We need to listen to those on the ground in Afghanistan
The ongoing criticism of the Australian Defence Force’s deployed resources in Afghanistan, firstly by the 6 RAR Digger’s email and now also by a senior soldier in Townsville and a recently returned Officer, raise the real issue of the Government’s commitment to the fight.
Has the Government deployed every possible resource needed to achieve the mission?
In response to that now widely publicised email, Defence stated that the Commander on the ground at Deh Rawood had a range of direct and indirect fire assets at his disposal. The Commander chose to use some of those assets and others he did not, for a variety of reasons such as airspace deconfliction.
Those actions aside, I agree with the Government that you always trust the judgement of the Commander on the ground, who in this case was probably an Infantry Captain or Major.
To do otherwise is to act in a purely speculative manner and quite frankly, is not helpful. Simply put, if you weren’t there, don’t second guess what the Commander could or could not have done.
This is not to devalue the comments of the young Digger whose email was plastered across the nation’s newspapers, as he was there.
This soldier wrote to a colleague (who I understand subsequently leaked the email) venting his frustrations based on what he saw on the battlefield.
His view is legitimate, though necessarily narrow as it pertains only to what he saw and what he hoped for, irrespective of what assets were actually available.
The wider question of whether that Infantry Officer at Deh Rawood had all the support possible is the question that deserves discussion, as it goes to the heart of the Government’s commitment, and indeed their rhetoric, about trusting the Commander’s judgement.
The media have focussed on statements made by Defence Minister Smith, who has said that the Government is providing the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) with everything Defence has asked for in order to prosecute the mission in Afghanistan.
However this statement is both misleading and misses the real point, as the Government has made it very clear to CDF that it will not entertain any surge of Australian forces or capability into Afghanistan, and has all but told Defence ‘don’t bother asking for it’.
It is worth noting that the last real capability improvement, the Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (CRAM) system, was only agreed to by the Government after constant pushing from the Opposition and after Private Greg Sher’s tragic death.
The reality is that the Government has created a situation that precludes CDF from asking for additional resources, no matter their importance or necessity. After all, why on earth would you ask for something, let alone risk embarrassing your political masters, if the outcome of any such question is predetermined.
The Minister for Defence’s statement also misses the real point which is: what is the Australian Commander Joint Task Force 633, Major General John Cantwell, really asking for?
After all, if you always trust the judgement of the Commander on the ground, as the Government claims, then surely Major General Cantwell’s assessment of what he needs is critically important.
Despite the Minister for Defence’s efforts to portray the situation in a positive light, the reality is the regular internal Defence briefings, originating from those on the ground, are much more likely to reflect the need for additional resources, additional personnel and increased operational flexibility, rather than feel good motherhood statements.
Unfortunately, all of this invaluable advice from on the ground is falling on the deaf ears of the Labor Government. This is overwhelmingly due to the ALP’s primary desire not to upset their left leaning base that wants all Australian troops out of Afghanistan regardless of the harmful impact such action would have on the war on terrorism and the Afghani population.
Oh how quickly some forget the terrorist attacks in Bali and the foiled terrorist plot to inflict mass causalities at Holsworthy Army Base.
If the Government is serious about achieving the mission in Afghanistan it needs to be serious about deploying the resources needed to win the fight. This will require courage.
Government needs to listen to and respond to the advice of CDF. It needs to remove the artificial personnel cap of 1550 and importantly, it needs to listen and respond to advice given by Australian Commander Joint Task Force 633 as to what extra resources he needs to achieve the mission.
This is called trusting the judgement of the Commander on the Ground.
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