When Australian forces leave Afghanistan in the next 12 months it would be morally reprehensible to abandon those Afghans that have risked their lives to support our military and civilian efforts.
Hundreds of interpreters have patrolled and fought bravely with our soldiers, some have instructed in our trade training schools or worked in construction or logistics areas, some in our kitchens. Many of these brave souls have already died, victims of combat where they simply sought to provide language and understanding.
They walked the same dusty tracks and bled the same blood as us, now it’s time to offer them a way to a new home. To leave them and their families behind to the mercy of local forces would be a sad indictment on us as a nation and a betrayal of our history.
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Within the past 24 hours Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been meeting with some of the world’s most recognised misogynists, yet she is thousands of kilometres away from Federal Parliament and Tony Abbott is not in sight.
In a glaring example of hypocrisy, days after playing the political gender-card and lambasting the Federal Opposition Leader in an attack on his so-called ‘attitude towards women’, Prime Minister Gillard has met with people that jail rape victims and uphold laws to oppress women’s rights, without publicly raising the subject at all.
She was in Afghanistan, a nation where Australian leaders have a legitimate right to interfere, because Australians are dying to help them and our taxpayer-provided dollars are funding them. While Australian politicians from both political sides promote our involvement in Afghanistan as bringing freedom to their people, their own government creates a culture of slavery and oppression towards women and we say and do nothing.
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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.
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When Australia joined the United States and other allies in sending forces to Afghanistan in 2001, the aim was crystal clear. It was to remove the Taliban regime which provided a haven for Al Qaeda - the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. That was quickly accomplished.
But after John Howard returned our forces to Afghanistan five years later the objective was far less obvious. In fact, within months of being elected in 2007, the Rudd Labor Government held a meeting with top military brass and strategic planners to ask the blunt question: “What is our mission in Afghanistan?”
The response was vague, apart from the obvious explanation that it was an exercise in “alliance maintenance” - keeping on side with the Americans.
The statement by Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Bob Carr, that the public execution of an Afghan woman by the Taliban is why Australia should continue to commit troops is symptomatic of the confusing strategic policy on Afghanistan.
Our original mission was to destroy al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban regime that harboured them. This was completed at the end of 2001. Minister Carr’s statement indicates a war on cultural and religious barbarism that would take generations of troops to defeat.
While the video posted around the world is horrific, Minister Carr should be more concerned with the potential that the war in Afghanistan will morph into internal bloodshed once the US and Coalition forces have withdrawn by 2014, and that Pakistan will escalate its strategy of keeping Afghanistan weak through the use of the Taliban forces and the Haqqani Network.
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Just over a year ago, a book on the war in Afghanistan came close to causing a rift in NATO and the withdrawal of combatants by one nation.
The book was Dead Men Risen, Toby Harnden’s account of fighting by the Welsh Guards and “the real story of Britain’s war in Afghanistan”.
The reporting was brilliant, meticulous, and honest and graphic.
Post traumatic stress disorder is a very real, very damaging thing, especially among those who have served in a war zone. There’s a lot to be learned about it from listening to the real experiences of those who have been immersed in the unimaginable.
But you know what - we don’t need to learn it from Sergeant Robert Bales. There’s nothing about his financial stresses, or alleged marital difficulties, or level of disgruntlement with his military bosses over his most recent deployment to Afghanistan to in any way explain the acts he’s accused of.
I don’t care that his house was on the market for $50,000 less than he’d paid for it. I don’t care that his foot hurt. And couldn’t give a toss that his friends are grieving over how “our Bobby” snapped. While it’s normal to look for an explanation for horrific things - some of what we’re hearing about Bales sounds more like an excuse.
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The murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone US soldier in Afghanistan this week is a tragic incident, which destroys the fundamental principles upon which this population-centric war is being fought.
This war is as much about winning the hearts and minds of the population as killing the enemy. If the Coalition forces and the Afghan Government cannot be seen to protect the population, then the only alternative is the Taliban.
Counterinsurgency is the military’s version of what our civil criminal and social justice systems do in areas riddled by crime, drugs and a cycle of inter-generational poverty. Whether it’s Afghanistan or the Bronx, the population is the prize and it is no-longer acceptable just to shoot the bad guys.
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It has been almost 600 days since 28-year-old Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney from Brisbane was killed in action in Afghanistan.
The new dad was shot in the upper body by a single enemy round during the Battle of Derapet in the Tangi Valley on August 24, 2010.
Following the battle one of his close mates in the Mentoring Task Force wrote a detailed email in which he claimed that with better fire support from mortars, artillery and light armoured vehicles, Lance Corporal MacKinney might not have been killed.
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The reader response to The Punch article, 12 January 2012, “Why have we abandoned our troops?” highlighted a deep misunderstanding of the central tenet of the article, and, more worryingly, a flawed knowledge of the actual conditions of service applicable in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
Some of the more ill-informed myths about what entitlements our military men and women received were:
• Tax free salaries – No (but there are some concessions when deployed to war zones).
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It’s Remembrance Day. And this year, we have more to remember than ever.
Ashley Birt, 22. Bryce Duffy, 26. Luke Gavin, 29. Rowan Robinson, 23. Todd Langley, 35. They’re all diggers killed in Afghanistan, and that’s just since June.
While we’re remembering them though, we need to jog our memories a little further. Because over the course of this Very Long War in Afghanistan, there’s a lot that we’ve forgotten.
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Australian Soldiers are the strongest tribe in Uruzgan Province and it is this profile that wins hearts and minds in Afghanistan, not well-meaning gestures of handing out bags of money.
It is that strategic change over the last 18 months that is now paying off in Uruzgan. Afghans respond to what some may call traditional characteristics of bravery, courage, honour and revenge. They are also very polite, even though tomorrow they may kill you. If you could bring back Alexander the Great, he would say we are fighting the same people, using the same tactics they used against him 2,000 years ago.
Despite what Australia’s David Kilcullen, the architect of this new pop military version of counterinsurgency (COIN), will have you believe, this is not about a kindler gentler war. There has been a grave misrepresentation of COIN. In fact, unlike author of The Strongest Tribe former Marine Commander Bing West, who has spent endless nights bunkered down under fire with troops, I doubt whether Kilcullen would have been to very far off Route One.
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Jamie Larcombe is the fifth Australian Army combat engineer to be killed in action in Afghanistan. He is also the first to be shot during a firefight rather than blown up by an insurgent’s improvised explosive device (IED).
The engineers are a tight-knit and dedicated group of soldiers who bring a raft of skills and a great deal of courage to the fight against the Taliban. The Darwin based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment has now lost two of its best within a fortnight following the death of Corporal Richard Atkinson at the hands of an enemy bomb maker.
In addition to the five KIA they have also suffered much higher rates of injury as they take the lead role whenever a patrol leaves the security of an operating base.
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He was a husband, a father, a son, a lover of food and four-wheel drives and a passionate soldier.
And now there is a chance that Lance-Corporal Jared MacKinney might be remembered because of the furore that erupted over footage of the Opposition Leader uttering the phrase ``s—t happens’’ during a discussion about how the young man lost his life in Afghanistan.
If this incident leads to the downfall of Tony Abbott, it would be a tragedy and another sad footnote in the events surrounding the death of a fine, respected soldier.
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News that our Diggers have rejected Kevin Rudd’s pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan is no surprise.
A foreign minister who derides the French and German contribution to the conflict as nothing more than ‘organising folk dancing festivals’ when each nation has suffered nearly 50 casualties is insensitive and out of touch.
Like our European friends Australia’s participation in Afghanistan is part of a broader international effort that is making considerable progress.
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Ahead of US Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Australia this weekend, The Punch caught up with US Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich to discuss the recent parliamentary debate on Afghanistan and the US mid-term elections.
United States Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich makes no secret of the fact he was watching the debate on the Afghan war pretty closely.
“We were obviously very interested in it because Australia is a key partner is Afghanistan. Our take on it was that this is healthy. We did extensive internal review at the end of the 2009 to determine what’s the best course and how do we see this resolving and what are we going to need to do it.
“That was heavy internal conversation, and I think with all our partners we want them to have, if there are doubts, to have that honest discussion,” he told The Punch yesterday.
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The beginning of the debate into Australia’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan is a refreshing exercise.
For a cynical electorate it has provided impassioned and well reasoned political debate - albeit one in which the major parties agree – and the best thing the new paradigm has provided to this Parliament.
While Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott agreed to the need for Australia to stay in Afghanistan there were subtle differences in the arguments that they made in support of it: one given by somebody with the responsibility for the military commitment, the other from somebody with a firm belief in its ideological commitment.
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Greens leader Bob Brown will today have his first real win of the new paradigm, with the debate he called for on our involvement in the War in Afghanistan set to commence at the conclusion of Question Time in the House of Representatives.
It’s unlikely the Government would have consented to such a debate if it didn’t have to, such is the growing chorus of questions surrounding our mission there.
The Greens are not the only ones questioning the strategy and time-frame of our deployment - but there’s no doubt Bob Brown is in the hot-seat now, and must be hoping the debate, which will also cascade into the Senate next week, produces something more than bi-partisan adherence to the stock standard lines.
The Punch will cover the commencement of the debate live directly after Question Time, which begins at 2pm. Check back on the home page this afternoon to join in.
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Apart from the two stars stitched onto his collar, there’s not much that sets Major General John Cantwell apart from his troops. And that is the way that Cantwell, who heads all of Australia’s Middle Eastern operations, seems to like it.
Cantwell, who turned 54 on Saturday, the day he escorted Tony Abbott on his visit to the Coalition base at Tarin Kowt, in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, is an interesting study in the modern soldier.
At least, he comes across that way. Because access to the Australian military is quite limited, it’s hard to tell if Cantwell is an exception or reflects the easy intelligence – brain-power intelligence, not the secret stuff – of the Australian military in 2010.
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The largely confected stink over Tony Abbott’s decision to pass up an opportunity to visit Australian troops in Afghanistan should be the subject of future study by would-be spin doctors, flaks and aspiring massagers of the political message.
It’s a cautionary tale as to the quagmire you can land yourself in should you become vaguely newsworthy during a slow period in the news cycle.
Beyond that, it demonstrates how people in public life have to think carefully when they’re constructing an alibi for dodging what might be seen as an obligation.
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The 18th Australian soldier, Jason Brown, died in Afghanistan last week.
Gillard and Abbott were united in simultaneously expressing condolences to Jason’s family and friends; whilst expressing their determination to remain in Afghanistan (all the while carefully avoiding the war slipping onto the election agenda).
Gillard and Abbott are united in their declaration that Jason’s death should not distract from their commitment to maintain a presence in Afghanistan.
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