ALP and Afghanistan intervention
- Afghan role conditional on Iraq, says Beazley
By Cynthia Banham Defence Reporter
Sydney Morning Herald, July 7, 2005
The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, has called on the Federal
Government to "do something different in Afghanistan" but stopped
short of backing a new commitment of Australian troops to fight
He suggested that Labor's support for a renewed deployment in
Afghanistan was conditional on first winding back Australia's forces
His comments contrast with those of the Opposition's foreign affairs
spokesman, Kevin Rudd, and its defence spokesman, Robert McClelland,
who have been calling for some time for the Government to respond to
international requests to deploy new troops to Afghanistan, where the
Taliban still has a strong foothold.
Mr Beazley's remarks followed strong signals from the Government that
it would positively consider a request to send new troops to
Afghanistan, after coming under sustained pressure, particularly since
late 2004, from the US, British and Afghan governments, and NATO, to
Labor sources said Mr Beazley has been reluctant, until now, to call
for another deployment to Afghanistan for fear of offending some
members of caucus, instead leaving it to his frontbenchers to
prosecute the argument for more troops.
Mr Beazley said yesterday that Afghanistan was "terrorist central" and
Iraq was a "distraction" from the struggle with terrorism, which was
an obstacle to doing "a proper job in Afghanistan".
The Government should be "looking at winding down our military
engagement in Iraq", he said. But, asked if Australia should be making
a significant commitment to Afghanistan, Mr Beazley gave a conditional
reply: "If they were to bring their force levels back in relation to
Iraq were we to do that, then there would be the resources to do
something different in Afghanistan".
He added: "Given our other commitments, and given our possible other
commitments in the South-East Asian area, I wouldn't encourage the
Government to overdo it."
This contrasts with Mr Rudd's position. He has been calling on the
Government to focus attention on Afghanistan since March last year,
when he visited Kabul.
Mr Rudd has been an outspoken critic of Australia's military
contribution to Afghanistan, which since late 2002 has comprised one
mine clearance expert, calling it a "forgotten" theatre.
This week Mr McClelland told the Herald: "We would support a military
involvement in Afghanistan, because it has a direct relevance to our
On Tuesday, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, gave the clearest
signal yet that the Government was likely to deploy troops to Afghanistan.
"Now we've wound down our contribution to the peacekeeping force in
East Timor and we've wound back significantly our operation in Solomon
Islands, we can have another look at this and we will," he said.
There is growing international concern over the activities of the
Taliban in Afghanistan, with members of the organisation believed to
be responsible for shooting down a US helicopter, killing 16 US
military personnel, last week.
See also SMH editorial:
Leftover business in Afghanistan
Australian troops must return
Australia's present contribution to the Afghanistan theatre of the war
against terrorism is just one pair of boots on the ground; they belong
to a mine clearance officer. That is quite a retreat from the
1500-plus service personnel Australia committed in 2001 to the US-led
assault on al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime. Allowing our forces to
dwindle to just one soldier makes a mockery of Australia's commitment
to help drive terrorism out of Afghanistan and to rebuild the nation
so that the terrorists might never return.
Other countries - notably the United States and its NATO allies - have
maintained substantial forces in Afghanistan, while Australia has made
excuses. Our forces are small and our capacity to sustain them in the
field limited; and already we are spread thin. Perhaps the army should
be substantially increased, as General Peter Cosgrove suggested before
his retirement as armed forces chief last week. In the meantime, we
have disappointed our obligations. Now, with the winding down of other
commitments - particularly in East Timor and the Solomon Islands - our
neglect of Afghanistan is to be reconsidered, and rightly so.
Divided by ethnic and tribal differences, no country could be more
difficult than Afghanistan to weld into something like a cohesive,
representative democracy, unless of course it is Iraq.
Unsurprisingly, progress has been modest, but progress there has been.
A country which had never known democracy now has an elected
president, and in just a few months is due to elect a parliament.
Afghanistan's schools, clinics and other services and infrastructure
have been significantly expanded, while dangerous militia are being
disarmed and a new Afghan army being trained. For all that, however,
Afghanistan remains a wild place; just how wild is clear in the
Foreign Affairs Department's advice to travellers: "The security
situation ... remains extremely dangerous", and "the risk of terrorist
attacks is high". Don't go, it advises, and if you are there, leave.
Afghanistan cannot be reconstructed until terrorism is largely
banished and the power of local warlords curbed. Until then, the only
thing likely to flourish beyond the well-protected perimeter of Kabul
is the opium poppy, already worryingly resurgent after being earlier
rooted out by the Taliban. Regime change can be swift, as in
Afghanistan and Iraq; nation building, however, is a long, slow slog.
Australia's clear obligation is to finish what it began; that means
not only recommitting forces to Afghanistan, but doing so for the long