PM’s report on Afghanistan read to an empty parliament

Issue 
PM Julia Gillard has committed Australia to arm the Afghan defence and police forces from 2015.

The Sydney Stop the War Coalition released the statement below on November 2.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard made her annual report on the war in Afghanistan to an almost empty Parliament House on October 31.

After 11 years, she insists that the International Security Assistance Force counter-insurgency strategy against the Taliban is “working” and the Afghan National Army is on track to take over security in 2014 — when the Western forces “leave”.

Gillard said the Australian-led reconstruction team in Uruzgan province is “making a real difference ... on the path to development and peace”. Apparently, there are “more schools operating”, there’s been “a tripling of the health facilities” and there’s “a stronger provincial administration”.

The PM announced a three-year US$100 million deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai which commits Australia to arm the Afghan defence and police forces from 2015.

She also announced “development aid” of A$250 million by 2015-16. This is in addition to the $10 billion already spent — $1 billion a year — plus $1.6 billion for extra armour.

The public is told Australia will “withdraw” most of its 1550 troops in late 2014 when the training and transition will have been “completed”.

Afghanistan, Australians are told, is the frontline of the “war on terrorism” and the reason so many of our civil rights are being curtailed by increased powers given to the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. And yet, the mainstream media’s discussion of the war, its consequences both there and here, is minimal.

Australian soldiers were, said Gillard, playing “an important part in the war to stop the terrorists”. But everyone knows they are there to service the Australia-US alliance.

The reality for the people of Afghanistan is very different.

The war and occupation are responsible for thousands of Afghan deaths but no one knows how many (estimates range from 20,000 to hundreds of thousands) because they are not recorded.

US scholars David Cortwright and Kristin Wall of Notre Dame University said civilian deaths in Afghanistan have risen with the US’s night raids and drone attacks: 3021 people were killed by occupation forces last year — the highest yet — an increase of 8% from 2010 and a 25% rise since 2009.

This, more than anything else, is what is fuelling the ranks of the Taliban — now a formidable fundamentalist anti-occupation force.

The US has spent nearly US$1.4 trillion on this and the Iraq wars. Besides killing, these funds have helped prop up the corrupt and incompetent Karzai government which, supported by warlords, views democratic leaders such as Malalai Joya as more the enemy than the Taliban.

More than 2000 US troops and more than 1000 NATO troops have already died. Over 17,000 US troops have been injured and 3200 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.

The war was already unpopular in the US before the surge in “green on blue” attacks began: so far this year 52 US or NATO troops have been killed this way. This is one in five combat deaths. At least three of the 39 Australian troops have been killed by Afghans under their command.

The New York Times has changed its mind about the Afghanistan war. In its October 13 editorial “Time to pack up”, it argued that the 68,000 US troops should be withdrawn much more quickly than the 2014 deadline to avoid more troop deaths.

This failed war has become a political problem for the US ruling class, and at least one section is worried the price is becoming too high. Some former cheerleaders for the war now want the troops out before the Afghan presidential elections in 2014 which, they believe, could lead to a full-scale civil war.

More than 66% of Australians want the troops out: most are not convinced by the bipartisan spin that Afghanistan is becoming a safer and more democratic place.

Why is there so little scrutiny on the war from MPs and the media? Is it because they know the PM is so out of touch? The PM's attempt to spin the disaster of the past 11 years of war and occupation into something else is offensive, and wrong.

The only way Australia can assist the people of Afghanistan is to stop propping up the corrupt Karzai regime, remove the Australian troops and provide direct no-strings-attached aid to grassroots organisations.

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