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Repeating others' mistakes in Afghanistan

By Bruce Haigh - posted Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Australian troops are in Afghanistan because American troops are there. If Australia was serious about reducing the threat of terrorism it would withdraw.

US, Allied and NATO troops are seen as an army of occupation, a cause of harm and instability; although not without some practical benefit as drug couriers and users. Dutch authorities were concerned at drug use amongst their troops.

With more troops, retired Australian General Moylan believes the war winnable and Neil James, Director of the Defence Association claims debate in Australia impossible with few experts on Afghanistan other than himself and Professor Bill Maley.

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With the Taliban supplied, trained and supported by elements of the Pakistani Army and the Inter Services Intelligence organisation, Moylan does not spell out how victory might be obtained and secured.

Pakistan, India and Iran are the keys. Any major attack on Pakistan by the US and its allies could invoke an opportunistic reaction from India and a hostile response from Iran. US policy in Afghanistan is checkmated.

All agree that the Taliban is a poor alternative to the corrupt and drug driven Hamid Karzai government, but sadly that is the reality – an expanding reality, which Terrorism ideologues Moylan and James would be wise to factor into their assessments.

Debate or no debate a supine Australian government is locked into Oruzgan Province until the US withdraws from Afghanistan or until it releases the ADF from its contract. Australia is in Afghanistan to fulfil the terms of what it believes are the terms of its alliance with the US. (Former Prime Minister Howard invoked the ANZUS Treaty when committing troops to the region).

It remains a fundamental belief amongst politicians and some influential defence planners that Australia needs to curry favour with the US in order to invoke an immediate and knee jerk response from the US should Australia be threatened or attacked. The fact that this is increasingly unlikely by a financially challenged and politically cautious America has yet to be factored into the political, planning and popular perception pertaining to the United States in Australia.

On agreement to anonymity advisers admit the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable but that Australia will stay in order to demonstrate to the US and anyone else who cares about these things that Australia has sticking power and can be relied on to see things through. Australian troops are mercenaries and hostages, once again, to political fortune. They deserve better.

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There are good reasons for Australia to carry through an independent policy on Afghanistan and announce our own plans and schedule for early withdrawal. The first should be to prevent further deaths and injuries to Australian service personnel including the damage to mental health.

It would be wise to remove service personnel from a culture and environment where drugs are easily obtained and tolerated and traded by the government they are there to defend.

Withdrawal would save the Australian taxpayers money which might be better spent on assisting to equip a restructured Defence Force. The dollars spent in Afghanistan at the moment are wasted dollars.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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