On Monday in parliament, Bob Katter made some very valid points in relation to Australia being in Afghanistan before beginning to ramble on about the state of ANZUS without specifically mentioning it. He made some good points about that too but that’s a post for another day. I have excised much of the Member for Kennedy’s rambling nature from the extract below but I believe the intent remains as he intended.
In speaking to the motion before the House, I think that Afghanistan is not a country that you can look at without looking at its history. For those who like history, Alexander the Great was well into conquering what we now know as Pakistan and India and it is said in the history books that he took a look at Afghanistan and decided to go home to Macedonia. He put it in the too hard basket. Some 1,000 years later Genghis Khan, another of the most famous conquerors in all of human history, took on the Afghanis, was defeated and decided to take on Europe instead. He thought Europe was a softer target, which it proved to be. There is really not much record of him being defeated in Europe whereas he had been soundly defeated in Afghanistan.
If we move on another 600 or 700 years later the British Empire sent a full army of 55,000 men into Afghanistan and, basically, nobody returned. The mightiest empire the world has ever seen was soundly annihilated by Afghanistan. So Britain decided to leave Afghanistan alone. Some 300 or 400 years later the Russians decided that they were going to take on Afghanistan. For those, again, who like reading history books I think Charlie Wilson’s War should be compulsory reading for everyone in this place, particularly if they are talking about Afghanistan.
Clearly the combination of the sort of people the Afghanis are and the sort of terrain you are dealing with in Afghanistan resulted in the collapse of the communist empire. Russia collapsed as a result of her involvement in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country which, for a raft of reasons, none of the great conquerors nor the great empires in history have succeeded in being able to get to move in the direction they wanted it to move in. If you ask whether the occupation of Afghanistan is going to end up successfully, it has not yet in human history and one would wonder why it would end up so this time with the Americans being successful.
Brigadier Mansford was the most highly qualified and experienced soldier in the Australian Army and, I think, the most decorated soldier in the Australian Army and was a man who had 15 years as a private and was briefly a sergeant before the Army decided to put him up for promotion. He said that we have a commitment in Afghanistan which we now cannot ignore. He said that we have to train these people, their police, their military and their administrative regimes and then slowly edge ourselves out and hand over to the local authorities.
He adds that there should be a timetable which takes into account what the Army is capable of doing with or without support and that it ought to be reviewed on a yearly basis. There should be objective assessments and objective criteria for a yearly assessment of what is happening, particularly with the training of the Afghan army and its administrative adjuncts. He believes that that is the smart way to fight a war—that is, a limited commitment along the lines he has outlined here. I think that is the voice of great experience. He is a man who served his country in Vietnam; he may even have served in Korea, although I do not think so and maybe I am wrong there. Most certainly he is the most experienced soldier who held a very senior rank still alive today—in fact, if you are a brigadier you are in charge of our combat force in Australia. That was the position that he once held.
We are in our ninth year of commitment. There have been 21 Australian deaths and, sadly, among them was Benjamin Chuck, who was from my home area of Far North Queensland. The operations have cost the Australian people $6,000 million so far and the nonmilitary financial assistance totals more than $700 million. We are not Robinson Crusoe: some 47 countries and 120,000 personnel have been involved. Brigadier Mansford also pointed out that the situation in Pakistan is highly volatile, with the government trying to maintain democratic institutions in the face of a very strong but not very tolerant fundamentalist surge. Having said all those things there has never been any doubt in my mind that, if the Americans go in and they request us to go in, we absolutely must go in.
Stay tuned for more thoughts by Katter on the state of the Australian military and its political implications including another history lesson..