Australia has been involved in the Afghanistan War since 2001. We sent in special forces at the beginning of the war, which were withdrawn in 2002 then returned in 2005. Australia currently had approximately 1550 troops in Afghanistan. They are mainly serving in Uruzgan in Southern Afghanistan. They can roughly broken into two roles:
1)Training the Afghan National Army:
Most troops are involved in the non-combat role of “mentoring” or training the ANA in Uruzgan province so that they can theoretically take over the security role there once troops are withdrawn.
2) Special Forces Counter-Insurgency/Assassination Squads
The most important part of our contribution to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is the 300 or so SAS or Special Forces we have in the country who are in an active combat role. One of the major roles of these forces has been to “capture or kill” suspected enemy forces, often in night raids such as in Operation Peeler. This has resulted in many civilian deaths (see SAS dirty War)
Why Australia’s training role is problematic:
The cost of eventual security forces are likely to be in the order of US$5b, almost a quarter of Afghanistan’s GDP, 47% of which already depends on foreign aid. So either we’re going to bear the financial burden of these security forces for many years to come, or we bequeath to Afghanistan hundreds of thousands of armed men trained to kill but without pay.
There are serious questions over the loyalty of ANA troops to a central government once the bulk of the US/ISAF troops leave. The dramatic rise in the number of “green on blue” (ANA attacks on coalition troops) incidents in the last few years indicates that loyalty to the any central government is unlikely to be high even in the short term. This is particularly true in a country which has never had a strong central government, which pays its army and police forces poorly, and which largely operates on local loyalties. The question is whether Australians are merely training another group of Afghan mercenaries whose loyalty will go to the highest bidder.
Bring ALL the troops home!
In April of this year, PM Julia Gillard announced that Australia was withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan a year ahead of the U.S. schedule in 2013. However it is unlikely this will end Australia’s involvement in this war. The troops that will be brought home are the ones involved in the training or mentoring of the ANA. Gillard explicitly stated that some Special Forces will remain in the country after this date. The Australian/Afghan Strategic Agreement makes public this commitment. The Agreement was formally signed at the NATO meeting in Chicago on May 20-21st by Prime Minister Gillard. The Australian Agreement, like the U.S. Agreement will allow foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan until 2024, effectively extending the occupation for more than decade. Australia’s special forces will continue to play the role of assassination squads or counter-insurgents to help prop up the Karzai regime.