No one wants to know about the war in Afghanistan.
It was not always so. From the beginning in 2001 politicians on both sides of the aisle set forth with flags flying. From Howard to Rudd to Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull, all cozied up to our lads on the front line with ‘secret’ visits that just happened to include photo spreads in all the media.
Canberra’s own Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh in 2013 recorded his ‘pleasure’ at lunching with the then Afghan Finance Minister, Dr Omar Zakhilwal who had ‘noted the willingness with which Australian forces worked in Uruzgan province’. Moreover, said Andrew in a burst of optimism, the decision to close the Australian base at Tarin Kot ‘indicates that we are now transitioning to full Afghan-led security forces’.
Alas, these days Tarin Kot is firmly in the hands of the Taliban. Indeed, the whole of Uruzgan province is riddled with them. In May, Afghan forces abandoned the district centre and all five of Uruzgan’s districts are, at best, ‘contested’. In the wider war, the Taliban is operating nearly all Afghanistan’s 34 provinces with seven capitals directly threatened. And this week Afghan government forces lost more than 200 soldiers on four fronts where in each case they were in headlong retreat.
The end seems inevitable. The Americans recently began talks with the enemy. It was a clear gesture of defeat under the leadership of a president who will happily walk away while blaming his predecessors for getting his country into an unwinnable war. And the lives of 41 Australian servicemen will have gone for nought, to say nothing of the 261 wounded and the scores mentally disabled.
Behind the scenes, another casualty is taking place, one that will have far-reaching consequences for our whole defence posture. Recent revelations in the Fairfax media have called into question the reputation of our elite Special Forces, particularly the SAS. And when the final report of the Inspector General of the Defence Force is completed – probably next month – the damage will spread, whatever his decision about the allegations surrounding Ben Roberts-Smith VC.
However, there is a bright side. The exercise will provide the CDF, General Angus Campbell – himself an SAS veteran – to review and reorganise the operations of our Special Forces within the ADF.
He will be aware that from the end of the Vietnam War in 1974 to the East Timor conflict in 1999, the SAS was basically under-employed; yet from 2001 to 2014 they and their commando colleagues were stretched almost to breaking point. He will know that battlefield developments in communications, intelligence, armament and transport have created a cohort of enormous defensive potential. He will also have learned the pitfalls of joining in with American adventurism in the Middle East when our own region should have first claim on our vigilance.
The days of Big Army are gone. It is the Special Forces that should become the hard cutting-edge of the ADF, supported and buttressed by air and sea units dedicated to exploiting their capability to the fullest.
It’s to be hoped that General Campbell will not be diverted by the actions of a few. That at least would be one saving grace to an otherwise disastrous war.
Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. His Dark Paradise swept aside the curtain of euphemism to expose the horror of colonial sadism on the penal colony of Norfolk Island. His monumental history of Australia’s Special Forces – Warrior Elite – is required reading in the fields of Military Security and Intelligence. His best-selling biography, SAS Sniper revealed as never before the battles against Islamist fanatics. And these are just a few of the highlights among his 28 respected and popular works of fiction and non-fiction.
Robert is the author of WARRIOR ELITE.
‘Warrior Elite charts what our military future will look like, based on some remarkable military and intelligence achievements of the past… ‘It is unique because Robert Macklin has tumbled to a reality that few people outside the official national security community understand: Australia’s Special Forces include not only the SASR and the Commandoes, but Australia’s intelligence agencies.’ – Peter Jennings, Exec. Director. Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Also by the author SAS Insider; and SAS Sniper by Rob Maylor and Robert Macklin