The Afghan Legacy
On Monday, the Prime Minister announced that a royal commission would be established to inquire into veterans’ suicides. This underlined the fact that the casualties of the conflict extended beyond the 41 soldiers who were killed in action.
At the time the war ended in 2014 the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, said that the war had ended in neither victory nor defeat but the Australian military intervention had been worth it.
This is a question that is now being reviewed.
Australian troops have been in Afghanistan for 20 years and it must be seriously questioned whether anything has been achieved. When the United States led a force of more than 40 countries into Afghanistan in 2001, the country was split.
The south and east were controlled by the Taleban, which was made up of Pashtun fighters with deep tribal roots in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.
The north and west of the country were controlled by the Northern Alliance which was made up of Uzbek and Tajik fighters who had been in the front line of the war with the Russians.
The Northern Alliance was prepared to cooperate with the US-led forces and to accept a degree of control. The Taleban never accepted the rule of the Americans and their Northern Alliance allies.
At the time of the intervention, the Taleban were offering protection to Osama Bin Laden and elements of Al Qaida. Unfortunately, Osama Bin Laden escaped from his hideout at Tora Bora and evaded American troops to get into Pakistan. He remained at large until President Obama was able to track him down in Pakistan and send a squad of Navy Seals to kill him.
Now that President Biden has decided to withdraw from Afghanistan the question is: what will be left behind?
Australian strategic analyst, David Kilcullen, who is an expert on Afghanistan - having been a key strategist for General David Petraeus - believes that the country will revert to the status quo. He says that the Taleban will continue to control the south and east of the country. It is likely that they will introduce strict sharia law. Recently a woman in eastern Afghanistan was whipped because her husband accused her of having an affair.
Colonel Kilcullen says that the Taleban is once again providing succour and support to Al Qaida. He also argues that the Taleban will be unable to take over the Northern Alliance territory in the north and the west including the capital of Kabul.
President Biden says that peace talks with the Taleban will continue but Kilcullen says that there are no peace talks going on at the moment. He claims the Taleban have rejected the new Afghan constitution in total, including provisions that guarantee the rights of women.
The great tragedy of the Afghanistan war is that the attempt at reform of the country was undermined by the futile intervention into Iraq. This led to a massive diversion of resources and enabled the resurgence of the Taleban in Afghanistan with the active support of Pakistan. It also opened the door for Chinese influence in the Middle East.
In the circumstances, many of the 40,000 Australians who served in Afghanistan will question whether their sacrifice was worth it.
The royal commission will provide an opportunity for veterans to vent their concerns about the way they were used and whether it was worth it.