Debating the Timetable of Retreat

Two articles published today present starkly different views of the justification for Australians paying the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.The debate follows a spike in the number of Australian army personnel deaths in Afghanistan. The toll is now at 27.

In The Age, the Lowy Institute’s Raoul Heinrichs describes the conflict as hopeless. He argues that leaving Afghanistan in 2014, which is the government’s timetable, would make little difference to leaving it now except in one crucial respect. “The only difference for Australia,” Heinrichs writes, “is that many more of our fellow countrymen will be dead, wounded and maimed. More still will bear the mental scars of their prolonged exposure to war.”

By contrast, in The Punch, Ian McPhedran writes that leaving now would be a “tactical and strategic disaster”. “The key to any counter-insurgency operation is squeezing out the enemy so that they become irrelevant and after five years of hard work in Oruzgan that is now happening,” he writes. “If we withdraw before the job is finished then the sacrifice of these 27 brave young Australians, including four this past week, and more than 170 more badly hurt and maimed would have been in vain and that would be a tragedy.”

Raoul Heinrichs will be a speaker at the next Intelligence Squared debate on July 28. He will be arguing for the motion, “There is no justification for risking Australian lives in Afghanistan”.

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