Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forever In Their Debt

The news that three Australian soldiers had died in Afghanistan so soon aft the last two casualties just a fortnight ago has saddened all Australians. It has also prompted an increasing number of people to question the Australian military deployment in Afghanistan, with Newspoll figures showing that around 60% of people believe that our forces should be brought home. While it is natural that we should abhor the violence and loss of life involved in any war, many Australians feel that the tragedy is amplified because they believe that Afghanistan is not our war to fight, and not our country to defend. People are asking just what has it all been for?

Despite the belief of some that Australia’s involvement is driven by the dictates of our ally the United States, the truth is that the multinational forces in Afghanistan come from almost 50 nations, led by NATO, under the mandate of the United Nations. The fact is that there were legitimate international security reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago, and there continue to be legitimate concerns about the ongoing threat to international security, including the direct interests of Australia. It’s a tough call to make, and there are serious consequences, but the truth is that ignoring the threat can have even more serious consequences.

However, while both the Government and the Opposition continue to stand by the commitment to Afghanistan, it is clear that growing numbers of Australians have doubts. Perhaps this indicates that our Government has not done a good job of explaining why it is important to our national security that our troops fight and die in Afghanistan. Perhaps the Government needs to do more to answer the questions that Australians are beginning to ask. The first question is: do we need to be in Afghanistan at all? If so, the second question is: what is the mission, what is the objective to be achieved? The third question is: can the objective be achieved? Is it attainable, or is it slipping further and further out of reach as the conflict drags on? After eight years and counting, is the situation becoming intractable? If it is, then the next question must be: at what point do we decide to cut our losses and withdraw our soldiers? And if we do, does that mean that all the effort expended so far, all the lives lost, have been for nothing?

The problem remains that an unstable Afghanistan will once again become a safe haven and training ground for terrorists who want to destroy not just America, but all who enjoy the freedoms that most of us take for granted. Terrorists like the ones who targeted Australians in Bali, and would do so again if given the chance. And if Afghanistan descends again into the darkness where the Taliban regime murdered and mutilated its own people as well as attacking ours, what of neighboring Pakistan which could also fall under the control of extremists? It’s not enough to say that Pakistan isn’t our problem when it controls an arsenal of nuclear weapons which could conceivably threaten all of us.

Although Australians want desperately to keep our soldiers safe, the truth is that they are dedicating their lives, and sometimes giving their lives, to keep us safe. For that I am deeply grateful, and forever indebted.

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