Thursday 14 Oct 2021 | 21:41 | SYDNEY
Thursday 14 Oct 2021 | 21:41 | SYDNEY

Rudd Afghanistan 'breakthrough' could haunt him


Rory Medcalf


4 April 2008 11:05

I somehow doubt Kevin Rudd is really claiming credit for NATO’s reported ‘breakthrough’ political statement affirming a strengthened commitment to Afghanistan, even though Dennis Shanahan’s front-page report for today’s Australian newspaper, complete with cheerleading headline, would have us believe that it merely needed the Australian PM’s magic touch to turn shambles into strategy.

Reports out of Bucharest remain mixed as to whether the new public declaration by NATO leaders will be backed up by a comprehensively bolstered set of military contributions. Yes, as has been anticipated for some time, France is to send an extra 1000 troops. But, beyond that, as The Times has reported:

...the offers of more NATO troops for the mission in Afghanistan turned out to be more of a trickle than a flow of combat soldiers to take on the Taliban, although Gordon Brown said that there had been encouraging evidence of greater burden-sharing, particularly on civilian projects.

In any case, as my colleague Anthony Bubalo and I argue, also in today’s Australian, the emphasis Mr Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon have recently placed on the Afghanistan campaign could prove a double-edged sword. Their repeated emphasis on conditionality — that Australia is committed to the ‘long haul’, but only if there is a ‘strategy for success’ – could end up increasing the unease felt by much of the Australian public about their country’s Afghanistan deployment. And even if we now accept that the Bucharest summit has given NATO fresh resolve to see the mission through, and that Australia’s new leaders have played a part in that, one of the results could be increased attention on the limited and hedging nature of Australia’s own role in efforts to solve the problems of Afghanistan and its region.