Gillard deserves the benefit of the doubt on Afghanistan
Here’s some of what the Prime Minister Julia Gillard told the Parliament on October 19 this year (you can read her whole speech starting on page 692 here):
To ensure the new international strategy can be delivered, last December the United States committed to a military and civilian surge in Afghanistan. The elements of this surge are now reaching full strength. Once fully deployed, this will take coalition force numbers to roughly 140,000. US forces on the ground have tripled since early 2009. The total force now has the resources required to deliver a comprehensive international strategy focused on counterinsurgency and designed to deliver transition.
Earlier this year we took over leadership of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Uruzgan to spearhead our civilian efforts, and increased our civilian commitment to Afghanistan by 50 per cent.
Over the past 12 months the government has announced more than $1.1 billion for additional force protection measures for Australian personnel. This includes upgraded body armour and rocket, artillery and mortar protection.
The Afghan National Army reached its October 2010 growth objective of 134,000 ahead of schedule, and the Afghan National Police is also ahead of its October 2010 goal of 109,000. The Afghan National Army is becoming increasingly capable and supporting coalition operations more effectively. Nearly 85 per cent of the army is now fully partnered with ISAF forces for operations in the field. Afghan forces are now in the lead in Kabul.
Our Mentoring Task Force is training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan national army. The 4th Brigade, as our commanders on the ground told me during my visit, is proving to be an increasingly professional force, fighting better and becoming more capable at conducting complex operations. The brigade’s recent efforts in successfully completing a series of resupply missions between Tarin Kot and Kandahar has demonstrated improving capability. Since late last year, they have moved from observing and participating, to planning and leading these activities. The brigade also recently provided security for parliamentary elections in the province.
We should be realistic about the situation. Progress, even in security, is highly variable across the province. Any gains come off a low base. Any advances made are fragile. The challenges that face Uruzgan, and Afghanistan, are immense.
And the part that shocked overseas observers for its frankness:
Australia will not abandon Afghanistan but we must be very realistic about the future. Transition will take some years. We will be engaged through this decade at least.
There was really nothing in Gillard’s speech at the commencement of the Parliamentary debate on our commitment in Afghanistan that is significantly undermined by the views expressed by Kevin Rudd and Ric Smith in the latest round of Wikileaks cables published this morning.
Those cables, in which Rudd is recorded as having said the Afghan war “scares the hell out of me” were likely an accurate assessment of the situation at the time. The “scared as hell” cable was October 2009, and other cables referred to were from the end of last year. Gillard acknowledged in her speech, the Coalition efforts in Afghanistan were not properly resourced until 2009.
It’s tempting to slam the Government for hiding it’s true assessment of our mission in Afghanistan (before the parliamentary debate The Punch did that many times), but Gillard’s October speech diminished the impact of that charge.
I think we can all agree with Rudd, Afghanistan is as scary as hell, and now no-one is pretending otherwise.
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