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Afghanistan: are things getting better? « Previous | |Next »
October 13, 2010

There is to be a debate on the war in Afghanistan before parliament is due to rise on 25 November----possibly next week. What we won't have is parliamentarians being allowed a free vote, unshackled by party discipline, so they can canvass the full range of issues raised by our continuing participation in an unpopular war.

More than likely we will hear a lot of knee jerk 'you are wrong we are right; you are bad we are good', as each side plays the war for political advantage and bores us silly with the adherence to the clash of civilizations frame, the 9/11 discourse about Islam, and the determination by many to politicize terrorism and make every aspect of it a wedge issue.


Maybe the parliamentarians could take time out and reflect on the purpose of this war, which is very vague. Is Australia still fighting al Qaeda? They seem to have slipped into the background. It is to guarantee that Afghanistan will never be used as a base by a small group (ie.,al Qaeda) determined to undertake a terrorist attack. Does that mean we are fighting the Taliban, who want to expel foreign military forces?

That means Australia is fighting an insurgency ie., Australia is involved in a civil war. Do Australian politicians still regard the Taliban as synonymous with al Qaeda? Who, then is the Taliban? Or are there different Talibans? (eg., ones in Pakistan and one in Afghanistan). Are there different Taliban factions in Afghanistan?

Is the deployment of Australian troops to Afghanistan aimed at strengthening the US alliance through a mission to kill terrorists? Both General David Petraeus in Iraq and former Australian Army officer David Kilcullen, the former chief counter-insurgency adviser to Petraeus, have argued that the Americans are involved counter-insurgency operations. That means Australia is fighting an insurgency that is defending its homeland.

So are things getting better? What does better mean?

Is the Australian army prevailing against Afghan insurgents in Uruzgan province? Is NATO securing the population in Afghanistan and defeating the insurgency. But most people acknowledge that decisive victory is not going to be won by force of arms. It's all about nation building. That could take decades given the Pakistani safe havens, bad government in Afghanistan, the poor state of the Afghan security forces and declining international support for the military mission. This is an unwinnable venture from a military perspective.

To win against the Taliban, some Afghans will need to be prepared to risk death to stand up to them; and those that do will not be persuaded by guns and bombs. Has NATO actually become a hindrance to the emergence of the leadership that Afghanistan needs?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:04 PM | | Comments (6)


is the war with "radical militant Islam" still the single most important overarching framework for Australia's relationship with the world?

Peter Hartcher, political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald travelled to Afghanistan last week with Tony Abbott. He writes:

[...]Firing blindly will never defeat an enemy hiding in the midst of a civilian population. It will only infuriate the civilians. And if you lose the support of the population, you lose the war. The enemy will always have a place to hide.

That's why the current strategy is much more intelligent. It's not counter-terrorism but counter-insurgent. And the best way to counter an insurgent is to have the local people do it for you.

This is the new mission, but the Australian commander in Afghanistan is frustrated that it's not properly understood. Major-General John Cantwell said: "Our mission is not to defeat the insurgency in Oruzgan. That's not our mission. It's not our mission to hunt down and kill or capture every Taliban or insurgent in this province.

"Our mission is very clear - train the Afghans to manage security around the key population areas of Oruzgan. That's a limited scope . . . Our mission is to train those guys. And we need, I think, to make that clearer to the public and in some case to our own soldiers."

Is it working? Speaking of the 400 to 500 combat troops in the Australian-trained 4th Brigade of the Afghanistan National Army, Cantwell says that at last month's parliamentary election "they organised and ran the day. When there was a couple of blues, and bit of an upset, they took charge and ran it and we sat back and let them run it. It's a good look.

"There was a riot here about three weeks ago at Tarin Kowt. They trotted out the old story about someone burning the Koran. The insurgents do that every time we start to have some sort of success . . .

"So everyone gets excited and they riot. These guys took charge and ran it and made it go away without our intervention. It doesn't look like it," says Cantwell, gesturing at the rather desultory looking local forces, "but this is the future for Afghanistan."

The US officer who leads the eight-nation force in Oruzgan of which the Australians are part, Colonel Jim Creighton, says that the establishment of the local forces has had a powerful social effect: "The most important thing that's happening here is that the senior leaders - the elders and the government within Oruzgan - are bringing the young kids on side. It's the leader in the village that's telling his nephew, his son to come back in and be with the tribe and the government."[...]

According Bob Woodward in his new book --Obama's Wars --- the CIA has now established its own 3000-member covert army, roaming Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions to conduct secret assassinations.

Now, that might make immediate sense as a counter-insurgency strategy but it is long way from all the political guff about Australia’s "moral duty" to stay in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban barbarians and defend civilization.

The politics is that if the Americans hadn’t invaded, Australia wouldn’t be in Afghanistan -- and that Australia won’t remain for an instant after the US leaves.

Re Hartcher's article:
[...]Firing blindly will never defeat an enemy hiding in the midst of a civilian population. It will only infuriate the civilians. And if you lose the support of the population, you lose the war...

It's crucial to understand that, in some areas, the Taliban enemy are not "hiding in the midst" of the civilians. They ARE the civilian population. This has long been their tribal area and their society. So how are we supposed to weed them out?

Those living in Iraq and Afghanistan dislike it when foreign militaries bomb, invade and occupy their countries. Glenn Greenward puts the paradox of the war on terror well:

the solution to Terrorism is to interfere more in their countries by continuing to occupy, bomb, invade, assassinate, lawlessly imprison and control them, because that's the only way we can Stay Safe. There are people over there who are angry at us for what we're doing in their world, so we need to do much more of it to eradicate the anger. That's the core logic of the War on Terror.

This war manufacture the very dangers it is ostensibly designed to combat. Bombing Muslims more and more causes more and more Muslims to want to bomb the countries responsible.

Fancy that!. Ye the core premise (at least the stated one) of our foreign policy for the last decade is we're going to stop Terrorism by doing more and more of exactly the things that cause it.

I think the "core premise" to be found in Greenward's articles is the we should be allowed to interfere -where and when we like- with impunity. Use violence, always with impunity.

Now, I know it's politically incorrect to say this, but the events of Sept 11 did not spring from a vacuum. The people responsible didn't do it out of boredom or on a whim. There WAS some basis for their actions. But I don't seek to justify what they did any more than I accept what we've done in return.