Government Urged to Loosen Grip on War Info

Of all the photographs on the ABC’s online list of casualties in Operation Slipper, the name given to Australia’s Afghanistan mission, perhaps none is as affecting as that of Private Grant Kirby. Kirby was 35 when he was killed by a home-made bomb while on patrol in Oruzgan province’s Baluchi valley on 20 August last year. Kirby is shown in a photograph taken with what are presumably his two daughters. It’s a vivid reminder of the human cost of Australia’s war in Afghanistan.

The death on Monday of Sergeant Todd Langley takes the 2011 toll to 11 and the overall toll to 28. The father of four, who was a part of the elite Special Operations Task Group, was on his fifth tour of Afghanistan. No information about the circumstances of his death were released, or of the operation in which he was engaged, on the basis that the operation was ongoing.

His death has fuelled the debate over lack of information about Australian involvement in a war in which overall progress is widely disputed. There have been warnings that there will be more Australian casualties as the conflict in Afghanistan intensifies over the summer months, and that too much is being asked of elite Australian forces.

Neil James, spokesperson for the Australian Defence Association, has voiced his concern that focussing on the death of individual soldiers is simplifying the debate. “Instead of asking simplistic questions like ‘we’re losing a lot of diggers, should we quit?’ people really need to address the real question, which is, ‘are the risks of us quitting greater than the risks of us staying?’” James believes that the Australian people need to be better informed about the conflict, an assessment shared by journalist Michael Ware, who decries “the vacuum of silence, in which by and large the Australian forces over in Afghanistan are fighting, bleeding, sweating and dying in silence.”

“Why is telling us the truth so dangerous?” asks Kellie Tranter in an opinion piece published today. How can we have a sensible public debate about Afghanistan when the Australian media coverage of the war is so tightly constricted by the government and the ADF?

Kellie Tranter will be a speaker at the next Intelligence Squared debate on Thursday, 28 July at 7:30pm at the Melbourne Town Hall. Kellie will be arguing for the proposition ‘There is no justification for risking Australian lives in Afghanistan’ alongside Raoul Heinrichs and Eva Cox. Arguing against the proposition will be Sonia Ziaee, Jim Molan and Peter Singer.

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