AFGHANISTAN. WHY ARE WE THERE?
As the Australian Defence Force prepares to bring home 5 soldiers who died last week in Afghanistan, questions have again been raised about the point of our involvement in what began as America’s war on terror.
Yet, at the close of Australia’s deadliest day of combat since the Vietnam War, Prime Minister Gillard reiterated we are not pulling out.
Private Nathanael Galagher, ( below left) 23, from Wee Waa in NSW and Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, 30, from Carnarvon in Western Australia were killed when their Black Hawk crashed.
The other three soldiers died when an Afghan National Army sergeant who they were training, shot at them with an automatic weapon, at close range at Baluchi Valley in Iruzgan province. They are ( below, from left) Sapper James Thomas Martin, 21, Private Robert Poate, 23 and Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, 40.News Ltd.
The ADF now faces the prospect of having to again ramp up security for Australian soldiers to prevent another incident in which they are set upon and killed by the Afghan troops they are there to train.
These attacks from within, so to speak, have apparently been on the increase, and dramatically so. Bill Roggio, an expert on the Afghan conflict, says 14% of coalition troops in Afghanistan are victims of what this week has become known as “green on blue” killings.
Naturally the questions arises, how can Australian soldiers stationed in Uruzgan trust the Afghani’s they are training?
Is it merely an expected culture rift? Or is the Taliban now targeting and signing up young Afghans who’ve joined the Afghan National Army? Or do the Afghans think that as the draw-down of coalition troops nears, going back to Taliban is the only option?
These are huge issues, which must keep the brass at the top of the ADF from sleeping well at night. And as Independent MP Andrew Wilkie accuses Prime Minister Gillard and her predecessors Kevin Rudd and John Howard of having blood on their hands, it might well be keeping them up at night too.
So why are we in Afghanistan at all?
- The war in Afghanistan, the opening of the War on Terror, began on October 7th, 2001, as the US, UK, Australia and the Afghan United Front or the northern alliance launched Operation Enduring Freedom.
- The Australian campaign is dubbed Operation Slipper.
- The immediate trigger was the September 11 Al Qaeda attacks on the United States in which 3,000 people were killed. The US wanted to find Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden who it believed was being given safe haven by the ruling Taliban. It wanted to crush the Taliban, destroy the organisational structures of Al Qaeda and create a viable democracy in Afghanistan.
- The first democratic elections were held in 2004 when Hamid Karzai assumed the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. He has since dealt with the Taliban.
- But like the former USSR before it, the Coalition seems slow to have learnt that Afghanistan is impossible to tame. Eleven years on, it is now the United States’ longest running war.
- The International Security Assistance Force under NATO’s control was formed in December 2001 to secure Kabul, 43 countries contributed troops.
- More than 3000 Coalition soldiers have died in the battle against the Taliban insurgency. In the first five years of the war, most were American. But between 2006 and 2011, most were Brits and Canadians. 2010 was the worst year: 711 troops died. Australia has lost 38 to date. Most of the casualties are between the ages of 19 and 29.
- Exact figures on Afghani deaths are impossible to provide. But the conservative estimates are between 12,500 and 14,700 civilians to August 2011. The injured, displaced, poverty stricken and those who have died prematurely would on most estimates, quadruple these numbers. More Afghani’s have died in the 11 years of this war than when the country was under Taliban control.
- The cost of the war is mind-boggling. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan since 9/11 have surpassed the US$3.2 trillion mark for the US alone
- By June 2013, Australia will have spent $7.4 billion on the Afghanistan war. Another $1.5 billion has been spent on aid to Afghanistan and Iraq and $10.4 billion beefing up ASIO and the Federal Police a part of a homeland security drive. And Australia has contributed $200 million to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.
- Australia is now in its third phase of involvement in the Afghanistan war. In the first, it provided support to Coalition aircraft operating in Afghan airspace. The second involved on the ground special task force logistical support and the third has Australian soldiers taking part in a Reconstruction Taskforce. We now have a small contingent working on counter-insurgency operations in Uruzgan with Dutch troops. There are some 800 Australians based in the Middle East providing logistical support to Operation Slipper.
- Australian troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The Prime Minister insists “It is important Australians understand this is a war with a purpose and a war with an end”.
“We are making progress, I can tell you that. I’ve seen it with my own eyes when I have visited Afghanistan,” she told the media. And Tony Abbott says Australia isn’t a country to cut and run.
Australian Defence Force chief, General Hurley warns that to leave now would create a security vacuum, which would be a victory for the Taliban.
It’s a dilemma.
Perhaps if Australia had more closely read the history of Afghanistan before throwing our lot in with a nation that sees itself as a global policeman, we wouldn’t need to be asking “is it worth it?”
MORE BY MONICA ATTARD
*Monica Attard OAM, is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She was the host of the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch.She spent 28 years at the ABC, leaving to start up The Global Mail where she was, until recently, the Managing Editor. In 1997, Monica published a book entitled Russia: Which Way Paradise? documenting her time there as a foreign correspondent.