The spate of so called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, where members of the Afghan National Security Forces kill Coalition soldiers, has been one of the most destabilising threats to our resolve and commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
A total of fifty-nine Coalition soldiers, including seven Australians, have died at the hands of rogue Afghan forces. However, Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs continue to be the most deadly risk in Afghanistan.
The sad fact is that long after Coalition forces have departed, IEDs will remain a serious risk to life and freedom of movement across Afghanistan for civilians. They’re an evil legacy from an unconventional war against a complex enemy.
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Sometimes you get the publicity you deserve. For David Hicks the decision to pose up with a rocket launcher perched on his shoulder was somewhat regrettable in the PR department.
I’m not saying of course that posing with an RPG of itself justifies being thrown in the clink at Guantanamo Bay for several years and then incarcerated with some of South Australia’s most accomplished scumbags and weirdos at the Yatala Correctional Facility. But, you know, people will draw their own conclusions.
Especially when coupled with the fact that you did it because you were being trained by al-Qaeda. And happened to meet Osama bin Laden four times. Once is an accident, twice a zany coincidence, but three or more suggests you’ve fallen in with a bad crowd.
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As young Malala Yousafzai fights for her life, we all remain in shock and outrage over such a brutal attack on a girl.
What this vicious murderous attack has demonstrated is how threatened extremists groups like the Taliban are by educated women and girls.
In such a destabilised patriarchal country, comprehensive education for women and girls is rarely attained and in some instances denied with brutal violence.
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Armed only with words, a fourteen-year-old girl was declared dangerous by the Taliban and shot point blank in the head.
Today, the Taliban say they’ll try to kill her again. If she survives.
She had already survived a Taliban takeover of her home in the Swat Valley but was a target because of her public views on the right of women to have an education.
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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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The quality of much of the public discussion around our continuing presence in Afghanistan over the past few days has left much to be desired. That laziest of clichés, the assertion that Australians who support the war effort have “blood on their hands”, has been bandied about by a number of people. The use of this loaded term commits the gravest of sins – it suggests that the five soldiers who died last week, and the others who perished before them, gave their lives in vain and need not have died at all.
The families of some fallen soldiers might feel that their loved ones were sacrificed for nought. From all I have read over the many years this war has gone on, the bereaved seem more likely to argue that the death of their husband or son shows why we must maintain our resolve and keep on fighting.
As things stand, and with total respect to the different views held by grieving families, now would seem to be the right time for a dispassionate assessment of whether our continuing presence in Afghanistan is worth it.
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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.
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The death of five Australian soldiers in Afghanistan demands that the Australian Government remind the public why we are there, particularly when our soldiers are being killed by the very people we are there to help.
One of the reasons for the public confusion is that the strategy in Afghanistan went from defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda, which was achieved by the end of 2001, to being lured into rebuilding a nation emerging out of the 11th century, believing that if only we spent enough money on well-meaning social programs they will eventually love us and not harbour trans-national terrorists who threaten Australians at home and abroad.
All the while Pakistan continues to support theTaliban, an issue that the Australian Government refuses to address.
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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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A woman is summarily executed in front of 150 cheering men, as a man read from the Koran, and said: “Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it’s the wrong way. It is the order of Allah that she be executed. We cannot forgive her, God tells us to finish her. Juma Khan, her husband, has the right to kill her.”
The authorities blame the Taliban, the hardline Islamic group who ruled Afghanistan until 2001, for the murder of 22-year-old Najiba, accused of sleeping with one Taliban member while being married to another.
The video is shocking. The idea that such a repulsively evil thing can be done so openly, so close to Kabul, with so many witnesses eagerly watching, even more so.
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In yet another attack by a ‘rogue’ Afghan soldier, four French troops were shot dead last week.
Proponents of the current post-modern war fighting doctrine continue to believe we can make people love us. Counterinsurgency has been a convenient doctrine swallowed by Western leaders as a politically correct way to fight a war. But it is built on the well-meaning principle of “hearts and minds” when it is nothing more than an unhealthy blend of social engineering and pork-barrel politics.
The fact is in Afghanistan they love you until the money stops and even then, as the latest incidents show, nothing will bridge the cultural divide.
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Three more Australians are dead, and seven injured, in Afghanistan. It’s even more tragic because it appears the killer was an Afghan soldier, a colleague. Follow the news at news.com.au. Nathan Mullins spent time with the Australian Special Forces in Oruzgan, and this is his perspective on the many questions that beset Australia about our role in Afghanistan.
What are ‘we’ doing in Afghanistan? People ask me whether we can win the war. That’s not the important question. The question is whether we should be trying to ‘win’ in the first place. But before that the question is: who’s ‘we’? We the Coalition, we the Australian Army, we Australians, or indeed, we the western world? It’s a long way from Melbourne to Afghanistan, both geographically and figuratively, but when I had the chance to fight in the hills and valleys of Uruzgan with the Australian Special Forces, I did it. I needed to know if ‘we’ should be there.
When I decided to go I thought I represented the Australian Army. While I was there I realized that the people of Afghanistan feel isolated from the rest of the world. They didn’t see me as an Australian soldier, or an Australian really, they saw me as a citizen of a world that was so foreign to them as to barely exist.
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In her excoriating review of David Hicks’ memoir My Journey, ABC reporter and author Leigh Sales begins with the following assessment of the blame-shifting psychology of the former Taliban recruit:
“A sentence near the end of this controversial book encapsulates David Hicks’s attitude to his stay at Guantanamo Bay on terrorism-related charges:‘Any and all inconvenience . . . was brought about due to my incarceration and treatment and that was at the hands of others.’
“In other words, Hicks eschews personal responsibility. Guantanamo: My Journey is a flawed memoir, chiefly because of an astonishing lack of self-reflection.”
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American special forces not only assassinated Osama bin Laden in their precision strike on Abbottabad. They also shot holes in Pakistan’s status as a credible and trustworthy ally in the fight against terrorism.
With the now-famous words “Geronimo EKIA”, the USA’s elite SEAL Team Six gave President Barack Obama the solution to a problem that had dogged the world’s major military power for close to a decade.
However, the success of the clandestine raid also handed Obama a new dilemma which may remain with the United States for an equally long period – the question of whether it can trust Pakistan as an ally in the fight against terrorism.
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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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A common saying in Afghanistan is “we’ve got the watches they’ve got the time.” A perfect metaphor to describe the Western obsession time and the Taliban’s eternal patience. That is why U.S Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates’ statement that the United States will not be leaving Afghanistan is exactly the message to send to the Taliban. If you don’t have the time don’t start a war in Afghanistan.
The simplicity of life in Afghanistan is also a camouflage for the Afghan’s ability to withstand asymmetrical threats from the climate, terrain or a foreign military. We have failed to recognise their historical capacity to adapt. Ahmed Rashid, one of the best contemporary authors on Afghanistan, suggests that the devastation of the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil war influenced the Taliban state of mind. The longer we engage the more they evolve – both politically and violently.
They know they don’t have to win the war. They just have to outlast our domestic time constraints and out-govern Karzai and his corrupt Provincial representatives.
I have listened with great interest to this week’s parliamentary debate about Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, just as I have listened with great interest to this debate for the past nine years, since October 7th, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched by the United States and its allies, including Australia, so that freedom so bravely won by the people of Afghanistan from communist oppression, and so cruelly lost over the following decade to civil war and Taliban misrule, may indeed return, and this time endure.
I have listened to this debate and heard many arguments that we should abandon our mission in Afghanistan.
Some of these arguments are passionate, others cold and rational; some seem sincere, while others callous. And all of them are wrong.
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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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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.
Advisory: The following post contains graphic content which some people may find distressing.
Everyone suffers in war. No exceptions. I have been travelling to Afghanistan now for over three years. Covering the conflict from an outsider’s perspective, not getting involved or emotionally attached to the people I photograph. This is hard. Maintaining perspective and impartialility each day is challenging.
Watching soldiers die on the battlefield for a belief in something so far remote from them, is at times very difficult. They fight because they are told to and because if they do not, they will probably be killed by an ill-equipped and under trained Afghan insurgent - or a farmer with a grudge and no money to feed his family.
Well we’re leaving Afghanistan, it’s just not entirely clear when.
Today Defence Minister John Faulkner has announced changes to our role in Afghanistan that have been made necessary by the withdrawal of Dutch troops in August.
At the same time the Defence Minister gave a qualified timetable for withdrawal between 2012 and 2014, and then assured us that he wasn’t doing that.
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On returning last month from 10 days in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) that included five days in Afghanistan in Kandahar and Tarin Kowt, I was shocked to hear of another attempted extremist Islamic terrorist attack, on that occasion in Times Square.
This only reinforces my view that unless we defeat the Taliban and remove the opportunity for their Al Qaeda allies to spew venom through indoctrination, training and support, we will continue to fight them in our own backyard.
The Dutch unfortunately have decided their contribution has come to an end in Afghanistan leaving a capability vacuum in Oruzgan Province where the bulk of Australia’s combat forces are. The military has a maxim that ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.’ Likewise 10 days with our troops on operations was fertile time to reflect and I’ve personally concluded that Australia should consider expanding its contribution to fill this vacuum and take the lead in Oruzgan Province.
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It’s hard to know whether those handling media for the Australian Defence Force are as clueless as they seem or are now openly trying to bait the Australian media.
Yesterday there were a couple of press releases sent out from the ADF. The first was helpfully entitled: News Stories from Afghanistan – Three news stories for broadcast/publication.
Doing their favourite PLA impression, the ADF has in fact provided three media releases on Australia’s operation in Afghanistan labelled “news stories” and penned from within the organisation.
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On 28th July 2009, I flew out of Sydney bound for Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It was to be the start of a fascinating trip into the Afghan war zone.
I embedded with the American 10th Mountain Division in Logar province, in the East part of the country. I was then shipped out to “The Tip of The Spear” as they called it, to the district of Kherwar.
The unit I joined was part of the Coalition’s blocking force against Taliban forces who are trying to use the area as an alternative entry point to the Wardack province and into Kabul.
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