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

Our new Afghanistan deployment


Mark O'Neill

3 December 2009 09:49

Prime Minister Rudd's announcement in Washington that Australia will 'surge' police and civil aid efforts in Afghanistan is sound policy.

Much of the recent focus on Afghanistan has understandably been on President Obama's announcement about strategy and troop numbers. But although sound strategy and sufficient troops are essential, they are rarely enough to secure success.

My recent Lowy Institute Paper, 'Confronting the Hydra: Big problems with small wars', described how important both a 'whole-of-government' approach and the establishment of appropriate police capability are to countering insurgency. Two of the paper's policy recommendations point towards the direction announced by the Prime Minister in Washington:

  • Identification, training, education and deployment of a cadre from across relevant government departments to enable a true whole-of-government approach to counterinsurgency. Implicit in this recommendation is the requirement to prepare such a group for possible employment alongside ADF, Coalition and Afghan National Government organisations.


  • A greater role for the Australian Federal Police in counterinsurgency campaigns, beginning with the present campaign in Afghanistan.

Let's look briefly at both of these in turn.

The idea of a 'whole of government' or 'interagencyapproach emphasising the use of civil aid and reconstruction is an established part of the mantra heard from counterinsurgency experts and commentators. The problem is that implementing this idea as part of a coherent strategy is as novel as its advocacy is common. 

A recurring feature in the analysis of why whole-of-government approaches fail is a lack of training and education of the actors involved. Goodwill and intent has never trumped the imperative to train and prepare, so if the Australian Government's initiative is to succeed, a vital element will be to train and educate those involved.

An effective police force is an essential pre-requisite for stabilising a society affected by insurgency. The proper use of police by counterinsurgents offers security to the population, develops intelligence, and reinforces the appearance of normalcy that is crucial to emphasising the rule of law. Such an effect will be highly complementary to the Australian military effort in Oruzgan Province

While working for the Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence in Iraq during 2007-2008, members of my team in Ramadi saw the impact a viable police force can have in counterinsurgency. The US Army and Marines stabilised what had previously been an insurgent stronghold. The work of the Marines was noteworthy in mentoring and developing the Iraqi Police into an effective force — a significant factor in the success of their efforts was the embedding of troops throughout the city's police stations and the delivery of training at those sites.

Unlike our American allies, Australia need not rely on its military to train indigenous police forces. The investment made in the development of the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group (IDG) over the last half decade has given Australia a unique capability among its principal allies with respect to deployable police. 

The IDG is highly suited to mentoring and developing indigenous police capabilities in a counterinsurgency campaign such as that in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister's Washington statement noted that the detail of the increased police deployment to Afghanistan is still to be determined by the National Security Committee of Cabinet. The approach and lessons learnt by the Marines and their successors in Ramadi suggests a way ahead for the police deployment.