Is the Afghan war in the hands of cowboys?
The timing is a co-incidence but it’s a terrible spectacle nonetheless.
As we’re bringing another three Australian Diggers home in coffins from Afghanistan, and increasing our civilian presence there, the man in charge of the allied military efforts has been dragged back to Washington because of something he said to a Rolling Stone journalist.
I’m not sure who comes out of this looking worse, President Obama or his General Stanley McChrystal.
Much is being read into a couple of lines in the feature piece, in which McChrystal and his staff made some seemingly benign but inappropriate comments about the President and his Vice President Joe Biden.
The author of the piece, Michael Hastings, says McChrystal and his team were sending a message to Obama that “there are serious sceptics [about the war] in the highest levels of his staff”.
If that’s true, we deserve to know what has prompted that scepticism.
McChrystal is the commander of the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] in Afghanistan.
Tim Alpin, Scott Palmer and Benjamin Chuck were killed when an ISAF chopper went down on Monday as they were on their way to battle in Northern Kandahar. Seven other Australians were injured, two of them very seriously.
The commandos’ deaths, taking the Australian toll to 16, have prompted more than the usual amount of debate over our role in a war, which has now dragged on into its tenth year.
The fact McChrystal is now 11,000 kms away from the front line fighting for his job in the Oval Office makes you wonder if the war in Afghanistan is out of control.
In the US it’s being interpreted as a sign the ISAF force is on shaky ground.
The Washington Post says there is “growing scepticism in Congress and among the American public.”
Both sides of the Australian parliament maintain support for the Afghan mission, citing the loss of Australian lives in terror attacks this century as more than enough justification for our continued presence there.
Certainly there is a strong argument that to walk away now would effectively hand the country over to terrorists. The same terrorists who trained the perpetrators of the Bali bombings and September 11.
Defence Minister John Faulkner yesterday said our military presence of 1550 troops in Afghanistan would remain unchanged when the Dutch pull out of Oruzgan province, where they have had command, in August.
Senator Faulkner said he anticipated the new arrangements, with a multi-national military team called Combined Team Oruzgan, would remain in place for 2 to 4 years, until it could “transition security in Oruzgan to the Afghan National Army.”
But he qualified that statement by saying the time frame depended on a number of factors, including the situation on the ground at the position of our partners in Combined Team Oruzgan.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said our civilian presence would be increased to 50 in total, including an Australian civilian head of the new Oruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team.
But in The Australian yesterday former executive director of the Australian Defence Association Michael O’Connor argued we just can’t win a war in Afghanistan because of “the religious factor”.
“The only credible solution to the mess is withdrawal. The clever people who constructed the case for intervention are equally capable of constructing a credible case for withdrawal.”
What would be excellent would be if we got to hear McCrystal’s assessment of the mission. Not in a coded jibe at his boss in Rolling Stone, but in a clear and concise manner.
The Australian Diggers already there, and the ones that may end up joining them, deserve to know they’re not fighting a losing battle.
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