Should Stephen Farrell Have Been Rescued 17


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.


17 thoughts on “Should Stephen Farrell Have Been Rescued

  • writerman

    Dear Craig,

    It’s nice to have you back once more. I regard blogging as similar to keeping a diary, except that it’s meant to be read by strangers.

    I agree with everything you write in relation to this, rather violent, rescue mission. Yet I wonder about the concept of proportionality, if one should apply it here as well? What about the cost in lives of this rescue? How many casualities/fatalities are acceptable in order to rescue a hostage? Or, are some lives, simply ‘worth’ more than others?

  • George Laird

    Dear Craig

    I take a slightly different view.

    70 people lost their lives by military action by the west in the tankers strike.

    That blame game is on-going between the US and Germany.

    Farrell must have known that the Afghans would be keen to get any westerner to punish.

    His actions caused a lot of people to die because there is no gentleman’s agreements or understanding.

    It is one thing to risk your own bacon, it’s another to risk others as well.

    Should he have been rescued, yes, but he should have had the wisdom not to have gotten himself into that position in the first place.

    He isn’t brave.

    My first reaction would be to say to him;

    Do you know a lot of people are dead because you, you stupid bastard!

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • Dodoze

    Witnessing the uneasy shuffling of responsibilities on Brown’s part today, I recalled Jon Snow interviewing an ex-SAS person on the Farrell rescue (Channel 4 Seven O Clock News: Wednesday 9th September.

    Snow: Gordon Brown is said to have personally authorized this. Do you think he did it to claim credit?

    Ex-SAS unauthorised spokesman (dryly): The SAS wouldn’t give Gordon Brown credit for anything.

    End of interview.

  • dreoilin

    Said “Ex-SAS unauthorised spokesman” also said that journalists travelling around with the military were ‘no problem’, they could go out on patrols with the military, show the work they are doing, and “we can look after them” (or words to that affect).

    Sure, and then we only get the military’s side of everything. If there are no war correspondents on the ground who are free of the military, we’ll never get the full story on anything.

  • ingo

    I agree with george’s sentiments, the journalist was alittle eager to scoop this story, in the only fashion he knows best,i.e.immediately.

    The problem with anybody joining a fighting unit, embedded or not, royal soldiers or the occaisonal politicians is that they are like an extra bit of kit, you have to watch them at all times.

    They have no millitary training in most cases, have rarely been under fire and have no experience on how to behave when being rescued.

    The confusion of such an action makes friendly fire a distinct possibility.

    Afghanistan will now see an underswell of tit for tat actions, false flagging events with the usual accusations pointing at the opposition, to the extent that Afghanistan will fall back into a civil war.

    The elction was a farce and should have never been carried out without close supervision, the UN had 30.000 helpers in Cambodia, so why not here?

    This incident has answered my rethorical question, Afghanistan was never ready for these elections, despite postponing it to the autumn date, it has set the country back, not forward on a democratic path.

    The resulting instability suits us, it creates the right conditions for usurping and manipulating resources, population and Government.

    I fear that ambassador Holbrooke’s cagey game play has nothing to do with peace for the Afghans, US preferences for Abdullah Abdullah is palpable, hence the one sided aquisations over Karzais vote rigging, something Abdullah would have indulged in as well.

    The media which weighs up the risks of reporting these incidents to inform us, should be prepared to suffer the same consequences than the soldiers in the field.

    That this risk is understood is our responsibility. I would have not rescued Farrell, unless, off course, he was privvy to other information, unless he was important for other reasons.

    Which journalist is reporting on the massive drug labs of Dostum and Walid Karzai? Is that not an important story when 90% of Afghan heroin floods the globe? who is investigating the transit routes and exit points, who is exposing the ‘helpers’ and the yes men in both Governments?

    NATO members are letting it happen and most likely embargoed the media from reporting on these matters, its just too lucrative for all involved, my guess.

    All we get are messages like this, falsehoods and mis directions, imho, the vast amoui8nt of drugtrade is done by Minsters in the Afghan Government, my reaqson why Abdullah Abdullah is more acceptable.

  • Wwillie

    It has been reported that the Taliban are requesting an official enquiry into events concerning the deaths of 70 people after the missile strike on the stolen tankers.

    Why are we even contemplating this ? After murdering the tanker drivers and thier assistants, the taliban proceeded to take the tankers accross a river, but one got stuck on the bank. What the hell did they think was going to happen ? NATO would politely ask for them back ??

    The taliban are the BAD GUYS people..wake up and smell the napalm !

  • dreoilin

    “Do you know a lot of people are dead because you, you stupid bastard!”

    George, I would not like to be in his shoes right now, with 4+ people dead on my account. But I still make the point that if we are left to rely on embedded journalists (which became almost the norm since Iraq, it seems) we’ll never know the full truth.

    Especially about e.g. the likes of Gaza, where the Israelis kept everyone out, and then proceeded to commit vicious crimes. IF I considered myself a ‘war reporter’, I’d have done everything possible to get in there. But not expected to be rescued by anyone.

    Do we not have any precedents for this discussion? From WWII and say, Vietnam?

  • lwtc247

    I don’t believe the BS about his life was in peril unless he was a spy. The Afghan resistance are not stupid, and they don’t murder on a whim. Pot calls the kettle black. HAve a chat with Yvonne Ridley

    Craig, ever thought your FCO source is deliberately being fed BS?? Do you think people don’t know of your liason?

  • lwtc247

    And we don’t have a “responsibility to maintain law and order in the land we occupied.”

    ‘We’ have the responsibility to get the hell out!

  • dreoilin

    Interesting snippet:

    “The New York Times was caught entirely by surprise by the rescue mission.

    “The newspaper had asked British officials to use force only as “a last resort,” according to sources close to the negotiations. However, British officials made it clear to the newspaper straight after Farrell and Munadi were kidnapped that their policy was to carry out raids when they deem fit. The US government seeks consent from the next of kin first.”

    http://tinyurl.com/nc6zl7 (Guardian)

  • Chris Dooley

    ‘We have the responsiblity to get the hell out!’

    but who would protect the proposed US oil pipeline then ?

    The head of UK forces recons we need to be in Afghanistan for 30-40 years.

    Estimated time before all major oil sources are run dry… 30-40 years

    Coincidence ? , maybe

  • Clark

    Craig has previously posted that US/NATO policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan looks suspiciously like provocation and destabilization. Maybe rescuing a journalist is just another convenient excuse for more of the same, and will help to build the case that all journalists should be “Embedded”.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    I agree with Craig – the journalist was risking his life to try and get us the facts about the air strike, so it seems a bit unfair to criticise him for miscalculating. Nor was it his fault that his Afghan colleague was killed in the NATO raid.

    If it’s true that negotiations for his release were going well then its NATO’s fault if anyone’s.

    dreolin wrote “if we are left to rely on embedded journalists (which became almost the norm since Iraq, it seems) we’ll never know the full truth.”

    Exactly.

    Coalition forces in Iraq even targeted journalists who werent embedded quite deliberately (e.g the shelling of the Palestine Hotel), so non-embedded journalists should be praised, not criticised.

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