Australian policy – Afghanistan – analysis

Australian policy – Afghanistan – analysis

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July next year is our date with destiny for Afghan pullout, Daniel Flitton, SMH, 9 April 2010

Mark July 2011 in your calendar. That’s when Australian troops should begin to pull out from Afghanistan. Not registered this date before? No wonder. The federal government has never set out an explicit timeline for withdrawal. But assuming our political leaders mean what they say, in a little over a year from now – after a decade fighting in what Prime Minister Kevin Rudd describes as a ”godforsaken place” – Australian forces will start to come home.

Piece together various utterances on the public record over the past few months and this conclusion becomes obvious. In February, Rudd reprised a famous line from history, pledging that Australia was in Afghanistan ”with the Americans all the way” – and President Barack Obama has promised to begin the transfer of US forces out of Afghanistan ”in July of 2011”.

Obama’s plan hinges on handing over responsibility for security to Afghans. Rudd has similarly explained that Australia’s goal is to train a brigade in the Afghan National Army in Oruzgan province, then to ”transfer responsibility of security to them and, once we have achieved our mission in the province, to bring our troops home”.

Building bridges over Afghanistan’s troubled waters, John Kerin, Australian Financial Review, 25 March 2010

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James claimed it was now an open secret in Canberra that the Americans were angry at Australia’s reluctance to send extra troops to Afghanistan. Defence Minister John Faulkner, while maintaining Australia is not prepared to send any extra troops, says it is prepared to change the makeup of the existing force.
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Afghanistan, Mr Abbott and the asylum seeker debate, Kellie Tranter, ABC News, 25 March 2010

You would know by now, Mr Abbott, that the United Nations Refugee agency says Afghan nationals now comprise the largest national group seeking asylum in developed nations. Why is that? What are the push factors? Could it be that the “push factors” include aspects of the war like the use of depleted uranium weapons, Cluster Bombs, Daisy Cutters, unmanned drones and the torture of prisoners? Of course not, how silly of me.

Deadly Afghan raids expose leadership, Tom Hyland, The Age, 21 March 2010

THEY say it’s not the fighting season…Too cold to fight, even for the Taliban. But for the men of Australia’s 1st Commando Regiment, most of them part-time reservists, the killing started just three weeks after they arrived. The last to die were six Afghan civilians: a man named Amrullah, his 10-year-old son, and his relatives – a boy aged 11, a teenage girl, a one-year-old boy and a girl aged two… killed by the commandos. By the time they came home, their commander had been sacked, another of their mates had been killed and the regiment had been involved in two civilian casualty incidents.

The regiment’s experiences have triggered an intense debate within army ranks – about special forces tactics, and wider questions about a political and military preference for sending special forces, rather than large infantry units, to conflicts like Afghanistan. Along the way, it has exposed a rivalry almost as old as the army itself, between full-time troops and part-time reservists – chocos, some regulars call them, chocolate soldiers who can’t take the heat.

Sending soldiers to war is a bureaucratic process, leading to certification of a unit’s readiness. Amid a confused paper trail, Admiral Ritchie reveals a report by the regiment’s former commander, a lieutenant-colonel, which said the unit was ready for deployment but ”cautioned about specific weaknesses, including a lack of collective training to test capabilities under pressure and the lack of close quarter battle skills”. These and similar caveats were overlooked when the regiment was certified ready for action.

Within a day, reports emerged that civilians had been killed and wounded, prompting another Defence inquiry. It found there was insufficient evidence that Australian fire had caused the casualties. But while there were no breaches of rules governing when troops can fire, it found some of the troops were not qualified for jobs they performed and, in a confused and complex battle, fired mortars without orders.

The raids came ”at a steep cost in terms of the perceptions of the Afghan people,” he said. ”In the Afghan culture, a man’s home is more than just his residence … He has been conditioned to respond aggressively in defence of his home and his guests whenever he perceives his home or honour is threatened.”

What did you do in the war Australia?, Rodger Shanahan, Lowy Institute, 12 March 2010

The notion that the alliance is ‘a perishable resource that needs sustenance’ to quote the unnamed senior military source in this Herald report is true but it also focuses too closely on military contributions as the sole means of sustaining the alliance and inflates the overall importance of the type of contributions we make.

But the broader Australian-US alliance is still strong regardless of where we deploy our troops, just as Canada’s strategic interests didn’t sustain irreparable damage when it decided not to join the four-nation ‘coalition of the willing’ led by its largest trading partner during the invasion of Iraq.

We may have punched above our weight in Vietnam, below our weight in post-invasion Iraq and arguably more or less at our weight in Afghanistan, but we were there all the same and it is our presence more than our contribution in these conflicts that advances our strategic interests in the long term.

Showing leadership in Afghanistan, Clive Williams, The Drum Unleashed, ABC News, 10 March 2010

It is regrettable that Australian politicians are denying the Australian Defence Force (ADF) the opportunity to take the leadership role in Oruzgan Province after the Dutch withdrawal. Our politicians seem to be running scared that leadership would mean an increase in our troop presence and an increase in ADF casualties. It does not necessarily mean either.

It is of course an election year and the government is trying to avoid discussion about an ADF deployment that has little popular support. However we should not be ducking the issue – if for no other reason than national pride. In Iraq, our force, with its politically imposed risk-averse mission, was dubbed by some “The New French” and others as “Model Soldiers”- who looked good, had all the kit, but did little. This is clearly an affront to a force with such a proud military tradition.

No support for expanded role in Afghanistan: Cosgrove, ABC News, 26 February 2010

Giving the opening speech at a Liberal Party ideas forum in Canberra last night, General Cosgrove said he did not think there would be enough public support for sending more troops to Afghanistan. General Cosgrove says taking on greater responsibility in the conflict is “marginally viable from a resources point of view” and would “create policy difficulties and certainly some political downside”.

He says Australia has tested what was traditionally a strong sense of limitation on engaging in “wars of choice well beyond arm’s reach” in recent years. General Cosgrove’s comments come after retired Australian general Jim Molan last week accused Australia of not pulling its weight in the war-torn nation.

Dutch pull-out to change balance in Afghanistan, Dan Oakes, The Age, 25 February 2010

AUSTRALIAN troops in Afghanistan could be at greater risk of attack if US troops take over from the Dutch as the lead nation in Oruzgan province, experts have said.

”I think there is an argument that if the Americans go in, they will take a more aggressive approach, and that that might make the environment a bit riskier, and that it might make Oruzgan a more dangerous place to be than it has been so far,” said Hugh White, a former deputy defence secretary and professor at the Australian National University


Obama’s surge, Anthony Bubalo, The Lowy Institute, December 2009 [PDF 494kb]

AFP union attacks Afghanistan role for Australian police, Paul Maley, The Australian, 7 December 2009

But, as President Barack Obama announced a surge of around 30,000 US troops into Afghanistan, the Prime Minister stopped short of boosting Australia’s own military commitment. In November, the Defence Department said approximately 1445 soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan, although an analysis by The Australian suggests the real figure could be as low as 1200 — well below the government’s commitment to have 1550 troops.

“Our concern is that if President Obama sees that it is a military response that is required and Australian is substituting a police response, we’d like to see the risk-assessment process,” Mr Torr said. “If it’s a war-fighting response that’s required, that’s not what police do.”

Rudd urged to heed plea for more Afghan troops, ABC News, 29 November 2009

The Australian Defence Association (ADA) says the Federal Government must send more troops to Afghanistan in response to a plea from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has previously said the Federal Government does not intend to send additional troops to Afghanistan. However ADA executive director Neil James says the Government should change its position.

Mr James says the Government’s firm stance against sending more troops appears to be softening. “Minister [John] Faulkner’s ministerial statement last week did actually hint that it might change a little bit,” Mr James said. “The bottom line is that you shouldn’t fight any war that you don’t intend to win, and if you need to reinforce the contingent then you should do so.”

NATO meeting raises questions for troop numbers, Michael Vincent, AM – ABCNews, 24 October 2009

But Australia’s major partner in the Oruzgan province, Holland, has previously indicated it will pull out next year.

NEIL JAMES: The Defence Association suspects that this is just going to add to the pressure on the Australian Government to eventually do more …it’s in Australia’s interests for us to become the lead nation in Oruzgan rather than the Americans, if no one else is willing to replace the Dutch. But the Government’s entirely unwilling to accept this because they see it as too large a burden, which we actually don’t think so and it would send the right message to the Afghans that we’re not going to leave them in the lurch.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But that would involve a troop commitment of several thousand, wouldn’t it?

NEIL JAMES: It would involve us increasing our contingent substantially, possibly by around somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 troops. But it would certainly, you know, send the right message to the Americans, cause whilst they’re too polite to say it in public, we believe they’re becoming increasingly unhappy with Australia’s position.

Fielding the 4th Brigade, Strategic Insights 47 – A long and winding road: Australia’s role in building an Afghan National Army, Raspal Khosa, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 27 August 2009 (PDF of Report available on linked site)

The Australian Government has stepped-up its support for President Barack Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan by increasing its Operation Slipper military commitment. Right now the main focus of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) mission in Afghanistan is to help build a capable Afghan National Army (ANA). This effort is critical to the success of the coalition’s new strategic approach to stabilise the volatile region and deny violent extremists a sanctuary along its borderlands. The government’s much anticipated troop increase, announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 29 April 2009, will see a near 50% expansion of the ADF presence in Afghanistan by 2010, with troop numbers rising from 1,090 to 1,550 personnel. The operational goal of sending extra forces to Afghanistan is to raise the effectiveness of an ANA infantry brigade so it can assume primary responsibility for security in Oruzgan Province, thereby creating the conditions for the withdrawal of the ADF over the medium term. This paper examines challenges for the ADF in ‘operationalising’ the new strategy by conducting security sector reform (SSR) whilst combating the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan.

The primary focus of the Australian military mission in Afghanistan now is helping field the Oruzgan-based 4th Brigade of the ANA’s 205th ‘Atal’ (Hero) Corps that is located in RC?South. Although the ADF is currently focused on security transition, this may in time change to operational overwatch as in Iraq.

Plan shies away from sharp end, Greg Sheridan, Australian, 30 April 2009

The Prime Minister’s news conference revealed a shift in the public justification for the Australian deployment. The emphasis now is on the need to prevent future terrorist threats to Australia. The real reason for the deployment – loyalty to the US alliance – has been shuffled back to No 2. This reflects the growing unpopularity of the war in public opinion and the need to provide a more Australia-centric justification for it.

Poll finds 51% oppose role in Afghanistan, Tony Wright, Age, 30 March 2009

A beacon for peace, John Pratt, Webdiary, 28 March 2009

Two young Australian men have died in Afghanistan this week. They have died as part payment to the US for Australia’s defence insurance policy. There is no other reason for their deaths. If the US was not in Afghanistan we wouldn’t be there. The only reason we are there is to support the US. The only reason we are supporting the US is a vain hope that they will support us if we were under threat. It is the same reason more than five hundred young Australians died in Vietnam. How many more Australians will have to die in Afghanistan?

Is the insurance policy worth the price?

Why does Australia continue to support the US in its foreign adventures? Haven’t we sacrificed enough of our young on the altar of US global dreams? Would the US really come to our aid if the chips were down? I believe they would if it was in their interest – if not, they would not. So no matter how many Australians die on the battlefield the US will come to our aid only if it is in their interest. Australia should no longer be involved in Northern Hemisphere wars. Such wars ultimately make us bigger targets and play no part in the defence of our country. These wars can only be won when a political solution is found. We should be neutral and work hard to bring about the political solution. It is immoral to use first world weapons on third world countries, indiscriminately killing civilians in the process.

Afghanistan: The case for 6000 Australian troops, Major General Jim Molan (retired), Lowy Institute, 25 March 2009

I have confidence that the war in Afghanistan is being prosecuted legally and morally. My concern is that the war in Afghanistan, and Australia’s small part in it, is not being prosecuted effectively.

Australia-Afghanistan: A short look at a long war, Graeme Dobell, Lowy Institute, 6 March 2009

Afghanistan is to be the longest war of the long war. That prediction by General David Petraeus to Donald Rumsfeld in 2005 is going from forecast to a statement of fact. So Kevin Rudd and Canberra’s defence establishment are thinking long and hard about what a generational war in Afghanistan will mean for Australia’s military and the US alliance.


Charting a course for Afghanistan, Jacob Townsend, ASPI, 31 January 2008

“This paper provides background information on the military conflict in Afghanistan. Security issues are considered as well as the role of development assistance. The author offers a 15-year vision for Afghanistan and derives from it a medium-term strategy for assistance, leading to recommendations on Australia’s role.”

Memo to Kevin Rudd: Why are in Afghanistan?, Richard Tanter, Arena Magazine, 92, December 2007 – January 2008.

“If there is likely to be at least a partial Iraq withdrawal, focussing on the Afghanistan war is now important. Why are we still in Afghanistan, six years after the al-Qaeda training camps used for the September 11 attacks were destroyed? Rudd holds the widespread view that Iraq is the bad war, a war that is lost, but that Afghanistan is the good war, a war that is both winnable and desirable. Neither is true. US and Australian political and military elites have learned a lesson in Iraq, but have yet to learn the lesson in Afghanistan.”

“Leaving aside elementary issues of morality in war and foreign policy, what strategic interest does Australia have in Afghanistan that could possibly justify the deaths of so many? What are the goals of that war? In the past year the Howard government has listed three rationales: preventing a fall of Afghani democracy; preventing the establishment of a narco-state; and preventing a return of terrorism. None of these are defensible as justifications for an Australian military presence. The Afghan government is a very mixed affair, with many elements no better than their notional Taliban opponents. Moreover, sooner or later, as in Iraq, democratic rule will have to be based on some kind of political accommodation between very diverse but persisting political forces. Afghanistan is already a narco-state by most criteria, and the war has been spectacularly counter-productive by strengthening international narcotics networks. The rebuilding of terrorist bases would be a matter of legitimate international concern, but unless the country is driven to even worse extremes by the devastation and desperation of war, the international community will have many points of intervention, positive and negative, to discourage whatever state emerges from a political accommodation from tolerating such camps. At present, the worst such sources of terrorism have emerged under the aegis of the west’s principal regional ally, Pakistan.”

Military force will not win the Afghan war, Scott Burchill, The Age, 18 January 2008.

“Kevin Rudd’s first foreign policy initiative may prove to be his biggest foreign policy blunder. His open-ended commitment of Australian troops to Afghanistan for “a long haul” was made at the most propitious moment in the political cycle — in the middle of his electoral honeymoon, a day before Christmas, with bipartisan support from a shattered Opposition. The decision was taken primarily to placate Washington for Labor’s phased reduction of troops from Iraq. The problem for Rudd and his Western allies in Afghanistan is that the war is virtually unwinnable by any criteria that make rational sense. Defeating the Taliban seems no closer six years after the country was first attacked.”


Tanter on Rudd and Australian Security Policy, Informed Comment, 26 November 2007.

Richard Tanter: Afghanistan and Iraq: quagmire or strategic priority? The National Interest, ABC Radio National, 28 October 2007.

“We’ve learned a lesson in Iraq, we have yet to learn the lesson in Afghanistan. There won’t be a military solution. Whatever solution is going to come will have to be, in some form or another, political.

“There’s a very strong argument to say that apart from the wars that we have really leapt into in Iraq and Afghanistan with the United States, and the peacekeeping interventions in our own region, more important security issues come from much more pressing things, such as climate change, infectious diseases and energy and security, which are certainly going to affect the interactions we have in Australia with countries like Indonesia, Papua-New Guinea and the Pacific.”

On the brink, Tom Hyland, The Age, 31 September 2007.

“While world attention is focused on Iraq, experts are warning that the US and its NATO allies risk losing another war. ‘Afghanistan is in danger of capsizing in a perfect storm of insurgency, terrorism, narcotics and warlords,’ according to US experts Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, writing in Orbis, a US foreign policy journal. The US is losing the war in Afghanistan one Pashtun village at a time,” they write, “bursting into schoolyards full of children with guns bristling, kicking in village doors, searching women, speeding down city streets, and putting out cross-cultural gibberish in totally ineffective InfoOps (information operations) and PsyOps (psychological operations) campaigns — all of which are anathema to the Afghans.'”

“NATO’s efforts are also under domestic political threat, with European and Canadian public opinion increasingly questioning the involvement in Afghanistan. The Dutch, Australia’s partners in the southern province of Oruzgan, have lost 11 soldiers in Afghanistan. They are considering reducing their commitment. Even if they withdraw just some of their forces, other countries could follow, leaving the Australians exposed. The Dutch and the Canadians, who have lost more than 70 men in Afghanistan, are pressing other NATO members to share the burden by lifting ‘caveats’ that restrict their troops to non-combat roles in the relatively secure north of the country. A group of MPs from NATO countries who visited Afghanistan earlier this month voiced ‘strong concern’ over the alliance’s ability to confront ‘critical challenges’. The trouble, the MPs said, is that the 37 countries contributing to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force lack a “well defined strategic vision for its presence” in Afghanistan. While NATO troops performed ‘brilliantly at the tactical level, the alliance does not yet have a sufficiently explicit goal for what it wants to achieve’.”

“In the midst of all this are close to 1000 Australian troops based at Tarin Kowt, capital of Oruzgan province. Kevin Rudd has left open the possibility of sending more troops if Labor wins this year’s election. Yet even if the the Australians are successful, sceptics argue that they are just one small force in one province — just as they were in another counter-insurgency war.

“‘Taking on an area (of Afghanistan) like we have is a bit reminiscent of our approach in Vietnam, where we took on Phuoc Tuy province,’ says Clive Williams, visiting fellow at ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. ‘There’s a similar sort of approach that we’re doing in Oruzgan, where we think we can make a difference in a particular location. But that’s not going to make a difference if the whole thing is turning into a mess around us, and I can’t see NATO saying it’s in their interests to hang in there.’

A long hot summer, William Maley and Daoud Yaqub, Special Report, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 2007

“The international community, including Australia, should signal a united, long-term commitment to support the Afghan government’s efforts to secure and rebuild the country, incontrast to the fitful and sporadic engagement of recent years. The Coalition in Afghanistan should adopt a more aggressive posture toward Taliban forces. In particular, the restrictive rules of engagement operated under by some NATO countries in Afghanistan should be revised. The Taliban leadership and sanctuaries in Afghanistan will also need to be targeted, including through increased and sustained international pressure on the government of Pakistan to arrest key Taliban leaders and officials.”


Strategic Insight 23 – Precarious State: Afghanistan and the international and Australian response, Elsina Wainwright, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 28 March 2006.


Position Paper of Australian Section of the International Commission of Jurists on the Appropriate Response of the UN to the Attacks on the USA, European Journal of International Law – Discussion Forum on the Attack on the World Trade Center, 18 October 2001

32. The Australian Government, supported by the Opposition, appears to rely on the ANZUS treaty of 1952 as authorising participation by Australia in military action by the United States in Afghanistan in response to the attacks of 11 September 2001. It is not, however, entirely clear whether the ANZUS treaty, which implicitly relies upon Article 51 of the UN Charter to justify collective measures in response to an armed attack, is applicable in this context.

33. The relevant provisions of the ANZUS treaty are different from Article 5 of the NATO treaty. It provides that an armed attack against one or more of the parties in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. It further provides that each of the parties, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence, will assist the parties attacked by taking such action as deemed necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain security of the North Atlantic area.

34. That article has been invoked by the parties to NATO to justify their participation in military action by the United States in exercise of the collective right of self-defence.

35. The provisions of the ANZUS treaty are less clear. The emphasis on the treaty is on regional security in the “Pacific Area”. That is not defined. Article 4 provides that “each Party recognises that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes”.

36. Article 4 also provides that any such armed attack should be immediately reported to the Security Council and measures taken as a result should be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

37. Article 5 of the ANZUS treaty provides that “for the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on any of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the Metropolitan territory of any of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific”.

38. Because of the terms of Article 5, we do not assert that Australia’s proposed action is not pursuant to the ANZUS Treaty. It is however, arguable that the attacks on America were not “in the Pacific Area”, so that the Australia’s right (and duty) under the ANZUS treaty to participate in collective self-defence are not activated. It is submitted that, for this reason, there is a risk that the lawfulness of Australia’s participation in military action in Afghanistan could be challenged.”

See also

Project Coordinator: Richard Tanter?
Additional Research: Arabella Imhoff
?Updated: 9 April 2010