Stephen Farrell is coming in for a lot of criticism. But let us start by remembering what he was doing. He was investigating a bombing by the United States, in co-operation with Germany, which killed at least seventy Afghans, over fifty of them non-combatants. The government would love all journalists to be “embedded” with the military, giving out messages like the pure state propaganda on BBC News today from a female reporter who concluded that the British troops were making excellent progress in winning hearts and minds, but needed many more years in Afghanistan to do so.
If any truth is ever to break through, it needs brave men and women like Farrell to go out and get the truth. He should not be condemned.
Today it is credibly reported that the military hostage rescue was not in fact necessary as the Afghans were close to a negotiated release. That may be true. However I understand from FCO sources which I trust that the military option was taken in genuine good faith. It was thought there was one last moment to rescue Farrell before he might be taken beyond reach.
It is not possible now to tell what would have been the outcome otherwise. But I do not believe the military option was taken from nefarious motives.
There remains the moral dilemma of whether rescuing Farrell was worth the British soldier, Afghan interpreter and Afghan civilians who were shot. It seems likely that all the Afghan casualties, including the interpreter and woman, were killed by the British soldiers. Whether the British soldier also died from “Friendly fire” remains to be seen.
I am tempted to say that the solution to the ethical dilemma is for journalists entering dangerous areas to inform their governments that they do not wish to be rescued militarily if anything goes wrong. But that is not so simple. What is a dangerous area? One thing this incident underlines yet again is that neither the Karzai regime nor NATO has any control on the ground over vast swathes of Afghanistan – indeed probably in 80% of the land area “Government” writ does not run.
But it is our responsibility as part of the coalition. We chose to be an occupying power. That gives us responsibility to maintain law and order in the land we occupied. Those in Afghanistan – Afghan or foreign – have every right to expect the occupying powers to fulfil their duty. If we don’t want to, we should leave.
If we have bit off more than we can chew, that is not Stephen Farrell’s fault, He is only trying to report the fact.