Jayne Dowle: Why are these brave boys fighting and dying on a dusty road in Afghanistan?

IT is their age that hits you most. And those television interviews really brought it home. Seeing the parents of the Yorkshire soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan affected me very much.

When I watched them being interviewed, and speaking so bravely, I realised that these mothers and fathers are pretty much my contemporaries. How does anybody find the strength to put themselves in front of the camera in such a state of grief?

I have plenty of friends in their 40s whose sons and daughters are now in their late teens and early 20s. Indeed, I have several friends from school who have sons fighting with the British Army in Afghanistan right now.

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I saw their supportive comments to each other on Facebook last week. What could I add? My own lad is only nine, safe in his bed every night. It made me realise that if you want a measure of when you have finally grown up, it is when your child is putting his life on the line for his country.

So when I saw those parents speaking so movingly about the children they had lost without even a chance to say goodbye, it really brought it home to me. Any one of those five youngest soldiers, aged from 19 to 21, could so easily have been my son.

Jack is 10 this summer, turning now from a little boy into a young man. It is not difficult at all to imagine him at 19, like Private Christopher Kershaw, the youngest soldier who died when the Warrior armoured vehicle he was travelling in was blown up by a massive improvised explosive device.

Private Kershaw, from Bradford, was described by his regiment as a “true Yorkshire warrior”. And of course, an already tragic event is made even more poignant by the fact that five of the soldiers were serving with the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, and four of them were Yorkshire lads, with both Private Daniel Wilford, 21, and Private Anthony Frampton, 20, from Huddersfield, and Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, from Dewsbury.

For the older generations, especially, this unhappy coincidence was an awful reminder of past wars when “bands of brothers” joined up together from the same place, fought together, and all too often, died together.

As a mother then, it hits you twice. Not only do you think about the immediate personal grief that those other parents must be experiencing, but you also think about the wider significance; the sudden transformation of your lad, the lad you brought up, the lad you saw through school, the lad who told you not to worry when he went off to war… and now you have to watch the lad you have lost for ever being turned into a metaphor for something much bigger than himself.

And that is? Well, the obvious answer is that our soldiers, of whatever age, should not be dying on a dusty road in the middle of Afghanistan.

The loss of six men at once underlines the terrible sense of pointlessness. But here we have the crux; to argue that all troops should come home now, and leave the Afghan government to sort out its own problems, could be seen as a sign of failure, and of disrespect to the 404 British forces who have died in that country since 2001.

It can’t be right that they all died in vain, the argument goes. Comrades of the fallen soldiers say that they must carry on to finish off the job their mates started.

But then, what will it achieve in the end? Our stated aim is to train up the Afghanistani security forces so that they can maintain peace and order in their own country. Realistically though, how much chance is there of that happening?

The Prime Minister has said that British troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014. Why wait? Why should British lives be sacrificed in what is essentially a civil war? Losing face would be better than losing more lives. Why should any other mother have to sit in front of a television camera with tears rolling down her face, trying to make sense of a battle in a far-off land that is nothing to do with her?

But, as well as the dignity and the bravery of the parents, there is something else that I won’t forget about the television coverage. A news reporter in Huddersfield commentated that “these towns across Northern England have become the recruiting grounds for the British Army”.

When we are remembering these fallen soldiers, let us not forget that either.

Some, like Jake Hartley, who held the ambition to join the army from being a boy, make the decision out of a sense of vocation. But how many do it because they can see no other meaningful career in the kind of town where the alternative is join the ranks of Neets?

When David Cameron and his ministers and advisers are thinking about how to justify our continued presence in a country where we seem to be achieving nothing except loss, perhaps he would like to spare a thought for his own country too.