Friday 29 May 2020 | 13:37 | SYDNEY
Friday 29 May 2020 | 13:37 | SYDNEY

Our low-risk, low-return Afghan surge


Rodger Shanahan


4 December 2009 10:54

I argued in a previous post that sending more civilian advisors to Afghanistan and then restricting them to bases achieves little more than the rearrangement of bureaucrats' locations.

Advisors who never get to interact with the locals outside the security of coalition bases are severely restricted in both the situational awareness that will inform good decision-making, and in their ability to manage projects. If advisors are not out among the population, it is fair to question the quality of advice they can provide to locals and to their superiors back home.
The Government's announcement that our contribution to the US-led 'surge' would be additional police trainers is likely to replicate this risk-averse approach. So I don't share Mark O'Neill's view that the announcement was 'sound policy'.

Sound politics, for sure, but sound policy? Just as advisers who cannot go outside the wire are constrained in the quality of the advice they give and receive, police officers who train but cannot mentor will produce sub-optimal results. This is not to criticise the efforts that the police trainers will put in. Rather, the issue is that training without mentoring produces good objective data (numbers of police trained) but no subjective data (how do they perform once they leave the base?).

There is little point in training police inside a base and then releasing them into their own cultural environment with the attendant familial, ethnic, financial and cultural pressures and expect them to become bastions of probity and respected members of the community. When the security environment is deemed too risky for the trainers to accompany the Afghan police officers on their task, it doesn't send a great message to the trainees. 

In an environment such as Afghanistan, governments are rightly reluctant to risk the lives of non-combatants such as police and civilian advisers. So while we espouse the concept of a 'whole-of-government' approach to counterinsurgency, the reality is that we do not practice such an approach in high-threat environments. The Solomons and East Timor allowed the police to get among the population and to mentor local police, but even Iraqi police training was done from outside the country.

It is quite apparent that the key performance indicator for this Australian 'surge' will be about the numbers of police trained rather than the quality of the trainees on the roads and in the villages after their training has finished. If the aim is to make a qualitiative difference to policing in Uruzgan then the advisors should be allowed to adopt the Army's mentoring model, with its attendant risks. If the aim is simply to make a quantitative difference with as little risk as possible, then why not conduct the police training in a third country, as was the case in Iraq?

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