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War In Afghanistan Then and Now

Con Coughlin and Churchill Descendant Alexander Perkins Discuss

WKP_0954L-R: Con Coughlin, Allen Packwood, Alex PerkinsNew Orleans, 4 April: Con Coughlin, executive foreign editor of the Daily Telegraph and author of Churchill’s First War, sat down with Alexander Perkins, an Afghanistan war veteran and great-grandson of Winston Churchill to discuss similarities between fighting on the northwest frontier of India in the 19th and the 21st centuries. Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives, moderated what proved to be one of the highlights of the 31st International Churchill Conference.

Coughlin explained that Churchill went to the battlefield in 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, as a gung-ho subaltern and saw some of his close friends literally cut to pieces. He learned about the brutality of warfare and this stayed with him the rest of his life. In writing about the campaign, young Churchill criticized the local religious leaders, trained in Wahabism, who incited violence against the British. In that regard, he concluded much the same thing goes on today.

WKP_0989Alex PerkinsAlexander Perkins was a Captain in the Scotts Guards who made two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He explained that the Taliban terrorized the local population mostly at night. Often Taliban leaders induced young men to carry AK-47s and shoot at Coalition forces, usually without success as they had no professional training and rather got the worst of it in such skirmishes. In passing judgment on press coverage of the conflict, Perkins noted that reporters “used their journalistic license to a great extent” and produced “on one occasion a great work of fiction.”

WKP_0977Con Coughlin

Writing of Britain’s imperial wars in the late 19th century, Hilaire Belloc famously intoned, “Remember whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun and they have not.” “The Drone is the Maxim gun of the 21st century,” Coughlin observed. Churchill saw men slaughtered by the Maxim gun, and today’s Coalition forces are witnessing something similar. When asked how to settle the situation, Coughlin reminded the audience that after a decade of struggle in the 1890s, the British negotiated settlements with tribal leaders along the northwest frontier that stood for a century as each side agreed not to antagonize the other. Given that Gen. Petraeus has said there is only a political solution and not a military one, Coughlin wonders if Western leaders have the necessary will to make similar arrangements.

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