Afghanistan is one of many challenges for 2011
Afghanistan, an uncertain world, and regional instability will make 2011 a challenging year for the Australian Defence Force.
The campaign in Afghanistan will dominate the military landscape this year as Australia and the other 44 nations involved in the International Assistance Force (ISAF) struggle to develop a workable exit strategy for the eight-year conflict.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has flagged a further decade-long involvement for Australian troops, but such a commitment will become increasingly difficult to justify as casualties mount during the coming fighting season. Pressure will build for a complete withdrawal once the training role is complete in Oruzgan Province (about 2014) where most of the 1550 Australians are working.
More than 50 per cent of voters now oppose the deployment and that number will grow as the year progresses.
As the US-led coalition struggles to gain momentum in Afghanistan, neighbouring Pakistan will become more crucial in the broader campaign against terrorism during 2011.
The Taliban has shifted its focus to the restive north-west of the country and militant Islamist elements continue to exert strong influence inside the country’s military and security services.
Coalition unmanned combat aerial vehicles conduct almost daily strike missions inside Pakistan to try and destroy al-Qaeda’s leadership, but the risk of civilian casualties will remain high. Every dead civilian marks a major setback in the poor communities where the militants recruit their fighters.
The big fear in Washington and Canberra will remain Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of the militants. Any move in that direction would be met with maximum force from the US and its allies including Australia.
Maximum force is also on the agenda for nearby Iran which continues to stir the radical Islamist pot throughout the Middle East. The Iranian regime is hell bent on achieving a nuclear capability and the US is equally committed to preventing such an outcome. With nuclear-armed Israel standing by with its own version of ``maximum force’’ ready to fly against Tehran, Iran’s nuclear ambitions will feature prominently during 2011.
Further east on the Korean Peninsula nuclear war will remain a distinct possibility until the bizarre North Korean regime emerges from the shadows. Sabre rattling across the demilitarised zone intensified late last year and there is no reason to believe things will stabilise any time soon although the North’s announcement this week that it wants to re-join peace talks is a positive sign.
The big challenge in Korea will be avoiding mistakes that could tip the balance to all out war. If that happened then the US would back the South and under the ANZUS Treaty Australia would follow suit.
As the economic relationship between China and Taiwan deepens the likelihood of conflict will continue to wane.
Money talks and Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are acutely aware that peace and stability bring profits and prosperity. Beijing will continue to covet Taiwan as part of the greater China, but the Chinese are patient and will hopefully continue to allow economics rather than guns to dictate events in the medium term.
Minor Islamic insurgencies across the region will play a role in Australia’s 2011 security agenda. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia, Muslim separatists in southern Thailand and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines will remain a thorn in the side of security planners in Canberra and a threat to Australian travellers.
Thanks to the efforts of Indonesian and Australian Federal Police the threat from JI has reduced, but the fanatics are still there and will be planning new attacks against decadent westerners.
China’s influence will continue to rise across the Pacific islands as Beijing attempts to buy friends with soft loans and generous aid programs in tiny struggling nations beset with depleted fish stocks and dwindling rainforests that are most at risk from climate change.
Fiji could become Australia’s biggest regional security headache in 2011.
The Australian Defence Force will continue to plan and train for a military evacuation of the thousands of Australians who work and holiday in the troubled country struggling under the weight of a bungling military dictatorship led by Australian trained Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
Back in Canberra cost cutting will remain the focus for the admirals, generals, air marshals and defence and national security mandarins this year.
There will be a new chief of defence in mid-year when Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston retires after two terms in the top job.
His replacement is likely to be the vice-chief Lieutenant General David Hurley and the rumour mill is rife with the possibility of new chiefs for the navy and army as well.
Afghanistan will be the headline issue for the ADF this year but there are plenty of other challenges looming.
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