Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 00:36 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 00:36 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: Faulkner statement a failure

13 August 2009 16:04

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

In a lecture by Prof Hew Strachan at the Land Warfare Studies Centre yesterday, discussion of Clausewitz’s 'second trilogy' (I am knee deep in shallow water here because 'On War' is still on my 'to read' list) caught my attention. I understood from the Professor that this refers to the interaction of government, the military and the people in matters of war.

The professor pointed out that in our current wars, run by governments which are doubtful they can carry the people with them but still believe that the country should be involved, and conducted by small professional militaries that may not need the direct support of the people in the way older conscript militaries might have, the people are absent.

My attention was drawn after the lecture to a Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan on the Australian Labor Party website, dated 12 August. This is a statement by Minister Faulkner to the Senate, described as a 'frank and objective assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan'. It lays out the Government’s reasons for being in Afghanistan, how it assesses the current situation, and what the various military and non-military elements in Afghanistan are doing.

But it does not go into the 'how' in sufficient detail for anyone to make a judgement. Everyone knows that our soldiers are doing a good job. It is nice to be told this again but the real issue is: Are the things that we are doing the right things, and are we doing enough of them and in the right place to be decisive? 

If it is the intention of the Minister to provide a 'frank and objective assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan', and if he wants to 'ensure that the Australian Parliament and the Australian people are properly informed and able to make considered judgement', as he claims, then he has dramatically failed.

He has indeed stated what we are doing, but he has not told us what it is necessary to do to achieve what might be our aims. Are we doing enough of anything? Are the amounts of money the Minister tells us we are allocating to the arming of the Afghan National Army and police sufficient, or are they totally inadequate? Are ten AFP policemen enough to do anything worthwhile, or will they be wasting their time at those numbers with a poor police force that is operating in an insecure environment?

Is AUSAID doing enough, are they providing enough staff and can they operate where the people are? Are the military forces achieving anything like an adequate level of security outside its line of sight from its bases or the physical presence of its patrols? Are the numbers of security forces that we intend to create and then mentor adequate to achieve security within the province even if they can be trained to Capability Milestone 1? Do we have enough troops to both mentor and partner the number of Afghan units that need to be created?

Is the impact of our special forces on the Taliban leadership significant? Is our election support adequate or has it arrived far too late (one week before the election) and in apparently quite small numbers? Are we really capable of playing our part in Oruzgan Province in the overall Obama military strategy of 'disrupt, dismantle and defeat'? Do we have enough resources in the province to apply the most up to date counter-insurgency techniques, central to which is protecting the people? What are we likely to do if the Dutch go? Can we ever be decisive?

The trilogy that Professor Strachan spoke of is important, and the people are the key part. The Minister's statement is a good move, but it does not enable the people to make any assessment at all, much less the considered judgement that he says he wants. As such, the statement is patronising in the extreme. It gives us nothing more than a handy summary of the continual stream of Defence press releases. One would think that perhaps the Government does not want the real issues to be exposed.

On almost all of these issues above, I have given my personal views in an article just published in the Australian Army Journal (Vol VI Number 2 Winter 2009 — not yet online).

Photo by Flickr user purpleslog, used under a Creative Commons license.