All Australian troops out of Afghanistan

On February 13, Australian troops killed five children and injured at least two other adult civilians in a night-time "operation" in Afghanistan's southern Oruzgan province.

This is not the first time Australian occupation troops have killed civilians. In January, women and children were also killed in a raid involving Australian special forces.

The Australian Defence Force has announced yet another inquiry into these deaths. But if past experience is anything to go by, we may never really find out what happened.

More than 1090 Australian troops are in Afghanistan under NATO command. When NATO meets in April, we can expect European countries and Australia will be pressured by the US to up their numbers, and may join in a new US-led "surge" in the war-ravaged country.

US President Barack Obama announced on February 18 that 17,000 more US troops, and then more, would be sent to this intractable war, underscoring that Obama's "change you can believe in" continues the same imperial approach as that of the hated Bush administration.

It's the same in Australia. Kevin Rudd felt enough public pressure to pull 550 troops out of Iraq but remains steadfastly in support of the US war alliance by committing to the "long haul" in Afghanistan. The need to fight "terrorism central" in Afghanistan was how former ALP leader Kim Beazley summed up Labor's support for the war.

However, according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Lowy Institute, some 56% of Australians are against sending troops there.

This high figure is revealing, given that the mainstream media coverage of the war largely consists of reworked defence department puff pieces about "our" diggers winning local hearts and minds in Oruzgan.

Following the debacle in Iraq, and the brutality meted out to Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay in the name of the "war on terror", the public is not so easily fooled.

It's high time to force the Rudd government to explain exactly how, after seven years, this occupation is bringing peace and democracy to the people of Afghanistan.

The number of civilian casualties is on the rise: 2118 civilians died in 2008, an increase of 40% on 2007 according to the UN Mission in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, this is the highest civilian death toll since 2001.

Obama's new military surge will only produce a greater surge in civilian casualties.

But why, if British and US commanders at the highest level say the war in Afghanistan is "unwinnable", is Australia considering sending more troops?

Clearly, most Afghan people hated the brutal and reactionary Taliban regime. But since 2005 support for the NATO presence has halved from 68% to 32%, according to a February 17 report published by ISN Security Watch.

Tariq Ali explained why the US and its allies are persisting in Afghanistan in a March 2008 New Left Review essay: "Washington is not seeking permanent bases in this fraught and inhospitable terrain simply for the sake of 'democratisation and good governance' … Afghanistan has become a central theatre for reconstituting, and extending, the West's power-political grip on the world order."

Afghanistan successfully resisted foreign occupations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no reason to suggest that this will change in the 21st century — especially as indiscriminate killings of women and children continue.

Australia has only one just policy option left in Afghanistan: bring the troops home now.

[Pip Hinman is the Socialist Alliance's anti-war and civil liberties spokesperson].

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