The tragic circumstance surrounding the recent death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan highlight what is likely to be the real outcome of our involvement in that unhappy country: we may inadvertently be helping to raise, train and arm the next generation of terrorists.
Future terrorists are likely to be better prepared, better equipped, more knowledgeable about western military theory and practice, and more deadly thanks to the training they are now receiving at the hands of well-intentioned Australian, American, British and other servicemen and women. The seeds of the next conflict are already sown.
According to the ABC, the Australian soldier "was shot by an Afghan National Army soldier with whom he was serving on guard duty at a patrol base in the Chora Valley". The Afghan, who escaped after shooting the Aussie three times, was described as a "rogue soldier" by Defence Chief Air Chief Marshal Houston.
Houston was quoted by the ABC s saying said all Afghan soldiers enrolled in the ANA are vetted by NATO recruiters."We work very closely with them. We observe them and we are always on the lookout for anybody who behaves in a strange way. They are the sort of protections we have in place, and obviously we will have another look at those sorts of things as we conduct this investigation." He added the ADF would look at how the US army responds to similar incidents.
The fact that there are 'similar incidents' suggests how difficult it is to guarantee the allegiance, in either the short-run or the long-run, of any Arab, Iraqi or Afghani trained by the western military. Whatever the quality of training, it is impossible to be sure of how the individual will choose to use it, either at the time or far in the future, especially if their private loyalties and beliefs are tested.
There is a persistent story, apparently sourced to a BBC report, that Osama Bin Laden was originally trained by the American CIA as part of its covert assistance to Afghani mujihadeen during their war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Bin Laden himself, his deputy al Zawahiri, and various ex-CIA officers and US security officials as well as Pakistani intelligence officers all contradicted this. However it is not contested that America spent billions of dollars in buying arms and funding the training of mujihadeen, among whom Bin Laden was a 'foreign fighter'. CNN journalist Peter Bergen cited a Pakistani officer was saying "CIA supported the mujahideen by spending the taxpayers' money, billions of dollars of it over the years, on buying arms, ammunition, and equipment. It was their secret arms procurement branch that was kept busy. It was, however, a cardinal rule of Pakistan's policy that no Americans ever become involved with the distribution of funds or arms once they arrived in the country".
The fact that America resourced the mujihadeen and their allies is not disputed. The fact that those allies included Bin Laden and others who later attacked America and other western allies is also not disputed.
This, then, is the dilemma for Australia in thinking about its involvement in Afghanistan: on the one hand we are there because we wish to try to bring stability to a country that has been a haven for terrorists for decades. On the other, we may be placing in the hands of those who deeply dislike the west the very weapons, insights and skills they will need to continue the war in other theatres and for generations to come.
Every aircraft that rockets an innocent wedding feast, every child slain as 'collateral damage' in a gunfight with the Taliban, makes it more likely that embittered individuals are vowing to use their newly-learned skills against what Bin Laden termed 'the Crusaders', the west. The war in Afghanistan thus furnishes two critical elements for future terror: the motive and the opportunity.
It has been cynically claimed that the US needs an ongoing series of small wars in order to keep its arsenal up to date, its military economy thriving and its congressmen re-elected. Whether that is a black libel or contains a grain of truth, it does not apply to Australia. This country does not need to spend the lives of its service personnel and taxes of its citizens in unending, pointless conflicts. It is our duty, as an ally, to explain this to America, as Canada did in the case of Iraq.
Over more than a century this country has engaged in a series of - mostly misfortunate - military adventures in Asia which have resulted in the large-scale deaths of Asians, including many women and children, and significant deaths and casualties of young Australians. In most cases we have gone into those conflicts without a defined national interest at stake, other than a general wish to be seen to support an alliance. We have in the process identified ourselves as a target for the resentment of the invaded.
Many Australians now seem to assume it is our natural role to engage in Asian bloodshed - just as many Swedes, Swiss and Norwegians seem to consider it their natural role to stay out of conflicts and to seek to resolve them. To say that ours is a stance that invites future trouble and terrorist attention is an understatement. Furthermore we make such attacks more effective by supplying the knowledge, skills and insights into our own methods and vulnerabilities which hostile individuals will find all too easy to turn against us in future.
The lesson of this latest, sad affair is that we cannot count upon the loyalty of those we train: each day this decade-long war drags on we risk inflaming their resentment while offering them the means to satisfy it.
Against the argument that we are in Afghanistan, at a growing cost, in order to make it peaceful and stable, we must now balance the argument that we are jeopardising our own future in ways that peaceable countries, like those of Scandinavia, are manifestly not.
It is time as a people that we considered honestly the consequences of our actions, before they are visited upon us, rather than swallow the shallow (and, as we saw with WMD, untruthful) pretexts which our macho politicians trot out every time they want to get us into another Asian stoush.