Reflections on Afghanistan

The Revd Andrew McMullon is a Chaplain in the Diocese in Europe.  He completed several tours of duty serving as an RAF Padre in Afghanistan, and has offered this personal perspective. His piece is published here as a guest contribution to my blog:

I’ve been asked many times over the last few weeks what I think about the terrible situation unfolding in Afghanistan and to be perfectly honest I have struggled to put my feelings into words. As an RAF Padre I served in Afghanistan three times, in Kabul in 2002 and in 2012, and in Kandahar in 2006. I also served at the HQ for Afghanistan and Iraq air operations in Qatar in 2009. Furthermore, as Chaplain at RAF Brize Norton I was regularly involved in the flights to bring wounded and killed soldiers back to the UK, seeing first hand the cost and sacrifice involved in these operations. All that adds up to a lot of involvement and concern for Afghanistan, the Armed Forces personnel deployed there and Afghans themselves, for over a decade.

Whatever anyone thinks about the reasons why we were involved in Afghanistan for the last twenty years hardly anyone would have wanted it to end in a defeat like this. Ordinary Afghan families had seen their lives greatly improved, with many freedoms and opportunities now feared lost under renewed Taliban rule. Those ordinary Afghans will now pay an awful price, whether they ‘escaped’ to anxious exile in the West or remain living in fear under Taliban oppression.

Many have asked, ‘Was it worth it?’ Was it worth the time away from home? Was it worth the loss of life? Was it worth the terrible physical injuries borne by the survivors? Was it worth the invisible wounds of Combat Stress and PTSD? Was it worth the price paid by my friends and their families?

These are hard questions – but should be faced, and are always faced after war or conflict.  Rightly so! It would certainly have been better if the campaign, and indeed the retreat, had been run differently – and that is not just said with hindsight. Nevertheless, everyone who made a sacrifice in Afghanistan did so for ordinary Afghan families.  We met so many when out on patrol – and indeed many worked and fought alongside us to help forge a better, more inclusive and tolerant Afghanistan for all its people. Friendships were made. Seeds of hope were sown. As a Christian I remain committed to the conviction that such seeds can flourish and bear fruit – even in the rocky and stony ground they now find themselves in.

I continue to follow the news from Afghanistan. I pray for ordinary Afghans, and their leaders. The pain and suffering of this people in their beautiful land continues – but hope abides and we must continue to do what we can to see it realised.

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