Taliban were and how awful was watching the 9/11 attacks. I supposed that it would be good to get rid of this force, but felt it likely that this action would become the Vietnam of the next generation, which we did not want.  I wandered off the stage, completely unimpressive and a bit self-loathing.

Not a moment of great glory in my life.  I hope you can all forgive me now.

Anyway it didn’t exactly become the next Vietnam because Labour decided not to send troops.  An SAS team would be sent to hunt out ‘insurgents’, and later a group called the Provincial Reconstruction Team was sent in.  We also committed to training the Afghan Army.

Inevitably we got sucked into the vicious and illegal actions of the US troops. The war in Afghanistan became infamous for the torture of prisoners, extreme rendition, use of methods such as waterboarding and who knows how many civilian deaths.

New Zealand handed people over to the USA so they could be tortured. They engaged in Operation Burnham, which led to civilian deaths, and a cover-up associated with this, our worst for generations. It appears that this operation was in retaliation for the killing of one of our troops, which is very worrying. I mean, what did they expect?

It was only in May this year that our last troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan.  If our goal was to rebuild the country and train Afghan troops, then it must be said to have been an abject failure.  The Taliban have risen up again and now control the whole country, with, as I write, a few days left for the last remaining American troops to withdraw.

It is going to be terrible there.  Terrible for women and children, for the poor living in little villages, for the many ethnic minorities, for nearly everyone.  It is not a productive country. Despite having many rivers, large parts of the country are very dry. It is landlocked. Economic development is limited to farming and mining. Thirty million people with little to look forward to.

It was wrong of New Zealand to involve itself, however minimally, in that country in 2001. It was bad enough already and we helped make it worse.  Twenty years on, there appears to be no starting point for healing. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that the people are facing now. 

I reckon that we badly need a national review of our armed forces, including all their actions under the Cold War banner and subsequently.  They are just sitting there waiting for the next ally to have a bad idea to invade a country far away. History tells us this will, as always, end badly.  There must be a better way.

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Who can forget watching live on TV in 1975 the helicopters landing on carriers offshore of Saigon. As they offloaded they were pushed into the sea for the next arrival? Seems like some things dont change, that is the scene in Kabhul today.

  2. usa psycho’s decided in 1978 or 79 to fund Islamic fanatics and turn Afghanistan into a bear trap,,,, to flood the country with weapons and Islamic fanatics ,,,,creating a quagmire for the Soviets…’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiJg3-_uOyA

    … They did this knowing full well it would destroy and ruin Afghanistan ,,, and training / arming up to 100,000 Islamic extremists in Pakistan ,,, has rooted them too.

    “Ex-Security Chief Brzezinski’s Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur makes clear:
    “The Muslim Terrorist Apparatus was Created by US Intelligence as a Geopolitical Weapon” http://emperors-clothes.com/interviews/brz.htm

    “Le Nouvel Observateur–” When the Soviets justified their intervention with the statement that they were fighting against a secret US interference in Afghanistan, nobody believed them. Nevertheless there was a core of truth to this…Do you regret nothing today? ,,,

    ,,,, Zbigniew Brzezinski: Regret what? This secret operation was an excellent idea. It lured the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you would like me to regret that? On the day when the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote president Carter, in essence: “We now have the opportunity to provide the USSR with their Viet Nam war.”

    Le Nouvel Observateur: And also, don’t you regret having helped future terrorists, having given them weapons and advice?

    Zbigniew Brzezinski: What is most important for world history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? Some Islamic hotheads or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

    Le Nouvel Observateur: “Some hotheads?” But it has been said time and time again: today Islamic fundamentalism represents a world-wide threat…

    Zbigniew Brzezinski: Rubbish!”

    MEK are the new terrorist ‘freedom fighters that the usa and Israel are helping ,,,,’As they want to destroy Iran ….

    What is Juliet Moses and IINZ not telling us about their “Iranian Freedom Fighters.” ??,,, “Iranian Condemns Golriz Ghahraman for Spreading Hatred”

    ,,,, The old shah / MEK flag gives their game away. https://www.facebook.com/Israel.Institute.NZ/photos/a.1419935025034957/1419934565035003/?type=3

    Israel and usa neo-cons desire to do to Iran what the usa did to Afghanistan ,,,,,

    Kill Kill Kill
    “MEK’s enmity became acute when the head of this group was banned from running for presidential elections, which was followed by a heavy MEK loss at parliamentary elections in 1981. It was then that MEK started its terrorist activitites in Iran; they bombed the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party, which had won both the presidency and the parliament in landslide victories. The bomb killed Mohammad Beheshti, Head of Iran’s Judicial System who was also the party leader, as well as four cabinet ministers, plus 24 members of Parliament along with 43 other government officials and party members.

    Two months after this bombing, another major attack shook the Iranian capital; a bomb was embedded in the room where government cabinet meeting was held, killing the newly elected President Rajai and Prime Minister Bahonar” ,,,

    “The group fled to Iraq in 1986, where it was protected by Saddam Hussein and where it helped the Iraqi dictator suppress Shiite and Kurd uprisings in the country. ”

    In April 1992, it staged attacks on Iranian embassies in 13 countries. Among these was a strike against the Iranian mission to the United Nations,”

    MEK involvement in massacre of Kurds on record https://www.nejatngo.org/en/posts/4974https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/23/iran-usa

    MEK and their Kahanist chums need to go on NZ’s terrorist list ,,,,

    And NZ needs to keep the fuck out of neo-cons immoral wars ,,,,
    Killing in the name of Key and where a bad Mapp leads ,,, https://www.hitandrunnz.com/photos

    • Thank you for that history lesson reason. It is tiresome reading the sanitised version of Afghanistan around the role played by the US in arming and enabling what was Al-Qaeda that morphed into IS. It is interesting that there is a panic about murders being committed when the Taleban takeover is actually a war. So far the death toll hasn’t been established but may be negligible according to some reports. in contrast, how many Afghans lost their lives in the cause of US adventurism?

      Lets just hope that the Taleban are of a lesser breed of extremist and settle, in time, to accepting a more liberal attitude to women. It is also puzzling that people are quaking about the dire impacts Taleban will have on children. Is there supportive evidence because children are generally considered sacrosanct in even the most warlike of cultures.

      • Thanks aom ,,,, I hope the Taliban have moderated ,,,, but they are the spawn of cruel violent mass murdering usa foreign policy.

        I guess they are less bad than the Khmer Rouge / Pol Pot ,,, or ISIS ,,,two other medieval groups which arose to power from usa destruction.

        I’m sure the Afghanistan Muslims murdered in Christchurch were from the more humane and loving side of their religion ,,, I doubt a Taliban would greet me as “Brother”

        and who can blame the terribly wronged people of Afghanistan changing their attitudes towards us ,,,,

        A while ago on ‘The Standard’, Wayne Mapp was claiming that they are just naturally violent and brutish people ,,,, the past proves him a liar.

        from the above link within the first two minutes ,,,They would give you hash with your bus ticket ,,, how friendly is that !! 🙂 …

    • Another USA Experiment which went horribly wrong ?

      $300 million and 10 Deaths should NZ really have got involved swinging on the USA’s shirt tails ?

  3. Jim Anderton was never Prime Minister. Helen Clark was. Helen Clark ( secretly) deployed the SAS in Afghanistan and New Zealanders found out via foreign news broadcasts and statements from the U.S. government.
    What is this gutless nonsense in blaming a dead man for our involvement in Afghanistan?
    Jim Anderton was never aiming at a good job with the United Nations.

  4. ”Labour decided not to send troops. An SAS team would be sent to hunt out ‘insurgents’, and later a group called the Provincial Reconstruction Team was sent in. We also committed to training the Afghan Army.”
    ”Labour decided not to send troops’?! What are the bloody SAS then? Boy scouts? The Provincal Reconstruction Team? the instructors for the Afghan Army? All members of the Armed Services( troops)
    Easy to see you are a lawyer.

  5. Bad decisions and injustice create more bad decisions and injustice.

    For example it is considered that the disgusting travesty of https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2018807431/kiwi-journalist-on-what-really-happened-to-ba-flight-149 and bad intelligence made Bin Ladin target the US as revenge for US propping up the Saudi Government due to the circumstances surrounding the invasion of Kuwait.

    I feel very sorry for the people of Afghanistan and any one else who are caught between foreign screw ups and disputes.

  6. @ Dr LG.
    Firstly: Charity begins at home.
    Secondly: Drugs.
    Before a single bomb’s dropped or a single bullet’s ejaculated lets first drop drugs. Good ones.
    No one could harm an other nor beast nor thing while loved up on good E.
    Crying, hugging, singing, fucking, dancing, sharing and helping, certainly, but definitely NOT harming another being. Another delight is discovering there’s a bonus to good E and that is that it’s legendary effects are delightful and enduring. I took good E more than 15 years ago and to this day, when I hear Fat Freddy’s Drop play I swoon as my soulful energy up-shifts from the Kiwi-As mundane to an ecstatic sense of Global Unity .
    [It] should be mandated that any head’s of state who want to proffer war as a solution to differences must first
    spend a week together at, say, Pemuteran in Bali on a diet of LSD and Ecstacy. If war came from that? Then all is lost and we humans, as a species, deserve all we will certainly reign down upon ourselves. For good coin, of course. Aye Boys?
    Fat Freddy’s Drop.
    Live in Postugal.
    Live at Village Underground. London.

  7. A couple more things.
    A grave danger from taking E is over-hydration. ( Drinking too much water.) Over hydration can cause the brain to swell and with nowhere to go you may die.
    Also. You might form unhealthy emotional relationships with people you might not normally have done so with.
    You have been warned! So don’t blame this writer if you come home married to a washing machine.

    • Dear Countryboy
      Thank you for those great tips. I can only really manage the odd G and T. Oh look, it’s nearly Gin O Clock. I already am married to a washing machine. Is polygamy allowed?

  8. The Taliban have clearly well organised and are working to a well prepared plan. However they could not possibly have taken Afghanistan back so quickly and so completely if they did not have the overwhelming support and acceptance of the population. At least the male half of the population.
    I wonder if they have issues with LGBTQ etc over there.
    D J S

    • Actually the ANDF & the ANP were doing quite well at holding the Taliban, until that idiot Trump started to negotiate with the Taliban just before he left office. But what happened after that was quite shocking especially when Biden & it’s Allied Partners started to withdraw as per the Trumps so-called negotiated deal which allowed the Taliban the freedom of movement it didn’t have while the US, it’s Allied & slowly improving AAF AirPower.

      Once the AAF lost its, Advisors, Trainers/ Maintainers, Logistics support due to the withdrawal of the Western enablers. The serviceability rate of the AAF Fixed & Rotary Wing Aircraft fell off a cliff, which was quickly followed by the AAF during theweek or sometime last week went crump as the AAF Logistics & Sustainment System crashed. As the AAF could no longer provide the necessary Close Air Support (CAS) nor could it sustain the outlying ANDF or ANP posts which caused the morale & leadership collapse.

      Thence the old adage that Logistics wins wars, in this case for Afghanistan is can’t be any truer, the West thanks to the stupidity of Trumps negotiations the Afghanistan Government ran out of time to be self sufficient & sustainable.

      COiN Warfare requires time & I mean a very long to time to be successful especially in Afghanistan case where every part & every level of Government has to be rebuilt from the ground up with the West staying in the background to provide another 10yrs of Training, Mentoring, Advising, Maintaining critical assets or offices of Government & in some case leading those offices of Government.

      Unfortunately the Joe Biden administration will get the blame for this shit fight in Afghanistan & not the piss poor negotiation skills of Trumps administration.

      • Fascinating, I was thinking last night that the Taliban might only have been able to take over as far and fast as they have because Trump’s decision gave them the time to build and move their forces. A vacuum invites occupation by whatever takes advantage of it first, and the Force is not always with those who assume they deserve it.

  9. 15 of the 19 September 9-11 hijackers were Saudis and the other 4 were Americans.

    Why was the West in Afghanistan?
    Oh, that’s right. They were trying to win the ‘Hide n Seek’ world championship!

    He was in Pakistan.

    Why was America, NATO and everyone else there?

    • Not sure what the answer is please advise, I was told the USA wanted to control the Opium Trade and get access to the Lithium Deposits ?

      • Hi Hongi Ika ,,,, You will get a lot of different answers and opinions depending on who you ask.

        Opium / Heroine product sky-rocketed during the 20 year war and occupation with Afghanistan becoming a true Narco-State ,,, defined as “(also narco-capitalism or narco-economy) which is a political and economic term applied to countries where all legitimate institutions become penetrated by the power and wealth of the illegal drug trade.

        The skim of some of that money could fund ‘off the books’ projects like Iran / Contra drug running funded usa trained death squads in Nicaragua .

        But for the bigger picture I’d recommend watching “the Shock Doctrine” documentary movie” ,,,

        ,,, and understand this world wide battle for domination continues ,,,,,

        Why Washington Wants Afghanistan by Jared Israel

        “o answer this question, look at any map of Europe and Asia. Consider the immense spread of the former Soviet Union, particularly Russia.

        European Russia is 1,747,112 square miles. That’s between a third and half the landmass of all Europe. Add the Asian part of Russia and you get 6,592,800 sq. mi. That’s equal to most of the US and China combined. More than half of Africa.

        Russia borders Finland in the far West. It borders Turkey and the Balkans in the south. It extends to the edge of Asia in the Far East. It is the rooftop of Mongolia and China.

        Not only is Russia spectacularly large, with incalculable wealth, mostly untapped, but it is the only world-class nuclear power besides the U.S. ”

        “If the U.S. can break-up Russia and the other former Soviet Republics into weak territories, dominated by NATO, Washington would have a free hand to exploit Russia’s great wealth and do whatever it wanted elsewhere without fear of Russian power.”

        “Afghanistan is strategically placed, not only bordering Iran, Pakistan, and even, for a small stretch, China (!) but, most important, sharing borders and a common religion with the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union (SU): Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. These in turn border Kazakhstan, which borders Russia. ”

        “Were Washington to take control of these Republics, NATO would have military bases in the following key areas: the Baltic region; the Balkans and Turkey; and these Republics. This would constitute a noose around Russia’s neck.

        Add to that Washington’s effective domination of the former Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, in the south, and the US would be positioned to launch externally instigated ‘rebellions’ all over Russia. ”

        …. it’s a old article but still holds true ,,, http://emperors-clothes.com/analysis/afghan.htm


        “The United States is currently circling the planet with hundreds of military bases and waging wars which have killed millions and displaced tens of millions just since the turn of this century. Its sanctions and blockades are starving people to death en masse every single day. It works to destroy any nation which disobeys its dictates by toppling their governments via CIA coups, proxy armies, partial and full-scale invasions, and the most egregious number of election interferences in the entire world.”

  10. You got it right, Liz. The Alliance got it right. Helen, not so much. And Anderton lost his reputation among the Left.

    Easy victory destroys all internal opposition. As Hitler found. Eventually the crows come back to roost. The whole of democratic politics is mostly this shit.

    It makes me laugh how we take the 270 years of the industrial revolution as ‘reality’.

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