Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 10:46 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 10:46 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: More shoes on the ground?


Rodger Shanahan


2 October 2009 16:08

Cynthia Banham's article in today's SMH about the need for more civilian aid and expertise raises some interesting points, but doesn't delve deeply enough on the real issue — how to implement an effective whole-of-government approach in an insecure environment. 

While she points out that the UK Embassy in Kabul has 300 civilians working on various areas of governance and civil society, and that Canada's civilian contribution has doubled in the past year, a more pertinent measure would have been to say how many of them are working 'outside the wire'. Civilian advisors working from an office in Kabul are not much more effective than civilian advisers working from an office in London. 

The only viable means of ensuring that all the training and resourcing that is poured into Afghanistan is used to good effect by the institutions or individuals it is targeted at is the mentoring model, which requires people to be out working with Afghans. ISAF sees the mentoring model as a central pillar of its eventual handover of security to the Afghan police and military. If the coalition (both civlian and military) is not 'outside the wire', ground-truthing the situation, interacting with locals and providing on-the-ground advice then are they really fulfilling General McChrystal's counter-insurgency aim of protecting the local population?

But there are significant risks involved in doing this. Which takes me to a point of divergence with a claim made in the article: that additional Australian civilian shoes on the ground 'would not involve further drain on the defence force'. If the intent is for the civilians to operate from the embassy or from base camps in Kandahar or Tarin Kowt then this may well be true. But if the intent is for the civilian experts to provide mentoring in agriculture, policing, governance and education outside the wire then there will be a massive drain on the ADF to provide protection.
While I agree that an integrated civlian-military approach is the only viable course of action for the Coalition, in an environment as insecure as Afghanistan the unfortunate reality is that civilian mentoring that involves interacting with locals in a meaningful way comes at a security cost. And that cost will have to be borne by the ADF at the expense of its current tasks.

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