Prime Minister Julia Gillard has claimed successes for the war in Afghanistan, while acknowledging growing opposition.
The June 8 Age reported that Gillard said: “I understand there would be many Australians who over the past two weeks have asked themselves what are we doing there, why are we still there, should our soldiers be there?
“I do want to say to the nation we know why we're there, we are very clear about our mission and our mission is being accomplished.
“We are doing what we intended to do and we have a timeline for achieving our goal.”
She was responding to the death on June 6 of 23-year-old Sapper Rowan Robinson, the fourth Australian combat death in Afghanistan in a fortnight and the 27th since the 2001 US-led invasion.
Most Australians have opposed involvement in the Afghanistan occupation for several years. On June 4, ABC News said the latest opinion polls put the opposition at 62%.
After the recent Australian casualties, previously pro-war voices — from Liberal backbenchers to right-wing columnists to talkback radio hosts and callers — have questioned whether the “mission” is being accomplished.
In the June 8 Australian, conservative columnist Greg Sheridan used Robinson's death to heap praise on the Australian army's prowess — but say the mission was doomed.
In the June 11 Australian, while blaming the treachery of Pakistani and Afghan allies, Sheridan again said the Western occupation of Afghanistan had failed.
The June 8 Sydney Morning Herald reported that Liberal MP Russell Broadbent had become the second opposition backbencher to call for consideration of troop withdrawal.
However, opposition leader Tony Abbott and defence forces head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston backed up the government's claims of the “success” of Australia's participation in the occupation of Afghanistan.
Even right-wing shock jocks Alan Jones and David Oldfield (a former leader of the racist One Nation Party) and ultra-conservative Herald-Sun columnist Andrew Bolt had begun questioning the war, the SMH said.
The article said 69% of talkback radio callers were against it.
In response to a Yahoo7 internet poll in which 72% of respondents called for Australian soldiers to be withdrawan, defence minister Stephen Smith told Channel 7 on June 8: “We are on track to hand over responsibility for security matters to the Afghan national army and the Afghan national and local police by the end of 2014.”
The deadline of 2014 is in keeping with the timetable given by US President Barack Obama's administration for the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.
This strategy is premised on the occupation forces being able to create an Afghan client state capable of defending the occupying powers' interests.
Training Afghan military and police forces has been a large part of the occupation forces' “mission” since the 2001 invasion. Almost half the Australian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan serve in the mentoring task force.
One of the recent Australian casualties, Lance Corporal Andrew Jones, was a member of this taskforce — shot on May 30 by one of the Afghan soldiers he was “mentoring”.
US, British and other NATO “mentors” have been killed in similar circumstances.
The Obama administration is still insisting that the “drawdown” of combat troops will begin in July and the “transition” to Afghan security forces will be completed by the end of 2014.
However, there are indications that Afghan security forces' dislike of their mentors is not the only issue with meeting the 2014 deadline.
Reuters said on June 8: “Afghanistan is making progress weeding out children from its police forces but is only starting to tackle persistent allegations of sexual abuse and may still have minors serving informally, UN officials said.
“In January, Kabul signed an action plan to 'halt the recruitment and use of children in the Afghan National Security Forces and to prevent other child rights violations including sexual violence and killing and maiming'.”
Despite the quoted UN officials being upbeat about the Afghan security forces tackling these problems, Reuters said: “UN teams had met children as young as 12 who served at police outposts, most doing chores like carrying ammunition or cooking, but still enduring dangerous attacks by insurgents.
“They usually graduated to combat roles around 14 or 15 years of age, and sexual abuse often overlapped with child recruitment.”
Despite 10 years of training by occupation forces, the Afghan security forces are still notoriously beset by drug addiction, demoralisation, corruption and abuse of civilians.
In many instances, they are simply the forces of warlords and gangsters in new uniforms.
The BBC said on May 21 that the inquest into a British soldier, killed by an Afghan police officer he was “mentoring”, was told: “There is a culture that the smoking of opium or cannabis is, to them, like to us the smoking of cigarettes.”
The May 10 British Daily Telegraph said an Oxfam report released in May accused the Afghan security forces of crimes against civilians — including kidnapping, extortion, torture, murder, child sexual abuse and public floggings of women.
In the US, Obama has been attacked by Democrat and Republican politicians after a Congressional report revealed that US military operations in Afghanistan cost at least US$10 billion a month.
This was in addition to military and civilian aid programs that had cost $19 billion since 2001.
Much of the criticism centred on the fact that much of the expenditure disappears through corruption.
However, much of this corruption is institutional.
One example is the Performance-Based Governors Fund, which is authorised to distribute up to $100,000 a month to individual provincial leaders at the discretion of US officials. Bribes, in other words.
Most Afghans are not benefiting from the huge amounts of US aid. IRIN said on June 6: “According to the [Afghan] health ministry, around 50,000 under-fives die every year due to pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases.”
The lack of housing, fuel, food, clean water and sanitation responsible for this appalling statistic are the direct result of the occupation.
“A separate study by UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Bank estimates that about 433,066 persons remain internally displaced in Afghanistan,” IRIN said. “Of those, 226,682 were displaced by conflict between June 2009 and April 2011.”
These secondary casualties of the war outnumber the numerous deaths caused by air strikes, missile attacks, occupation force night raids, Taliban attacks or the depredations of pro- and anti-occupation warlords.
However, the war is proving a financial boon for some. The May 29 British Sunday Telegraph said: “Property developers [in the Afghan capital Kabul said] they had been overwhelmed by demand for swanky apartments, priced at up to £130,000 [A$200,000].
“Western billions freely pumped into the capital, and its relative safety compared to record violence afflicting the rest of Afghanistan, are feeding the boom.
“Afghans on average earn around £1 a day, but the lucky few can afford to shop alongside bored foreign contractors and diplomats in the city's malls.”
A parallel economy has been created to maintain the US-led war machine, and the vast army of bureaucrats, NGO workers and journalists embedded with them.
Much of the military occupation itself has been privatised, relying on Afghan and foreign mercenaries.
The other aspect of Kabul's war-created boom is the drug trade. Since the invasion Afghan illicit opiate production has increased by several thousand percent, almost monopolising the global trade.
Wahid Mujda, a researcher with the Kabul Centre for Strategic Studies, told the Sunday Telegraph: “There are only two types of money in Kabul. The money that comes from the foreigners and the money that comes from opium.”
Of course, the money that comes from opium also comes from foreigners.
Afghanistan's appalling poverty and woeful statistics in health and education give the lie to claims that the war was to promote development.
The endemic corruption and violence of the militias who occupy the state give the lie to claims that it was to promote democracy.
The power of bodies such as the Ulema Shura (Council of Religious Scholars), and the continued basing of the judicial system on violent and misogynistic interpretations of religious law, gives the lie to claims that it was to promote secularism and women's rights.
The war's continuation after the May 2 assassination of Osama bin Laden by US Navy SEALs in Pakistan gave the lie to its original justification.
Countless thousands of Afghans have lost their lives in this conflict, which drags on with no end in sight. The longer it goes on, the more lives — of Afghan civilians and occupying soldiers — will be lost in an unwinnible and unjust war.
Most Australian people are right: Australian participation in the war should end.