Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 11:05 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 11:05 | SYDNEY

Australia Afghan commitment not laughable

22 July 2010 08:36

Whit Mason is a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute. In a speech to the Lowy Institute last Friday, Defence Minister John Faulkner criticised Whit's recent opinion piece in The Australian. There was then an exchange between Whit and the Minister in the Q&A portion of the speech; listen here.

I would like to clarify that I never wrote – and have never thought – that Australia's commitment in Afghanistan was 'laughable in our partners' eyes'. As I said in my reply at the Lowy Institute, I have a extremely positive impression of the ADF, and have never met anyone in Afghanistan who does not share that. 

Having said all this, with minor qualifications, I stand by the points I actually made in my opinion piece:

  1. Australia could take the lead in Oruzgan, thus 'owning something' and raising the perceived significance of its contribution, with few if any extra resources.
  2. Australia's Special Forces need permission from the CDF to operate outside Oruzgan or contiguous districts of northern Kandahar province, which reduces their agility and effectiveness.
  3. Trainers aren't allowed to accompany the Afghan troops they're training. I should have been more precise: they aren't allowed to accompany them as a matter of course. I did not mean to suggest that the Government could not give and had not ever given permission for the trainers to go along in particular instances. I believe it is true that they did not accompany them on the Marja campaign in Helmand, and that this will not be helpful to their rapport with the Afghans.
  4. Most importantly, I believe that, with minor adjustments, Australia could significantly raise its profile in the eyes of the US and other allies, which is the single most important reason Australia is in Afghanistan. My own impression from having worked in Afghanistan for the past two years – during most of which time I was based in Kandahar City and frequently visited the Dutch/Australian base in Tarin Kowt  – is that Australia does not get the recognition it deserves. I have heard the same from Australian officers and others who have served in Afghanistan.