During a December 21 visit to Iraq, newly elected Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia's "battle group" of 515 combat troops would be withdrawn from the country by June 2007.
Rudd's announcement was presented by the establishment media as the fulfilment of the Labor Party's election promise to end Australian involvement in the US war in Iraq. This was undoubtedly how most voters have interpreted the ALP's policy of a "phased withdrawal of our troops" from Iraq.
However, Labor's actual policy is to continue to provide support for the US war in Iraq, including with Australian military personnel. During his visit to Iraq, Rudd made this clear when declared that his government "will continue to support our friends in Iraq through navy deployment in the [Persian] Gulf … [and] with the deployment of various air assets as well".
Australia has some 1575 military personnel deployed in and around Iraq to support Washington's war to secure the country's vast oil resources for exploitation by big US oil corporations.
Only the 515-member Overwatch Battle Group (OBG), stationed on the huge US-run Talil airbase, which is located some 310km south-east of Baghdad, is subject to Rudd's withdrawal plan. Since November 2006, the OBG's main assignment has been to provide basic training to Iraqi Army personnel at the airbase's basic training centre.
The main task of the Australian naval deployment in the Persian Gulf is guarding Iraq's offshore oil platforms.
Staying in Iraq itself will be a 110-strong Baghdad-based contingent of Australian combat troops assigned to guard the Australian embassy, as well as 100 trainers for Washington's puppet Iraqi army. Also staying are the 300 Royal Australian Air Force personnel who operate three Hercules transport planes and two maritime patrol aircraft and 95 Australian Defence Force personnel assigned to the US-led occupation forces' command headquarters in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone. This unit's role is described in the December 13 edition of the ADF's Army newspaper as helping the US-led Multi-National Forces (MNF) "shape the future of Iraq".
The Army article reported that Australian Colonel Tim Pickford held the position of assistant chief of staff for the MNF's Strategic Operations Centre. Pickford told the paper that he "attends conferences on behalf of my [US] commander, look after his office, keep him fully briefed on daily operations and prepare evening reports for him".
On December 24, Rudd arrived in Afghanistan, where he met with Hamid Karzai, Washington's puppet Afghan president, before visiting the 900 Australian soldiers deployed to the country. These soldiers operate under the command of the US-led NATO military alliance.
Half of the ADF contingent is based in the southern province of Uruzgan, which has been the scene of fierce fighting over the last year between the NATO occupation forces and Afghan anti-occupation guerrillas. Three Australian soldiers were killed last year in this fighting.
Rudd declared that Australian troops would be staying in Afghanistan "for the long haul" and urged NATO countries to do likewise. The December 24 Australian reported that "it is understood Mr Rudd was given a grim assessment of the Afghan situation, and he told troops of his own concerns for their safety".
Rudd has justified Canberra's continued commitment to the US-led war in Afghanistan on the grounds that the country is "terrorism central". This was an allusion to the fact that the top leaders of Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, including bin Laden himself, were based in Afghanistan at the time of the US-led invasion in late 2001.
However, it is well known that since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan began six years ago bin Laden and the other top leaders of al Qaeda have been based in neighbouring Pakistan.
The forces that Australian and other foreign troops are fighting in Afghanistan are not part of al Qaeda and have not been involved in any of al Qaeda's terrorist activities. The most prominent of the anti-occupation forces is the Taliban movement, which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion.
But this Afghan Islamist movement has never been listed as a terrorist organisation by any of the foreign government that have troops in Afghanistan. Even the US government has not designated the Taliban a terrorist organisation.
The US-led war in Afghanistan is not about "fighting terrorism" but about propping up a pro-US Afghan regime made up of former warlords turned drug barons. The UN estimates that Afghanistan today accounts for 90% of the world's heroin supply and that opium exports account for 52% of the country's GDP.
The November 24 London Times reported that the "dozens of drug-funded villas — 'narcotechture' in expat parlance — that have sprung up around foreign embassies in Kabul's Sherpur district are a testament to the untouchable status of former warlords …
"Despite his repeated public denials, President Karzai's half-brother Wali, head of Kandahar's provincial council, continues to be accused by senior government sources, as well as foreign analysts and officials, as having a key role in orchestrating the movement of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand [province] and out across the Iranian border."
The war in Afghanistan that Rudd has committed Australian soldiers to fight and die in is not some noble fight against "terrorism central", but a murderous campaign that protects the local crime bosses of "heroin central".