Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 03:58 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 03:58 | SYDNEY

The big Afghanistan questions

30 August 2010 11:36

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

My view has always been that we should do Afghanistan right or we should get out. An honest debate would consider at least three options: withdraw, maintain the status quo, or increase our commitment. There is a plethora of questions that should be addressed before a debate occurs. Here are some that occur to me.

Can this war reach some kind of successful conclusion and what is that conclusion' Is the war 'winnable''

If Australia is in Afghanistan for general alliance reasons, is the nature of our tactical commitment likely to deliver significant strategic alliance benefits' That is, are we sufficiently impressing the US and so building up some non-specific strategic credits'

If we are there to assist our allies specifically in the fight in Afghanistan, are we effectively playing the role demanded by the campaign plan, expressed in shorthand as 'disrupt, dismantle and defeat' and 'shape, clear, hold, build, transition''

Given that we have agreed with the US view that we are participating in a counter-insurgency (COIN), and have publicly stated that we support a key tenet of COIN as being population protection, can we provide even a basic level of population protection' Can we protect all the Uruzgan population all the time, some of the population some of the time, or a bit of the population every now and again' Can we establish an enduring presence among the population that protects them against the Taliban, but also against the excesses of their own police, army and government'

While we are doing these things, in order to exercise our duty of care to our soldiers and deployed civilians, can we protect our personnel as they go about their business' Is their personal and vehicle protection adequate' Are the tactics that they use appropriate' Are there quickly deployable tactical reserves available to back up their actions if they get in to trouble' Do we have a reconnaissance capacity that can lessen the chance of surprise'

Are there strike aircraft based locally that can be overhead within the generally accepted reaction time of ten minutes' Are there sufficient uncommitted troops available so that if there is a clash between forces, we can deploy more troops or aircraft quickly to win the engagement so that our soldiers are not killed by the same enemy force when they meet them again the next day'

If our soldiers are injured while fighting, do we have sufficient resources to stabilise an area so that the casualty can be evacuated and treated in world-class medical facilities'

When our tactical task involves training local troops (which involves both small groups of Australian 'mentors' or advisers moving with the Afghans and larger bodies of Australian combat units 'partnering' the Afghans as they look for the enemy), are there enough partnering units to back up the Afghans at the accepted ratio of one Australian element to three Afghan elements'

If our major tactical task is to train the Afghan army in Uruzgan, and given that we have refused to lead in the province and we are only 'part of a team', who is actually doing all the other things across Uruzgan that a counter-insurgency demands'

If we have now taken over the role of mentoring all elements of the Afghan 4th Brigade in Uruzgan province (at the very least a three-fold increase in tasking) and we have not increased our troops numbers, what activities have we given up to man this large, new and dangerous commitment'

Do we have enough special forces troops to conduct the intelligence-led attacks on the leadership of the Taliban in our province (so important to our own troops' safety), at the same time as we support our allies in neighbouring provinces like north Kandahar'

With the population being so important to success in this war, is our aid proportional to the needs of the province' Can our aid personnel be effectively and safely deployed to direct, assess and monitor' Do they have enough resources to significantly impact on the people's attitude'

These are but a few of the questions we need answers to conduct some form of debate. The CDF has stressed that our troops are doing a 'magnificent job'. No one denies that, least of all me, who in a previous life was the Commanding Officer of 6 RAR, the unit suffering the casualties. The question is: Are they doing that magnificent job across enough of the province to make a real difference in Uruzgan, and are they or someone in Uruzgan able to do all the things that counter-insurgency requires, or are we trying to do counter-insurgency on the cheap'

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