Are we leaving Afghanistan or not?
Well we’re leaving Afghanistan, it’s just not entirely clear when.
Today Defence Minister John Faulkner has announced changes to our role in Afghanistan that have been made necessary by the withdrawal of Dutch troops in August.
At the same time the Defence Minister gave a qualified timetable for withdrawal between 2012 and 2014, and then assured us that he wasn’t doing that.
With the withdrawal of Dutch troops at the beginning of August Australia’s role will stay much the same, with the Dutch role being taken up by an American led multinational force. You can read more details here.
Faulkner went on to state that in two to four years Australia would “transition security in Oruzgan to the Afghan national Army… our training mission would transition to an overwatch role.”
This appeared to be laying out our timetable for our withdrawal, albeit a rather loose one.
But when asked if this was in fact the case Faulkner quickly made it clear that it wasn’t a timetable for withdrawal.
“I am deliberating not providing a timetable,” he said.
According to Faulkner even the two to four year timetable depended on “the conditions on the ground” and “the position of our partners”. Not minor qualifications.
What we have is a kind of defence version of HR language, an agreement to agree to a withdrawal at some point.
But in setting up a kind of timetable, as weak as it may be, the Government can take some pressure of mounting opposition to the war in Afghanistan in the short term at least.
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