Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 00:02 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 00:02 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Soldier X returns


Sam Roggeveen


24 March 2009 11:45

Soldier X is a special operations soldier who has served in Afghanistan. He first wrote to us to object to Raoul Heinrichs' claim that Australia was making a 'token' contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Raoul replied here to Soldier X's objections. Now here's Soldier X's latest riposte:   

The use of the term ‘token’ to describe Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan and our contribution to the US alliance is an anathema to me. It implies that our forces are random chips cast in an unnecessary gamble. In reality, Australia’s involvement is both calculated and necessary.

On one hand, we are maintaining our most important strategic relationship during a time of presidential transition. On the other hand, we are making a serious contribution to fighting the insurgency in Oruzgan, one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous provinces. Indeed, the term ‘token’ is better reserved for those members of NATO who avoid direct combat and  restrict their contributions to the relatively safe regions of North and West Afghanistan.    

The contribution of our soldiers is increasingly vital to the situation in Afghanistan. Time and time again, special operations personnel have come to the assistance of our coalition partners, in some cases preventing them from being overrun and suffering extensive casualties. With the Dutch and Canadians planning to withdraw within the next year or two, our role is set to become even more valuable to our US and British counterparts. 

Since it first began operating in Oruzgan, Australia has pulled its weight and participated in more than its fair share of the fighting. Australian special operations soldiers are highly skilled at hunting down medium value individuals (MVI), high value targets (HVTs) and ‘irreconcilables’, as well as  conducting  long range reconnaissance (a skill all but forgotten among our coalition partners). Moreover, we have shown that we are willing to accept casualties that come from this type of work. Again, something many members of NATO have yet to do.    

This debate should not only be about whether we go or stay. It should also be about how we can more effectively stabilize Afghanistan and contribute to Washington’s new plan. The counter-insurgency  is not lost and our participation is important to the stabilization of Afghanistan. Indeed, if we correctly revamp our approach as we did in Iraq, similar victories will be had in Afghanistan. I have four suggestions:

  1. Ownership: While we cannot transplant the Iraqi solution, we can take some valuable lessons from it. The most important change of strategy was not the surge in troop numbers, but the dramatic shift in our behaviour towards the local population. Increased  respect, the advent of unconventional techniques (like Human Terrain Teams and cultural training for security forces), and the encouragement of local participation and ownership of the stabilization efforts through utilizing local tribal customs all significant improved the security situation.    
  2. Emphasis on policing: The Afghan problem has more in common with a rampancy of crime than a conventional war-zone. This is often overlooked due to its extremely violent nature. Police have always been better at addressing insurgent populations; they create stability, have a long term presence in an area, and generally dialogue more effectively with the population. The Australian Federal Police has sub-units designed for stabilization operations and the training of local police, which would be a valuable asset in this context.
  3. Utilizing natural resistors: Sufism has always been naturally resistant to the more extreme Wahabism of the Taliban. Encouraging the growth of this more moderate interpretation of Islam may be a  worthwhile policy to pursue as a counter-balance to the continued influence of Wahabism. Moreover, providing the population with an indigenous alternative to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam would offer many individuals a culturally-acceptable route out of the current predicament where they are caught between a US-backed regime on one hand, and a radical terrorist organization on the other.  
  4. Medicinal morphine industry: The creation of a medicinal morphine industry in Afghanistan may serve to curb the illicit opium trade that helps finance the Taliban’s insurgency. A precedent set in Turkey in the 1960s is worth exploring further.