Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 23:35 | SYDNEY
Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 23:35 | SYDNEY

More troops to Afghanistan? Well, maybe


Sam Roggeveen


27 January 2009 17:26

Perhaps Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is signalling a new willingness to consider additional troop deployments, but let's wait for clarification first, given how garbled his quote is:

Mr Fitzgibbon says Australia will not consider a change unless there is a tactical or strategic justification. "Tactically might mean making sure they are as safe as is possible, making sure the numbers are right, strategically it could mean making better progress both across the province and indeed collectively across the country," he said.

"The other key principle of course is that we are not prepared to do more just so more NATO countries can do less."

Let's deconstruct that a little. First, if the priority is making the troops as safe as possible, I would have thought the best idea is to not send them at all (sorry, cheap shot). Second, is Fitzgibbon saying there needs to be progress in order for the Government to consider more troops, or that we will send more troops to create more progress?

Third, that last line is a pretty serious roadblock, given the likelihood that the Dutch will draw down their Oruzgan presence in 2010. It would be impossible for any Australian troop increase not to be seen as a response to NATO's lack of enthusiasm for the mission. Indeed, former Labor leader Kim Beazley argues this should be a justification for any Australian increase, rather than a reason not to send more troops: `If (the Dutch withdrawal) happens, we should offer an extra force battalion,' he says.

Beazley might be right, but clearly Fitzgibbon cannot say any such thing. While there's any hope the Dutch will remain, he has to use what leverage he has to influence them. But if that effort fails and we decide to send additional troops anyway, the Government will need a reason.

In its enthusiasm for the war (apparently there's a 'growing throng of experts' calling for more Australian troops), The Australian kindly offers one, suggesting an Australian troop boost could be linked to the upcoming US surge of around 20,000 troops to Afghanistan.