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Published: The Canberra Times

Thanks to WikiLeaks we learnt on 10 December, that Australia is deeply pessimistic about the war in Afghanistan and Australian involvement. As Prime Minister, Rudd confessed to his American interlocutors that ‘Afghanistan scares the hell out of me’, which goes some way toward explaining why he was frequently photographed entering or leaving church.

The leaked cables detail an Australian lack of confidence in the ability of the Afghan police to be trained, the capabilities of the Afghan government and the strategies being deployed to win the war;. These assessments are at odds with public statements by the Rudd and Gillard governments.

As early as July, WikiLeaks released information which showed that the war was going badly and Obama’s surge strategy was a failure. Details in war logs listed activities of a secret ’black’ unit of special forces which hunts down and kills Taliban leaders, that the Taliban have acquired surface-to-air missiles, that the coalition is using Reaper drones controlled from Nevada to hunt and kill Taliban (and civilians if they happen to get in the way) and the increased success of road side bombing.

As Daniel Flitton said in The Age on 10 December, “What emerges from these cables is deep and enduring pessimism about the idea that a foreign force can impose peace in Afghanistan.”

Other leaked cables detail the extent to which Pakistan through their Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) agency are supporting militant Taliban groups including the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani and Hekmatyar Afghan Taliban groups and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both Haqqani and Hekmatyar ran Mujahideen groups during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and were supported and funded by the US. I met both of them in Peshawar.

Declan Walsh in The Guardian Weekly of 10 December, quotes the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, as saying ‘there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance…as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups.’

Declan Walsh notes that the ISI and the Pakistan Army are determined to stop a pro-Indian government coming to power in Kabul. He writes that, “The analysis (by the US Ambassador) highlights a stark contradiction – that one of Washington’s key allies is quietly propping up its enemies – and is an admission of the limits of US power in a country that still views India, not the Taliban, as its principal threat. With Washington fearful of deploying troops to fight al-Qaida in Pakistan, money has been its main weapon since 2001. It has given the army $9bn to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in the tribal belt; on 22 October the White House announced an extra $2bn over the next five years.” Walsh notes that Pakistan has received $16bn in US aid since 2001.

Compare WikiLeaks and coverage of the war by the Guardian with the Australian media; inadequate at best, pathetic at worst. The dumbed down Good Weekend of 23 January carried what was to all intents and purposes an ADF promo ‘Women at War’, with little mention of the war, “ And yet Ingram patrols with a team of men whose task is to secure hostile territory, hunting down insurgents, pushing them back. ’Wherever they go I go. Wherever they sleep, I sleep.’ And there are other women not far away: specialists in electronic warfare; medics shadowing units they hope will not require their urgent attention.”

Neil James is the executive director, Australian Defence Association (ADA) he spins the defence message, including the war in Afghanistan, a subject on which he implies some knowledge. For example writing in Crikey on 14 October he had this to say. “With few individual exceptions (Brendan Nelson, John Faulkner) the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments have all led public debate on our Afghanistan commitment badly and complacently. Parliamentary opposition by the Australian Democrats and especially the Greens has also been ideological rather than evidence-based. No Democrat or Green senator has ever visited Oruzgan Province.”

He further expounds, “Australia has very few genuine academic experts on Afghanistan and even fewer without ethnic or religious irons in the fire (whatever that means, but best not go there). Professor Bill Maley from the ANU is almost the only one able to provide objective comment based on considerable and wide-ranging research in Afghanistan over decades.” What a shame his circle is so narrow, I could have provided James with a list.

Again in Crikey on the 29 July, James says in rather fanciful flight, “Put bluntly, WikiLeaks is not authorised in international or Australian law, nor equipped morally or operationally, to judge whether open publication of such material (on Afghanistan) risks the safety, security, morale and legitimate objectives of Australian and allied troops fighting in a UN-endorsed (it is not) military operation. Nor should and can groups such as WikiLeaks be so authorised or equipped respectively, especially when they are unaccountable to any responsible authority or international humanitarian law (IHL) in a legal or moral sense.” For the life of me I cannot see why international humanitarian law gets a run. But then all is relevant in spin and war.

The ADA had its genesis with the catholic right wing National Civic Council, set up and run by Bob Santamaria in the 1950’s from Victoria. Anti communist, abortion and anything else progressive or liberalising most believed it died with Santamaria.

James has pushed a line on Afghanistan similar to that publicly articulated by the Defence Department. It is a shame they did not take him into their confidence and share with him their hard- nosed ,and I believe correct assessment, of the limited prospects for ‘winning’ the war.

Thanks to WikiLeaks we can now debate our involvement free of spin.