Friday 29 May 2020 | 11:46 | SYDNEY
Friday 29 May 2020 | 11:46 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: We need answers!

18 November 2009 11:31

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

In response to Shanahan and Dobell, the reasons there is no debate of note on Afghanistan might be as follows:

  • Australia is not doing much in Afghanistan. Our troop contribution is about 1.5% of the total foreign presence, our police and civilian contributions are minuscule, our casualties are low and our influence on war strategy is negligible.
  • The Government is very happy with no debate. It does not defend our commitment except in the vaguest terms, and does not see that it has a leadership role in the debate. It is happy that Defence Public Relations bombard the media with prodigal dog releases, meaningless information on caches and actions that have no context and therefore cannot be criticised. It also keeps the media out of military units so that the internal contradictions of what we are doing are not too obvious.
  • The Opposition is absent on Afghanistan, obviously hoping that if it ever gets back in to Government, it will not be caught by its own criticisms.

Peter Cosgrove is right to say that the problem is strategy. The confusion arises because the Australian way of war is to get in fast, do as little as possible, then get out fast.

What we do in a military sense is usually not related to actually 'winning' (variously defined) but about satisfying a domestic audience that we are doing something worthwhile, while avoiding any formal criticism by our allies. This is a strategy, but it is not one that can be debated along with our national myths, so it is hidden by 'we are in it for the long run' rhetoric.

The war does not touch the average Australian and so argument is limited to a very small number of protagonists with much baggage. There is an unrealistic demand for certainty, embodied in a sad demand for exit strategies, when decisions to commit or maintain troops are always about probabilities and judgement. The only military certainty is that more troops do not guarantee victory, they just decrease the probability of losing. By how much is a judgement. The only exit strategy with any integrity is generally unpalatable — win first, then go home.

The issues are not difficult but the answers are. In his Boyer Lecture, Peter Cosgrove kept asking questions but disappointingly not answering them. This happens far too much in the debate. It is time that commentators started answering the questions that are critical to this debate, not just cleverly posing them. Notice how often this occurs — hard hitting comment ends with a whimper of a question.

Just to prove what a roaring hypocrite I am, here is a list of questions to which I have provided my answers any numbers of times:

  • Why are we there?
  • Why should we stay there?
  • What is the strategic objective of being there?
  • What are the methods to achieve the objective?
  • What resources do the methods require to achieve the objectives?

It isn't rocket science and the ex-military in particular should be prepared to answer these questions publicly and specifically. Until you go through this process, a consideration of tactics and techniques is premature.