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Issue #1459      16 June 2010


Afghanistan – painful reminders of a bad commitment

Last week two young Australian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. It was the first time since the Vietnam War that there had been multiple Australian fatalities on the same day; a painful reminder if any were needed that the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been bloodless encounters fought out by technological means. They are not remote or irrelevant and, for the families of the servicemen and women involved, they are certainly not forgotten.

Australians never supported our military’s involvement in either Iraq or Afghanistan. In the later years of the war, public opinion was not behind involvement in Vietnam but there we were, boots and all. The decisions were made above the heads of the very people who were expected to go and fight these battles for economic and geo-political advantage for the United States. In the Vietnam years, conscripts were sent to fight and die at the same time they were denied the vote.

Today the commitment of troops is smaller and they are career soldiers. The number of Australian casualties is smaller. Perhaps that explains why Iraq faded as a prominent issue in Australia and why Afghanistan, the fate of its people and even the welfare of our military personnel do not receive much media attention or give rise to much protest. But there might be other reasons.

Last week it was announced that a US army intelligence analyst who allegedly leaked video of a drone attack on Iraqi civilians had been arrested. The images of the aircraft’s controllers gunning down unarmed civilians from the US and the excited “game playing” audio were uploaded to the whistle blowing Wikileaks website. The clip appalled the many viewers who accessed it. It was extremely embarrassing to the US military who are pushing the line that they are relying more and more on Iraqi authorities to ensure stability in the country before exiting the scene.

If you go to the Wikileaks – – you will find a leaked CIA document about shoring up support for the war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) entitled Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission – Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough. The frankly titled report notes that apathy about the issue enables leaders to ignore voters but that there is growing opposition to NATO involvement in the war in Afghanistan. What to do about it? How can apathy be transformed into actual support?

That is not a simple question but the military industrial complex and the US administration are also very adept in the battle of ideas. Their response is not a “one size fits all” proposition. The authors of the CIA report note that the loss of gains in rights for girls and women in Afghanistan should the Taliban regain power is the most powerful trigger in France. In Germany they note the prospect of increased terrorist activity, the waste of life and money withdrawal would signify, and concern about increased refugee numbers.

The report does not go into the specifics of how an information and misinformation campaign would be mounted – that is the work of other departments – but the international community has had vast experience of how this is done. “Experts” make statements taken up by the media. Documentaries are produced. Books, news and magazine articles bloom in hardcopy and digital form.

Australians should be aware of efforts to manipulate their opinions on issues of life and death like the US’s war in Afghanistan. At the time of writing coalition forces have suffered 1,725 deaths in Afghanistan including 10 Australians. There is no end in site to the US’ or Australia’s commitment. The security situation is apparently not improving and the government of President Hamid Karzai appears to be getting intermittent support for his role from the governments of the occupying countries. It is likely the Taliban – which has its origins in US meddling of a different era – will reassert itself in the country but it is clear that foreign occupation is making that outcome even more inevitable.

Australians should be concerned that peace is restored to war-ravaged Afghanistan, that the precarious and minimal rights of women are safeguarded and that the shattered country is rebuilt. None of these objectives will be achieved through participation in the US-led war. Peaceful means must be found to the ends desired by the community. The current apathy over the plight of Afghanistan is unacceptable. Voices must be raised. Australian troops must be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Next article – Successful visit to Perth by Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister

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