Unions call for troops to leave Afghanistan


The death of the fifth Australian solider in Afghanistan on April 27, followed a few days later by the wounding of another, has refocused attention on Australia's involvement in the US-led occupation.

Defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon, in a fleeting visit to troops stationed in Oruzgan Province, in south-central Afghanistan on April 29, told the troops to "keep well".

But several union leaders have called for the troops to be brought home. Tim Gooden, Geelong Regional Trades and Labor Council secretary, said on April 29 that while the soldier's death is sad, the Rudd government's response is "tragic".

"The news that Lance Corporal Jason Marks has been killed in Afghanistan is sad but Canberra's response is tragic as it means the troops will be there for the long haul. That means more troops will be sent to their deaths in an unwinnable and unjust war of occupation."

Afghanistan was invaded in 2001 after the terror attacks on the US, the aim ostensibly being to find Osama bin Laden. But despite hundreds of thousands of deaths (the exact figures have never been recorded), he has not been found, and the Taliban has, if anything, increased its popularity as the occupation fails to deliver its much promised aid and reconstruction.

"Most Australians can see that contrary to the propaganda coming from Canberra, neither the war in Iraq or Afghanistan is 'just'. Both are invasions by big powers against weaker ones: they demonstrate the big powers' imperial designs on countries with massive resource wealth and strategic importance", Gooden said.

Gooden said that his council joins the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) secretary Brian Boyd's call for the troops to be brought home from Afghanistan immediately.

Speaking to Green Left Weekly, Boyd said that while he doesn't support the war on Iraq or Afghanistan neither does he support the resurgence of the Taliban.

"It's up to the people of a country to define their own destiny. Our role will be to support the development of democratic and progressive forces in Afghanistan. We don't believe in fighting wars overseas, we need our army for defence", Boyd said.

The VTHC opposed both wars from the beginning, Boyd said, and believes the troops should come home. "We also have a policy against terrorism, so being anti-war doesn't equate with being pro-terrorism."

Unsurprisingly, the war in Afghanistan is unpopular as even the Australia Defence Association notes. Last year, according to its president Neil James, a majority of Australians opposed a military presence in Afghanistan, and this year that figure is increasing.

Kevin Bracken, Victorian secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia told GLW that Australia should not be in Afghanistan or Iraq. "War is always bad for workers: they are the first to get killed."

"While Australian troops stay in Afghanistan, they give political cover to the US military operation there. They are also likely to be killed for no just cause", Gooden concluded.

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