Ross Peake July 03, 2012
When Julia Gillard announced a timetable for withdrawing Diggers from Afghanistan, she hoped to diffuse the growing unease about Australia’s involvement in the war.
But she also created a problem of expectations – if they can come home next year, why can’t they return earlier, before more are killed?
Her answer to that is, like John Howard’s, that the date is dependent on ‘‘finishing the job’’.
As a realist, she says the latest death may cause many Australians to ask why our forces are still in Afghanistan.
‘‘That mission is so important to our Australian nation,’’ she says. ‘‘We went there to make sure that Afghanistan would not continue to be a safe haven for terrorists.’’
Many Australians don’t appear to understand what is involved.
We are training the Afghanistan National Army to enable them to take over full responsibility for security of their nation.
The latest death occurred during a ‘‘partnered’’ operation to hunt out a Taliban commander.
The Australian was on his seventh tour in Afghanistan, an astonishing commitment from an unquestionably professional soldier.
He spent his entire adult life in the service of our country. He knew the risks and went willingly.
This tragedy occurred in a firefight with insurgents and the ongoing fear is that more Australians will be killed in combat.
On top of that is the fear that insurgents will again enmesh themselves in the ANA and have the opportunity to murder their trainers.
This is an incredibly difficult situation for our troops. It is a signal of their dedication that the ‘‘green on blue’’ attacks have not sapped their resolve.
On Sunday three British soldiers were killed by an Afghan policeman, the third attack by Afghan personnel on their mentors in as many months.
The polls suggest a majority of Australians want the troops home, as soon as possible. That is the policy advocated by the Greens.
Labor and the Coalition don’t think the Greens are taking a responsible approach, that a premature withdrawal will leave the ANA unable to cope and the country will be quickly overrun by the Taliban.
Greens leader Christine Milne sensibly left politicking out of her brief statement of condolence yesterday.
Gillard has Tony Abbott’s support on this one policy but the ongoing task to explain and justify Australia’s military commitment remains entirely with her.
Ross Peake is Political Editor