Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 09:40 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 09:40 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: The strategic straw


Rodger Shanahan


11 October 2010 09:39

Given that the parliamentary debate on Afghanistan is likely to commence shortly, and that the PM and the Opposition Leader have recently visited our troops, I felt it appropriate to offer one observation that perhaps those entering the parliamentary debate could heed.

After a few years as an army staff officer I returned to regimental life as a battery commander and was brought up to speed about technical innovations that had occurred while I was looking at force structures in Canberra. Having spent my junior regimental officer career smashing my head against the intellectual dead-end of 'Defence of Australia' exercises (don't get me started on this issue) I was keen for the insights of aggressive young subordinates about what the brave new world offered. 

One particular brief was about the great cooperation that had developed between the artillery forward observers and the F-111s with their 'eye in the sky'. It was the early days of joint cooperation but the partners were willing and the tactical advantages obvious.

The only cautionary note about the capability was one that has stuck with me long after the brief and demonstration. The F-111s had to be vectored on to a specific feature such as a road or track because they had a narrow aperture view of the area of concern - their height and safety gave them fantastic opportunities to observe, but their physical distance from the battlefield made them very narrow in their view relative to the ground commander. In common language it was like looking at a map through a straw - great focus on one particular area at the expense of what was going on around you.

I hope those involved in the parliamentary debate do not adopt the F-111 view and make grandiose pronouncements based on a narrow view of the Afghanistan campaign.

Looking at Uruzgun and extrapolating that to broader issues such as Taliban capabilities, leadership degradation, logistic sustainment, popular support and the like risks trivialising our national contribution and missing the big picture of what exactly the coalition is achieving in the country. I trust that participants in the parliamentary debate will look at the whole map to make sense of the issue and not just through a straw that they have been given or have chosen, and don't offer strategic views  based on narrow tactical viewpoints.

People engaged in the debate need to understand that our efforts contribute to a broader campaign, and the loss of life needs to be looked at in terms of this campaign, not simply at the provincial level. They would do well to throw away their straw and debate the national (and regional) issues, rather than the provincial operational plan.

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