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Afghanistan: once more unto the breach

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 28 March 2008


If Joel Fitzgibbon is to get on top of his deeply troubled defence portfolio he will need to demonstrate a better grasp of reality than he did in his interview with Alan Hardie in the Maitland Mercury on March 7.

Discussing the prospect of success in Afghanistan he said he believed that in four years time the Afghan army would be able to take control of security.

Fitzgibbon is in denial at the prospect of Allied military success in Afghanistan.

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The main backer of the Taliban is Pakistan.

Australian troops are deployed in Oruzgan Province, the most dangerous part of Afghanistan. They have been able to achieve little beyond the defence of their base; Taliban military activity has rendered infrastructure renewal difficult.

There are now 1,000 Australian troops in Afghanistan and by all accounts they are acquitting themselves with credit and courage. However, doubling the number of foreign troops from 56,000 to 120,000 would not, in my opinion, be sufficient to give the allies control of the ground even during daylight hours.

The US led and dominated NATO is employing the failed tactics of the Russians and the outcome will be the same. The Russians tried to train an Afghan army and failed and the prospect looks equally gloomy for NATO. The Afghan army, such as it is, is shouldering very little of the burden.

Fitzgibbon demonstrates limited knowledge of history and geography.

The British fought three major Afghan wars from 1838-1919 without gain and the Russians had a most uncomfortable occupation from 1979-1989 with the same result. The factors defeating these interlopers were topography, the people and the strategic location of Afghanistan and so it will be again.

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What will Australian casualties achieve?

The US, its allies and a reluctant UN went into Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden. In order to achieve that aim they first had to defeat the Taliban. US operational methods in a Muslim society, the economics of opium production and the shared aims and ideology between the Taliban and a number of powerful groups inside Pakistan, including the Pakistani security service (ISID), have conspired to determine that the US and UN presence in Afghanistan will not achieve what they have set out to do.

The war in Afghanistan has boosted the growing of poppies for opium. Instability and the inability to upgrade infrastructure caused by the war has made the viability other cash crops marginal.

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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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