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The United States Administration is said to be giving close consideration to its role in Afghanistan. The US military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is calling for an extra 40,000 troops, while President Obama considers his options, a process that is said will take several weeks.

There are NATO and Australian troops in Afghanistan. There has been no mention of a joint planning meeting, so presumably these allies will be informed of the eventual US decision and will be required to put up or shut up.

Presumably if the United States decides to pull out, all the allies will pull out and if the United States decides to increase troop numbers and stay the allies will stay.

The lack of input and involvement with the weighty policy issues the US is grappling with throws into stark relief the role of the allies as the Emperors fig leaf.

Naturally the US military will argue for increased troop numbers in order to tame the Taliban, they are not the most imaginative think tank in the Western World. Their solution was the same in Vietnam and in any case it seems like the best face saving device around, in fact the only face saving device.

When occupying and attempting to pacify the trouble-some tribes of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, the Russians came up with the same solution, that is, until it all became too much and they left the Afghan Army to do the job and they left Afghanistan. And that seemed like a good idea except that the Afghan Army sold itself off in bits and pieces to various war lords.

The British had a very British solution, they drew a line on a map and along that line they built forts and all those Pathans on the Afghan side were bad and those on the Indian side were unruly but damned good fighters with the right leadership and not bad at polo either.

Afghan friends say the occupying troops are increasingly being viewed in the same light as the Russians, there continued presence is counter-productive and assists recruitment for the war lords and Taliban.
The US military rigid, conventional and closed wish to see Afghanistan in isolation; crush the Taliban and Afghanistan will have a good chance to build infrastructure and democracy. If only the dynamics of Afghanistan were so simple.

The dominant Pathans live on both sides of a porous colonial border. They have no interest in having an equal relationship with the Hazara, Tadzhik and Uzbek peoples, all of whom the Pathans or Pashtuns regard as having been put in Afghanistan to work for them. Conflict will form part of the fabric of Afghanistan for as long as these racial tensions remain unresolved.

Then there is poverty, opium, religious ideology, family feuds, village feuds, tribal feuds, and neighbours interfering for strategic, economic and religious reasons.

Nothing can be resolved in Afghanistan without changing the nature and role of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence services. In other words Afghanistan extends deep inside Pakistan and the United States and its allies have to date demonstrated few strategies to deal with this in light of the current US strategy toward Afghanistan.

Senior Republicans argue that the US must crush the Taliban in order to deny safe haven to Al Qaeda but there is little evidence to suggest that Al Qaeda still has a major presence in Afghanistan and with many friends around the world including within Pakistan, Osama bin Laden could be anywhere from a five star hotel in Dubai to a compound in Spain.

The United States is chasing its tail. First seriously address some fundamental issues such as real pressure on Israel over settlements, thoughtful and caring support for the Palestinians, a reappraisal of support for the corrupt and chauvinistic Saudi Royal Family and a lessening of pressure on Iran which might further undermine the grip of the mullahs. Barak Obama has shown encouraging signs of going down that path.

These issues are at the heart of opposition to the United States and most recently led to the arrest of a home grown terrorist cell in the US.

Policy makers in Australia need to ask, what is it that they hope to achieve from the Australian military presence in Afghanistan? Is it just support for the US/Australia alliance or is Australia seriously engaged in a fight against international terrorism? If it is the latter then it needs to be explained how this commitment is achieving that and in what way does it impact positively in the short and long term on the lives of Australians? And this is not intended to goad the AFP into conjuring up confected baddies from the ranks of the misguided and dispossessed.

Are US objectives realistic? Can they be achieved? At what cost and over what period of time? Is the Australian commitment making a positive contribution? Are we getting value for money? Is there a down side and if so what is it?

Is it vital to our national interest to be putting the lives of young Australians on the line over Afghanistan? And if this commitment is in the national interest why are we hiding away the long term injured, when what we should be doing is looking after them as a nation.

And why are acts of bravery hidden away? What sort of paranoia has gripped Defence and our politicians in the name of the war on terror?