Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 07:40 | SYDNEY
Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 07:40 | SYDNEY

Our purpose in Afghanistan


Rodger Shanahan


1 June 2011 14:42

I admit to being extremely disappointed with my colleague Raoul Heinrichs' prescription for an Afghan security strategy: Australia's Afghan contribution is pointless, therefore the solution is to bring everyone back behind the wire ASAP and then withdraw. 

I can only assume that Raoul wrote this while caught up in the emotion of the moment, because his suggestion represents the ultimate expression of pointlessness and shows a complete lack of understanding of what motivates soldiers.

The ultimate point to the mission is to leave the area for which you have responsibility in better shape than you found it. What happens after troop withdrawal and through the country as a whole is ultimately out of your hands, but the greatest insult to the lives of the soldiers sacrificed to date would be to tell them that it was all for nought, to stop trying to make any lasting gains and to skulk back into your fortified location to await the first plane out of the country. 

That's not to mention the message this would send to our allies about the reliability of Australia as a security partner. Nor of the impact on the cessation of the efforts of the DFAT and AusAID officials who are making headway in the governance and development space now that they are able to go outside the wire.

Soldiers have a social contract with the governments they serve. They are sent without consultation or choice into harm's way to achieve foreign policy goals set by the government. In exchange, the government provides for their care and for that of their families. They do not achieve those goals by simply occupying space, as Raoul advocates — and they would be horrified at the thought of anyone advocating it. 

The soldiers operating in Uruzgan already have a timeline in which to achieve their tactical gains — 2014. More soldiers will die before that date arrives, but more gains of which the soldiers will be proud will also be made. How permanent the gains are won't be known but neither will it matter to them while they're doing the job. The term 'soldiering on' was not coined for nothing.  

Photo by Flickr user isafmedia.