Australia marched into Afghanistan on the khaki coat-tails of the Americans in 2001 and it now seems we will be walking out ahead of previous schedules.
It will be a well-overdue withdrawal and the electorate’s dissatisfaction with our presence there will have been a factor along with any military appraisal.
It is an unpopular war and one the Gillard Government has been having trouble trying to justify.
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Our biggest wartime horror in a long time. Three diggers and their Afghan interpreter were killed and seven other Aussie troops wounded when an Afghan army ally turned his weapon on them.
This was not the first time that an Afghan colleague attacked Australian soldiers this year and nor was it the last. Lance Corporal Andrew Jones was killed by an Afghan soldier as he came out of his base accommodation in May. And just last month three diggers and two Afghans were wounded when an Afghan soldier opened fire from a guard tower with an automatic weapon and grenade launcher.
What happened next
A serious erosion of trust between Australian troops and their Afghan allies.
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Writer, comedian and Can of Worms reporter Dan Ilic visited Aussie diggers in Afghanistan last month to perform a series of comedy shows. He writes about his time in Tarin Kowt in this second part of a two-part report. Read the first part here.
The next stop on the trip was the Australian stronghold of Tarin Kowt.
We flew there on an Australian Chinook, a large transport helicopter that can fit about 40 soldiers and gear. This was an amazing journey. Flying tactically, we buzzed across the Afghan terrain only about a hundred metres off the ground, hugging the valleys and mountains for cover.
In the back of my head I knew that only a few weeks before an American Chinook got shot down carrying 30 Special Forces troops. But somehow this was suppressed by the sheer excitement of being in a big loud flying machine.
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From working with U.S forces in Afghanistan, many Commanders observed how Afghanistan had become a politically correct war.
Ralph Peters hit the nail on the head in his 2006 New York Post article when he observed that it is hard enough to bear the timidity of our civilian leaders - anxious to start wars but without the guts to finish them - but now military leaders have fallen prey to political correctness.
Unwilling to accept that war is, by its nature, a savage act and that defeat is immoral, influential officers are arguing for a kinder, gentler approach to our enemies.
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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.
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With the beginning of a parliamentary debate into the war in Afghanistan this week, the more localised conflict between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott of trips to the warzone came to a periodic truce.
But the outbreak of the highly politicised PR war between the leaders over who was supporting the troops in Afghanistan more does bring us to an interesting question: what is the point of politicians hanging in war zones?
Earlier in the week the Greens Senator Bob Brown was asked by the 7:30 Report’s Kerry O’Brien why, as the leader of a party pushing for troop withdrawal from the war, he had not visited Afghanistan.
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It is fair to say that there is a growing sense of unease in Australia about our commitment in Afghanistan. Twenty-one Australian soldiers have now died.
The latest casualty, Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney, was laid to rest just nine days ago. Five hours after his burial his widow Beckie gave birth to their second child.
Beckie’s friend, Courier Mail journalist Jane Fynes-Clinton, wrote a heartfelt but forthright column about the broader meaning of this family’s private tragedy. She argued on behalf of her friend that Australia should honour Jared’s memory by staying the course in Afghanistan.
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