The death of Lance-Corporal Jared Mackinney in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan on August 25 brought the death toll of Australian soldiers to 21 — 10 of whom have died since June. Mackinney was the third Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan in four days.
Defence minister Senator John Faulkner defensively admitted at a media conference the same day that Australians are increasingly questioning the near nine-year old war.
Labor government and Liberal-National opposition leaders have responded to the latest casualties with old fashioned jingoistic rhetoric about the soldiers' lives being sacrificed for freedom and democracy on behalf of all Australians. This has become the routine tactic for deflecting discussion on whether Australian soldiers should be in Afghanistan.
However, this question has become unavoidable with the August 27 Sydney Morning Herald report that the Director of Military Prosecutions was considering prosecuting some commandos before a court martial for killing children.
The potential charges relate to a February 2009 incident in Oruzgan province in which Australian forces killed a teenager, two younger children and two babies, along with one adult.
Sydney Stop the War Coalition's Pip Hinman told Green Left Weekly that the possible prosecutions provided more evidence that the war was neither justified or winnable.
“If Australian soldiers are being court martialled for what are, essentially, war crimes, then the politicians who sent them under false pretexts into this dirty war should also be facing charges”, she added.
Despite the bipartisan support of the war by the major parties, who, aided by the media, ensured it was not a topic of debate during the election campaign, there was a swing to anti-war candidates, such as the Greens, in the election.
Andrew Wilkie, the independent who is likely to win the Tasmanian seat of Denison, has also spoken out against the war.
“One of the great lies, one of the big lies of this federal election campaign — a lie told by both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party — is that we have to be there to fight terrorists for Australia's national security”, he told the August 25 Australian.
Wilkie is the former defence analyst who resigned from the Office of National Intelligence to protest at the Howard government's false claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in order to justify invading Iraq in 2003.
His comments on the nine-year war in Afghanistan, and his criticism of the lack of debate, have added pressure to the pro-war major parties.
For instance, Coalition leader Tony Abbott changed his pre-election position that Australia should send more troops to agreeing with the ALP's view that the Australian troop deployment is “about right”.
“Wilkie is correct that this war is based on a lie”, Hinman told Green Left Weekly. “The lie is that this war is about 'fighting terrorism'. In fact, this war of occupation and terror against the Afghan people is more likely to drive more people — not just in Afghanistan but around the world — to respond with terrorist acts.”
She said one of the original excuses for the war — to help the women in Afghanistan — was also a lie. “Despite all the talk from the pro-war camp, women remain marginalised and dispossessed, as Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission statistics indicate.”
The statistics showed violence against women was becoming even more prevalent in areas controlled by the occupying armies and their Afghan allies than it was in Taliban strongholds, she said.
Despite the best efforts of the major parties, the war is starting to be debated in the letters pages of the mainstream media. Hinman is confident that the new parliament — whatever its composition — will have to debate the war because of the anti-war positions of the Greens MPs and Wilkie.
“These anti-war MPs can help build a visible and dynamic anti-war movement that forces the new government to respect the majority view and pull the troops out", she said. "The resounding vote of no confidence in the major parties on August 21 means the Greens and Wilkie can play an important role in building a movement to stop this grotesque war."