Ex-Army Chief Labels Australia’s War ‘Confused’

“At the moment the Australian effort at nation building in Oruzgan province is grossly underdone,” writes ex-army chief Peter Leahy, now director of Canberra University’s National Security Institute, in today’s Australian. “But it is unclear if Australia has the intent or the staying power to be an effective nation-building partner for the Afghans.”

Leahy argues that Australia has lost its way in Afghanistan: “The Australian government has traded off the bravery, resolve and professionalism of its soldiers for too long. The nation-building task at hand is not a job for soldiers alone. But it seems that only soldiers are available to do the job.” He urges that foreign minister Kevin Rudd should be given the specific brief of rethinking our national strategic direction in the conflict. “Australia needs to be careful not to be left holding the baby without vital enabling capabilities such as the medical and helicopter support needed to complete the task safely.”

Subsequent reports quote Leahy as saying that any compromise in Afghanistan will have to include the Taliban. “"We’re going to have to talk to the Taliban in some form. We can’t kill them all … so victory is going to be a political compromise.” He also recommended that Australia send fewer troops and more aid workers.

On ABC radio, Prime Minister Julia Gillard rejected Leahy’s critique. “Actually in Oruzgan province, where our Defence force is deployed,” she said, “they work in a combined team, a combined team that brings together Defence personnel with civilian representatives including aid workers. So there is coordination in the strategy.”

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