Below is an editorial written by Thomas Aallmann Østergaard, a Danish Army chaplain currently stationed in Afghanistan.
It appeared in yesterday’s Jyllands-Posten, and has been translated into English by our indefatigable Danish correspondent TB.
Editorial: Remember to thank the Danish soldiers
By Thomas Østergaard Aallmann, Army Chaplain, ISAF Team 5, Afghanistan
These days, in the southern Afghan Helmand Province, Danish soldiers fight heavy clashes with the Taliban.
ISAF team 5 has been severely tested. Everybody knows that from the MSM. Already now, with one month left, there have been as many engagements and losses as in any earlier teams, and not since 1864 have Danish soldiers fought on a scale like these soldiers do.
It makes a deep impression on all of us.
As an army chaplain for the soldiers during these six months I have witnessed how tensions rise from time to time down here. “The best is always waiting for those who believe — also in front of the door of death.” This credo I have used many times through the last months — to myself and for the soldiers.
Out there life is very simple and action means everything. A few hundred meters from the Taliban, in an everyday life behind five meter high walls made of clay, you find a close fellowship built on matters of life and death. The soldier’s daily patrols, which besides the important contact to the locals also have contributed to confrontations with the Taliban, have endured losses and mutilation of fine Danish men as a result.
The war against the Taliban is a war against a hidden enemy.. He decides the hour, he himself chooses when to step forward, and when to step out of civil life, from the human swarm of Gereshk City or the farmers in the fields along Helmand River. When he wants to fight, the battle opens in a split second — the Danish soldiers have to be ready for this engagement, and they stand ready every day. One can still find dragon-slayers in this world — there are still true heroes.
The fight against the Taliban is not a fight against local peasants. The war in Afghanistan is not a fight against Afghanistan, but for the Afghans. Taliban are hardly Afghans any more — usually they are foreigners who travels thousands of kilometers to go to war against their mythological hereditary enemies: the West and the Christians.
In time the Taliban has become part of this movement which lives to fight the West. A movement which is rooted in Saudi Arabian Wahhabism. An Islamic movement that constitutes 1% of the worlds Muslims but accounts for 90% of the Quran schools that have shot up around the world in recent years (Lawrence Wright: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11).
It sprang up as an autonomous Arabian movement after the First World War — and the capital of strong Western industrialism — had eliminated the influence of Arabian countries and the Ottoman Empire. Ultimately the Taliban became part of this anti-Western movement lead by Al Qaeda.
It was not part of the agenda when Taliban attained power in the brutalized Afghan society which did a nosedive in the vacuum left after ten years of the Soviet military campaign ending in 1989. But when Al Qaeda led by the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri and now Osama Bin Laden, who had been expelled from Saudi Arabia, and settled in Afghanistan with a base in Kandahar, the anti American spirit could unite thereby leading to September 11, 2001.
The rest is history — and our Danish soldiers still write that history these days.
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The local Pashtuns in Afghanistan are tired of the Taliban today. Nowadays the Taliban do not easily recruit among the locals, but often have to force Pashtun farmers and their sons to choose between fighting against ISAF or being executed. The fact that the locals in Helmand now call Taliban ‘the aliens’ says it all.
Usually the Taliban warriors come to the southern provinces of Afghanistan from foreign countries — primarily Pakistan, but also Chechnya if they are not the leftovers of the few clans in the border areas who still have roots going back to the terror regime that Taliban forced upon the Afghan people when they came to power in Afghanistan after the clan wars in the 1990s (Read Hussini’s “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns”). Those Taliban — against whom Danes are now fighting — are seekers of mythological death, dissolute hordes of tramps who are really just looking for a front line where they can fight and die.
The decisive choice in this conflict — the very thing that creates history these days — is the fact that we, by the involvement of the Danish soldiers, have made a decision about where the front of the engagement with these hostiles should be. As our Minister of Defense says, it is better that our professional soldiers fight terrorists in Afghanistan than to have the civilians be confronted with them in the capitals of Europe.. We should remember to thank the soldiers for that.
Let us remind each other that war is evil and peace is good. But also that the soldiers’ burden is to obey orders and fight evil with evil — for the sake of peace. For the sake of the good one asks young men to do evil. And it is not for children — there are heavy decisions to be made — and it is so immensely brave of these Danish men who every day they step outside the door and enter the Green Zone — into the valleys of the shadow of death. No one can take that away from them — no matter how much one disagrees about the way the world of politics is developing these days. Let us remind each other about one thing: peace one can always have — the question is, at what price? Peace one can always have — one just has to duck one’s head.
We are Christians — and that means that we are realistic. We count on the existence of evil. That is, by the way, also what criminal law tells us — if there where no evil speed limits would not be necessary — but since evil is present one gets a fine for speeding faster than 50 in the city, and one just has to look around — evil is part of life.
It is probably not possible to explain why evil exists. It is the price of freedom. We could try to make each other believe that there is no evil in the world, but evil does not disappear because we close our eyes to it and smile intensely. There are still dragons in this world, as in the adventures. Dragons like there have been since the beginning of time. No development can avoid dragons — they follow like the pixies in the old tales — but we can run out of dragon killers; those can be crowded out.
If we pretend that dragons do not exist, and charge the soldier for what he does, or publicly elected officials for sending him to war — by not saying thank you to those who ride out, we will in time put out the fire burning in their chests and of what they live — those who have gotten this job that few would envy, to be knights, the sword-bearers — not in a colorful novel or in a movie, but in this dusty, scalding, and bloody hell.
They are soldiers for us, us who enjoys the fruits of peace back home in pleasant Denmark.
The strong are sent out, off they go for the weak among us, who do not carry arms, being sent out with the means to fight, the means to fight evil with evil. And it is an evil reality — but they take up the fight not because the enjoy evil.
They take up the fight, not because they have the death of their enemy as their passion — no, they take up the fight because they have the peace of a free life as an object for their passion — the Danish soldiers in Helmand fight because they love life, not because they love death.
They fight because they love freedom, peace and those back home, not because they love war and horror. They fight because of their love for their country not of hate.
These soldiers whom I have had the privilege to live among at the front along Afghanistan’s Helmand river in these past six months show an unusual willpower. And they are skilled — they are the few.
It cannot be underlined enough how huge their contribution is. “Freedom isn’t free!”
Support them when the talking swings into politics at the company outing. Support them if you bump into one of them one day. Support them when you cannot remember to whom you owe gratitude for the gift of Denmark. Support your troops! Their fight in war means that their everyday life will never be the same again, and that ours can stay the same — in peace.