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Why the Afghan War has failed

October 17, 2015

The US President has just announced that the Afghanistan War will now be indefinite. Instead of withdrawing US troops before the end of his presidency at the end of next year, Obama has decided to leave 5,500 troops permanently in the country, to continue to train and equip the Afghan army. A task the US and its allies including Australia have been undertaking since early 2002. Reports are that the Taliban now control over 50% of the country and elements of the Islamic State have popped up and are gaining a foot hold.

At the same time as Obama announced the expansion of the war, a whilsteblower has released secret documents to news site first look revealing much detail of the US drone program. It reveals with chilling certainty that over 90% of the people killed in US drone strikes were not the intended targets. The documents also reveal why the war in Afghanistan has failed and why any expansion of the war will not only be a waste of money and needlessly put our soldiers life at risk, but it undermines the ability of the Afghans to find their own forms of political freedom and civil rights for women, common arguments of those who support the war.

Released in the trove of documents are details of Operation Haymaker that took place in Afghanistan from 2011-2013. In it is an account from a reporter Matt Trevithick, who travelled unaccompanied through the target regions. Trevithick claims that savvy, local strong men in the region of Kunar drew the US into their local feuds. Simply speaking, business rivals would point the finger at each other and claim one was Taliban or Al-Qaeda. In many instances the Taliban suspect would either be sympathetic to the US, or at least anti-Taliban. This wouldn’t stop the US from using a drone or a night time operation to kill either the person, or accidentally kill someone in his family. As a result, a whole village or even region will get drawn into the conflict against the US. Instead of building relationships in the region, the US, and presumably Australian forces would capture and torture, on bad intelligence and make enemies out of the locals.

US intelligence could be so bad, that in one case, a man playing with kids was mistaken as taller than average amongst other men, a sign that he might be Arab, a foreign fighter. So the US killed him from a plane, and killed all of the children around him. Imagine being a parent of one of these children, how do you not fight back against this? Its in this context with many enemies made and the growing strength of the Islamic State, who recruit people who have seen their families and lives destroyed by the US led occupation, that Obama is lengthening the longest foreign war in US history. Instead of leaving behind a liberal democracy, we radicalise and harden those already against us and send them waves of new recruits from those who have seen their lives destroyed before their eyes.

The lesson to learn from all of this, and from the absolute disaster that was the Iraq invasion of 2003, is that military interventions rarely solve anything. They just create more problems. Afghanistan now has a more entrenched, hard line Taliban force than before 2001, the billions spent on trying to create an Allied Afghan State to counter Russian and Chinese influence in the region continue to be thrown away, into arms manufacturers, the real winners of the war. Thousands of people have been killed and the region is now less stable, creating the elements that might feed possible terrorist attacks in Australia. People in Afghanistan who might have been our allies, have been made our enemies.

Australia’s Pine Gap also plays a crucial role in the Afghanistan War. All drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are coordinated at some point through the secretive base just outside of Alice Springs. That means the hundreds of people killed between 2011 to 2013 were killed partially by the Australian Government, which represents its citizens, voters and taxpayers. We have the information; innocent people are being killed by our ally using our resources and land space. This makes Australia a more dangerous place to be and costs us precious resources that could be used in Australian healthcare and education.

As Australians we are all responsible for these deaths and we need to take this responsibility seriously. If we don’t we will be led further down this militarised path, and the next time we let an operation like this happen, it may have consequences much closer to home.


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