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Radio News Bulletin
Allies' Afghanistan challenge
07 June 2011, 8:45 AM | Source: Matthew Hall, SBS
So let’s state the obvious. War, by its very definition, is a dangerous business. Whether in East Timor or Afghanistan, people die either by accident or design.
To date, 27 Australians have died in Afghanistan, the first casualty in February 2002, which now seems a very long time ago. With each death comes media and public debate about Australia’s role in the country.
This is a good thing but often seems naively cloaked in the idea that Australian soldiers are in Afghanistan for a holiday. A soldier has died doing his perilous job? Well, that’s ruined the day. Better go home.
Every nation engaged in Afghanistan has suffered casualties, including 154 Canadians, 37 Italians, and a South Korean officer shot by another for his “telephone manner”.
Over 1500 Americans have died in Afghanistan, which leads us to the news that it’s not just Australia debating its current and future role in the country. The debate is well and truly alive in the United States.
A sharp reduction in troops – as soon as July – is one option being put to President Obama, according to recent reports, as Robert Gates comes to the end of his time as Defense Secretary.
Gates does not advocate cutting troop numbers. Yet within the Obama administration, presidential advisers and the Vice-President oppose that position calling instead for a rapid exit in exchange for heightening efforts in counterterrorism.
Of course, looming larger on Obama’s GPS is next year’s election. The economy will dominate but policy in Afghanistan is likely to be a hook for potential opponents.
While a final date of 2014 has been flagged for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, Senator John McCain, Obama’s defeated rival in 2008, has called for only a small reduction in June and for another “season” to hammer the Taliban. McCain may be seen as yesterday’s man but retains an important voice on military policy.
Meanwhile, Rangun Spanta, Afghan President Harmid Karzai’s national security adviser, warned the death of Osama Bin Laden does not mean the end of a threats from radical Islamist groups in the region and called for caution in a too-rapid withdrawal.
“My warning would be to be very careful,” Spanta said in an interview with The New York Times.
“Al Qaeda is not only bin Laden. It’s a very dangerous policy to think so. Of course Bin Laden was a charismatic leader for Al Qaeda, a symbol for them who is gone now. But the network he headed is alive and active, and it has a tremendous recruitment potential in this region.”
So, as war is a dangerous business, the politics are delicate and decisions complicated by serious consequences. Afghanistan is a challenge that is not readily going away - for the U.S., Australia, or even Afghans.