Our Afghanistan: War Weary

The US announcement of its 11 September withdrawal of armed forces from Afghanistan was followed a few days later by Australia announcing ditto. How embarrassing. Not even a fig leaf of having our own strategy. In a frank radio interview last week, Chris Barrie, retired head of the Australian Defence Force, agrees. He was commander-in-chief in 2001/02 and in 2005 when Australian forces returned there.

KC has been campaigning against Australia’s misplaced Afghan adventure since launching online in 2009, with initial coverage of Afghan activist Malalai Joya’s visit to Australia to warn of our mistaken involvement. PM Abbott’s announcement in 2013 of Australia’s withdrawal was a fudge. Apparently there are now about 80 military personnel to come home.

Along with two other experts, in the Radio National interview Barrie canvasses Australia’s cynical flag-waving re-entry in 2005 with no mission clarity; the subsequent moral disorientation of troops, who were then shooting unarmed civilians; disappointing outcomes for the Afghanis in general, and a small intake of their refugees to Australia; negative consequences of Taliban rule, particularly on women; resonance with our failed Vietnam war; the future role of the ADF; the mental health of troops and veterans; and the waste of $500m of taxpayer money at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. 

Barrie comes across as a straight shooter, so to speak, and it was encouraging to have this interview just before Anzac Day, when we normally have to avoid any questioning or critical discussion about Australia’s wars, and stick with the sacrosanct legend stuff. A turning point in our public discourse perhaps.

He also agrees with KC that responsibility for deciding Australia’s involvement in war/conflict should be taken away from the PM and cabinet and put into parliament where it belongs. Like the US Congress, and most European parliaments. The government would then have to justify its war objectives under scrutiny, and not just go ‘all the way with LBJ’ in Vietnam, or later iterations by our Man of Steel following the US into Iraq, and so on.

The cat is out of the bag now, as we are publicly discussing the rash of suicides amongst our returned Afghanistan veterans, and hopefully asking hard questions to explain their mental health issues and support them. And maybe talk honestly about our war failures, and unnecessary wars, as Henry Reynolds called them.

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