Afghanistan, an uncertain world, and regional instability will make 2011 a challenging year for the Australian Defence Force.
Troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Pic: Defence

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.

Most commented


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    • Against the Man says:

      05:49am | 08/01/11

      Remember a few days ago there was a Punch article ’ Has Gillard (finally) struck on a winning policy?’ ?It highlighted that our ‘fantastic’ PM/exdeputy PM who has been on the scene for the last 4 years hasn’t achieved anything. Now are we to expect the puppet Gillard government to take a positive leadship role with regards to Afghanistan? Good luck, watch as Australia sinks further under this incompetent group of yahoos. New elections now! Game has been over for Gillard for a few weeks now.

    • Gregg says:

      09:37am | 08/01/11

      WoW Ian and that’s not short for Words of War or Wars of the World but really mate you have writen much the same for the past few years and no doubt in about a years time you may even be able to write well that was 2011, get out this piece, change 2011 to 2012 and away you go again.

      The elephant in the room of course, something of a common denominator in all this is our tagalong leader and how they will fare and fear economically.

      If you really believe
      ” Fiji could become Australia’s biggest regional security headache in 2011. ” , are you going to do a Wars Black Humour novel called Gillardins Mums Army and she might even read it and draw from it for policy making about Gillardins Island.

      And back to that elephant, if you think the Taliban being pressured in their own country is creating seepage into Pakistan you ought to have a thought about what any Maximum force will do.
      Shock and Awe may have just been the fiasco it was with most direct impact for the Iraqis and also acting as something of a magnet to focus forces against the US to the extent it has been a landscape of Deals and No Deals with no real solution but the Elephant and its calf ought to consider just how more focused forces across the planet will be with a strike of any magnitude against Iran and they probably are and hopefully it is that which for the sake of us all will see some sanity prevail.

      Meanwhile, Gillard would not have a clue and if ever there was a throw away line it was the decade one.

    • Agaiint the grain says:

      09:58am | 08/01/11

      A puppet Abbott government would be far worse, dragging the nation to the extreme right.
      What makes you think Abbott and his incompetent group of yahoos would do any better?

    • john says:

      12:49pm | 08/01/11

      Depends which nut-jobs you prefer to run the country, the communist left revival with hammer and sickle or the fascist right with a new look logo nazi swat stickers?
      You could sit on the fence with the brady bunch party & choose the media friendly happy go luck of the Irish greens, with lots of gay rainbows and imaginary pot of gold at the end of it?
      Or perhaps the independents are more to your liking that come gift wrapped with a truck load full of steak knives to hand out to their constituents while they looking the other way?
      You could do what someone like Pauline Hanson did, and start up your own party if you have a bee in your bonnet. You will then be inducted into the hall of fame of political nut jobs!

    • rick says:

      05:11pm | 08/01/11

      They would be much worse.  The only person who can save us is Rudd.  Give him back his rightful position now.

    • john says:

      09:09pm | 08/01/11

      @rick…To use Rudd’s own words, specificity of perspicacity blubbered gobbledy gook….The day he tried and failed to be the global hero at the ill-fated Copenhagen climate change summit it was all down hill from there, just like the Titanic epic he went down with that ship, and the public romance of the Australian labor party with it, just like the movie the titanic. Gillard is just the rescue ship Carpathia for the wealthy first class survivors of the labor party faithful, as the middle & lower classes froze to death in the cold icy waters in the Atlantic waiting to be rescued, we all know what happened to the Carpathia in WW 1.

      @Rick, wanna raise the titanic?...she’s all yours! IMHO its best left as a divers curiosity.

    • rick says:

      10:28am | 09/01/11

      John it’s common knowledge that the US destroyed the Labour Govt under Rudd and Gillard fell for it because she’s stupid.  If you want to be a good slave that’s up to you but I for one would rather be free and have Australia determine our own present and indeed future.  Watch the world change before your eyes.  If you want to you can go and live in America, we won’t stop you but don’t think that we are as stupid as you want us to be, you might get a surprise.

    • Boni says:

      11:20am | 09/01/11

      Puppet Abbott government? Are you crazy or something? Gillard is a puppet government with the US, Greens, Independents and Faceless Men pulling her strings! It is silly posters like you that show the world why ALP voters have a low IQ!

    • john says:

      11:22pm | 09/01/11

      @rick, we all give Fellatio to the US, whether you like it or not. Some just like it others don’t.

    • rick says:

      04:31pm | 10/01/11

      Use your teeth more John, I sharpen mine.

    • stephen says:

      12:06pm | 08/01/11

      Barack Obama should try and interest Russia again, with Afghanistan.
      I think they, in any case, will, and should, have a much more important presence in Central and Eastern Asia.

    • marley says:

      11:36am | 09/01/11

      The Russians are about as popular in Central Asia as the Chinese are in Tibet.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      01:07pm | 08/01/11

      Yes, the Afghanistan War will be a challenge in 2011. It is not easy to blow 1.2 billion dollars a year on a futile war and have nothing to show for it….

    • Ken says:

      11:20am | 09/01/11

      Couldn’t agree more Shane - there is nothing to win nd no way to win it. The Taliban fight because we are there….we fight because they are fighting us. Utterly pointless and the longer we are there the more resentment is building against what is increasingly seen as an occupation force.

    • Sir Ronald Bradnam says:

      05:50pm | 09/01/11

      couldnt agree more we need to get out, right back to genghis khan no one has been able to defeat the mujahadeen. The coalalition of the blind followers started a war with two countries based on 18 saudi arabians and one eygptian who had never been to iraq and cant be proved were ever in afghanistan, flying some planes into american targets.
      The russians left with their tails between their legs and the same is in store for us, do we leave now or do we want to lose another 60-70 aussie troops over the next 10 years.

    • Sam says:

      12:41pm | 11/01/11

      Sorry guys, but obviously you have no idea how dangerous the situation in Pakistan is.

      Radical Islam (in Pakistan)
      Nuclear Weapons (in Pakistan)
      The End Of Days (wherever the wind blows the nuclear fallout)

      I say forget bringing democracy to the Middle East, just occupy it forever. The days of soverign governments are numbered.

    • rick says:

      02:54pm | 11/01/11

      “end of days”, “just occupy it forever”  Sam you’re a ........ fill in the blank.

      I wonder if we were to just look after our own backyards, by this I mean our own backyard - not our neighbors land which we covet, maybe, just maybe, people wouldn’t want to kill you. 

      Then we’d have more time and resources to clean up our own society by locking up all warmongers and baby killers etc. 

      Just because you’ve de-personalised the “enemy”, that doesn’t make you innocent for your crimes, just stupid.  And a target.  I object most strongly to the fact that we, as your neighbors, will suffer as “collateral damage” when you are targeted for your crimes of occupation, murder, theft etc.  And you are certainly guilty of that.  Not only because you are paying for it with your taxes, but also because you are supporting and encouraging it with your words.

    • kerrie o'rourke says:

      01:57pm | 08/01/11

      Australia should get out of Afghanistan and every USA war Immediately.

    • kerrie o'rourke says:

      02:02pm | 08/01/11

      the 2011 challenge in Afghanistan is simple.
      Australia should get out of Afghanistan and all other USA manufactured wars as soon as possible.
      Stop wasting Australian resources, time, attention, effort ,energy and propaganda on USA wars right now.
      USA is just a third world superpower banana republic and Australia shouldn’t join USA into poverty,bankruptcy, and propaganda.

    • TCB 24 X 7 says:

      02:24am | 09/01/11

      You are are ungratefull to the U.S.A.
      Did you not forget they stopped the Japanese invading Aust. Could you imagine if that did occurr, the atrocities the japs would have committed on Aust civilians, Kerrie you may have never been born.

      Support the U.S.A they are a good friend to have in this region.
      I see the Chinese are building up their military capabilities.Shit if they can massacare their own citizens, remember Tianamen square, definately wont think twice about you.
      No Aust. Govt will ever support your views.

    • Dumber than a rock says:

      10:31am | 09/01/11

      You have no idea of history and the darkness in the world.
      the USA are the good guys. What are you 12?

    • PaulB says:

      11:01am | 09/01/11

      DTAR you really are your name.  If you think today’s USA is the same one we went to World War 2 with then you’ve clearly had your back turned for the last ten years.  Stick to reading The Australian.  You’ll find only what you wish to believe in there.

    • rick says:

      11:06am | 09/01/11

      Wow looks like we’ve got some true believers here, TCB and Dumber than a rock.  Name says it all really.

    • WayneT says:

      11:28am | 09/01/11

      Here in Australia when your mate makes a mistake we generally stand by them.  The US is no different; we have to support the USA.  Imagine for a moment that you woke up one day and there was no more American Superpower.  The Chinese or Indonesians would surely invade us.  They have been building up their forces and eyeing our resources for a very long time now.  And don’t think that the UN or Europe would come to our rescue.  They have been through two world wars thank you very much.  South Korea will be forced to reunify with North Korea.  Say goodbye to Taiwan.  After the invaders tactical nuke Canberra of all the bureaucrats the rest of the country will just capitulate.  Our oil and gas fields, mineral resources will all fall under their control.  We will all be forced onto the land to help produce the crops that will be needed to feed not only their growing millions but also what’s left of our country.  Don’t think it could happen?

    • Howard Hunt O'Rourke says:

      01:14pm | 09/01/11

      As usual, Kerrie O’Rourke is 100% correct.

      Australia should be an Australian Republic with a new flag.

      Japan and china now own Australia.

      Libs Voters own nothing but insanity, ignorance, and insignificance…

      In the long term USA saved us from nothing and now USA is bankrupt from its endless wars .USA deserves to be a third world superpower banana republic.

      Science, Atheism, and Agnosticism are important subject s.

      Nobody understands history and religion as there are superstitious dumb hocus pocus for uneducated insignificant ciphers fit only for cremation.
      with pop music, Kick Liberal National grandpas and grandmas to the kerb and empty their opinions into the dustbin of history
      History and Religion are obsolete obnoxious irrelevant   rubbish.

      Liberal Party Voters deserve the grave and not a new government.

    • Howard Hunt O'Rourke says:

      01:23pm | 09/01/11

      In both England and Australia, Liberal Party voters are the same.
      They hear nothing, see nothing,  believe anything ,say everything based on nothing, and write everything based on nothing.
      They are dead wood, dead beats and dead wrong.
      If USA and UK are so good, then Liberal Party voters can go and live in these snow countries and leave Australia & Australians alone forever.
      Kerrie O’Rourke is always right. Her detractors are always wrong.

    • TimB says:

      05:13pm | 09/01/11

      Bloody hell Badger. I’m serious. Get some help.

      This is beyond messed up.

    • The Badger says:

      12:01am | 10/01/11

      You are the one that needs help
      which comment do you think was made by me?

    • TheRealDave says:

      11:53am | 10/01/11

      I weep for the state of our edumacation system….

    • Penny says:

      02:55pm | 08/01/11

      Prior to reading your article I thought MILF had a different meaning.  Viz:

    • John A Neve says:

      04:14pm | 08/01/11

      War, not money makes our world go round.
      No wars = increased unemployment, a decline in refugee numbers and time for the people to think about other government stuff-ups.

      Face it, the top 10% make big dollars out of political wars, plus it gives the media some thing to report. The media loves misery.

    • stephen says:

      07:55pm | 08/01/11

      Been awhile, bro.
      Where’ve yer been ?

    • Your name: john says:

      10:50pm | 08/01/11

      @ John A Neve….oh you mean something like Boer war bang, then economic boom, then WW1 bang and 1920’s boom, WW2 bang, 1950’s boom, Vietnam bang, 1970’s-1980’s boom, 1991 Gulf-war bang then boom, 2001/ 911 Iraq war bang, millennium boom, Afghan war pending boom late 2010’s?
      Sounds like bang boom, bang boom, bang boom to me, surely by now we have evolved enough to have economic booms without a war trigger?
      Or Perhaps pepper a few nukes around and setup a Hyper bang boom combination just like the US did in 1945?

    • Chester V says:

      06:40pm | 08/01/11

      Australia has matured and developed enough to go to the next stage and send our convicts offshore as those before us - Afghanistan seems as good a place as any and in 200 years time we will all want to live there..

    • Robert says:

      10:48am | 09/01/11

      TCB 24 X7 - I agree with you 100%

    • Richard M says:

      11:14am | 09/01/11

      Can we please make some attempt to be accurate here.  The PM did NOT flag “a further decade long involvement for Australian troops”.  What she actually said was that the current estimate was that the present task of training the Afghan army and police to take over the work now being done by the Australians would probably take a further 3 or 4 years, but that Australia could expect to continue to be involved in Afghanistan IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER possibly.for a further decade.  Accordingly, on this basis, in 3 or 4 years’ time, our involvement could conceivably be confined to civil aid with little or no military involvement.  It is really important that people who write pontificating articles about such a sensitive issue make very effort to be accurate.  Such distinctions are significant

    • Mark says:

      11:25am | 09/01/11

      I think that we have forgotten what is more important. I dont care how we defend our way of life here. Id much rather be sorting this whole problem out overseas than battling it out in the streets of Australian cities.

      Im not sure if a lot of readers have experienced the way the extremists act and what they believe to be right. Many years ago (early 1990s) I worked in Africa for an NGO. I could see then the slow build up of these organisations. I knew then that this was going to get worse. And it will, much more than we think. Here, It will be from within.

      Our problem in the West is that we have a conscience. We dont like the ugliness. That is understandable however, it will bring us undone. Our laws protect all.

    • TCB 24 X 7 says:

      06:06pm | 09/01/11

      Our way of life should always be defended in Aust and in the rest of the Western world and to all that wish to be part of it should have the same interests at heart.
      Those who wish Australia to have less ties with the U.S.A. do not fully understand the potential consequences this may have in our region.

      That is why no Aust. Govt regardless of who is in power will NEVER break this friendship and support, (economic and financial) with the U.S.A.


    • TheRealDave says:

      11:58am | 10/01/11

      Interesting to note that the author of the piece mentions something you don’t see in the press, that is that the Taliban are shifting operations to the North West of the country. Its significant, and illustrative of how little most people actually know as to what’s going on, due to the fact the Taliban have mostly been fighting across Helmand, Khandahar etc which are all in the south and the focus of various operations and ‘troop surges’. You’d have to say that they have been successful, as advertised, if the Taliban are being forced to ‘focus’ on the NW wouldn’t you?

    • marley says:

      02:03pm | 10/01/11

      If I understood the article, he’s talking about the Taliban shifting its focus from battles in Afghanistan to battles in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.  That’s nothing new - remember the fighting in the Swat Valley a year or so ago?

    • fed up says:

      05:22pm | 10/01/11

      Just to point out a few inconsistent conclusions made…

      “but such a commitment will become increasingly difficult to justify as casualties mount during the coming fighting season”
      Stating the obvious, but no need to promote this event please.

      “Coalition unmanned combat aerial vehicles conduct almost daily strike missions inside Pakistan ”
      Where do you base this assumption from?... daily, i highly doubt.

      “Any move in that direction would be met with maximum force from the US and its allies including Australia.”
      Yeah I doubt any pre emptive “maximum force” could be warranted. i.e invading pakistan in short notice.

      Stop making such misleading conclusions.


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