No winners, no losers, in a conflict unlike any other
A major problem with the war in Afghanistan is the completely misleading and misguided notion of winners and losers in the decade-long conflict.
Defence chief General David Hurley, who should know better, was the latest military or political leader to promote this great deceit when he said in the wake of last week’s tragic murder of three diggers that, “If we blink the Taliban wins”.
This statement is insulting to the intelligence of the Australian people and the men and women who are fighting in Afghanistan. The more the brass talk in terms of winning, the greater the fall will potentially be when accounts are finally settled after the coalition departs.
Unlike World War II or Vietnam there can be no overall winner or loser in Afghanistan. There will be some small victories and numerous setbacks, but the idea of winning against a complex insurgency in a country riven with division and corruption and poverty and violence is stupid.
At the end of this long and expensive campaign there will be parts of the country where the Taliban will find it difficult to re-establish a presence. There will be many others where the brutal Islamic fundamentalists will simply move back into place alongside the drug runners and warlords who have traditionally controlled large swathes of the Afghan landmass.
There will never be nationwide democracy in Afghanistan and it will be many years before anything even resembling a corruption-free regime occupies the presidential palace in Kabul. The best we can hope for, as we honour the memory of our 38 fallen (so far) and the hundreds wounded is that our province, Oruzgan, remains under the control of the Afghan government and the troops that we have trained, after we pull out from late 2013.
There are few valid comparisons between the Vietnam War and Afghanistan, but one that does stack up is the situation in Oruzgan Province and Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam. The allies lost the overall war in Vietnam, but Australian forces won their battle in Phuoc Tuy.
In Afghanistan there no doubt that Oruzgan Province is a far more dangerous place to be these days if you belong to or sympathise with the Taliban. Our special-forces troops have killed hundreds of insurgent commanders and bomb makers and the smart ones have fled to neighbouring provinces or Pakistan to bide their time before they attempt a comeback.
That will be the time when our efforts in Oruzgan will be put to the test.
According to Afghan National Army officers such as Commander Jambaz, a scarred, tough-as-teak veteran of the Russian war, the Taliban has definitely fled from the nearby villages around Patrol Base Zafar in the Khas Oruzgan region. The key question is, will they stay away? “They will be defeated if we have the equipment we need to keep them away,” the wily old warrior says.
Jambaz told News Limited that when the Coalition leaves his country, it will be crucial for key force multipliers, such as transport, logistics and air support, to remain in place for some time. “Without that support the Taliban will be back and we may not be able to hold them,” he says.
That is a realistic assessment from a battle-hardened veteran who has no political barrow to push or no interest in “winners or losers”. He simply wants to keep the Taliban out of his area of operations but he knows that without coalition support that will be a difficult task.
As the broader training mission winds down, the Gillard Government will face increasing calls to come clean on what role Australian special-forces will play in the post 2014 ISAF mission. News Limited understands that special-forces operators have been told to expect the mission to continue until at least 2018. That is four-years and at least eight rotations beyond the mentoring mission.
If that is the case then some operators from the SAS and Commandos will have notched up more than a dozen rotations by the time they pull out of Afghanistan. That is a huge workload and a burden that is sure to generate significant problems down the track for taxpayers and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The one caveat on such an extended deployment is a request from the Afghan Government. In the wake of Karzai’s condemnation of Australian troops for killing two men from his tribe, who he says were not insurgents, the request for an extension may not eventuate. That situation will not be helped by Defence Minister Stephen Smith basically labelling the Afghan leader a liar.
“Contrary to suggestions from Afghanistan (Karzai), that partnered operation was authorised in accordance with the normal and usual procedures,” Mr Smith said.
Given that words are bullets and that Afghans are particularly sensitive to being publicly corrected, Karzai will be furious with Smith and Australia. However if Smith was telling the truth and the operation was properly authorised and the dead men do turn out to be insurgent sympathisers then Australians will be entitled to question anything that Karzai says.
Such is the dilemma of Afghanistan where everything is not always as it seems.
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