Against a backdrop of more deaths of NATO soldiers and a vacuum of political debate about Australia’s war engagement in Afghanistan, pertinent public assessments were made last week.
Prof Hugh White (Lowy Institute, ANU) says our government is not persuaded of a ’significant chance of success in Afghanistan’ and he believes pursuing war there will make little difference to global terrorism.
Defence Force Chief Angus Houston and Defence Minister John Faulkner claim that because it had been a base for terrorist training, “we remain committed to stabilising Afghanistan”. But five more years of training Afghan army forces will not meet US deadlines.
NATO & US commander Stanley McChrystal, worried about civilian casualties, instructed troops to let insurgents escape rather than risk them, as killing or alienating too many Afghans will eventually lose the war. Last year 973 civilians were killed in fighting, according to NATO.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that after eight years of fighting, progress must be made within 12 months or public support would be lost. Extra 21,000 US troops and new military approach are aimed at breaking the current deadlock, but the challenge of ’rising casualties’ remained.
President Obama wants ”transition to a different phase” after Afghan presidential elections August 20, but did not expand. US pronouncements on milestones for Afghan ’progress’ remain woolly and euphemistic.
Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence also expects a US surge to reinforce perceptions of foreign occupation, with civilian casualties and alienation of the people leading to more resistance. It may also force Taliban militants further into Baluchistan province in Pakistan for refuge. Will they revert to potential allies in the future when NATO finally withdraws?
With the complex interaction of miltary, social & political factors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, simplistic statements about ’war on terror’ are no longer tenable. Is the Afghan war indeed ‘winnable’?
Meanwhile Australia’s entire political class and parliament fail to discuss and debate it. Progress reports & analysis are left to Houston as if it’s just another military campaign and Australia’s 11th fatal casualty normal battle attrition.
(See July 03 ‘Afghan Home Truths: Malalai not Malcolm’ for an insider’s view)