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A classified war: Afghanistan and the Canberra malaise

By Bruce Haigh and Kellie Tranter - posted Monday, 19 September 2011

The "information" our Government regularly excretes at press conferences describes events and circumstances in Orwellian language so devoid of meaning and precision that its only purpose can be to give the Government the maximum amount of wriggle room.

Helicopters drop out of the sky, killing young Australians, and we have to wait, and wait, and we are still waiting, to be told whether it was due to pilot error or some technical malfunction or whether it was (ssshhhh...) shot down.

Prisoners are being tortured in Afghan jails, not for information but for money and sex. The out of control Afghan police are running hundreds of prisons beyond the scrutiny of the 'state' and concerned instrumentalities like the Red Cross, Red Crescent and local and overseas human rights organisations. Young boys have been detained by the low-life police for sex and people kidnapped and detained for ransom money.


Australian and US troops are engaged in missions to kill Taliban leaders, never mind about the niceties of the Geneva Convention. They have taken out the wrong people on the basis of incorrect information deliberately given to them by rival warlords, businessmen and others from within the many competing groups for money, influence and power within the complex. This is the social and political structure of Afghanistan, a structure that appears way beyond the comprehension and analytical abilities of Australian agencies, DFAT and Defence.

Recently the Taliban mounted a series of attacks inside Kabul, detonating explosive devices near the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters. Fighting continued for at least 20 hours after the initial attacks. This followed an earlier attack this month on the British Council building in Kabul. These attacks appeared designed to show that Kabul was vulnerable, and it is.

Attackers in the most recent incident positioned themselves inside a multi-story building under construction next to the U.S. embassy, a building with a view over the embassy complex. Here they enjoyed commanding fields of fire and they used this advantage to devastating effect. Why wasn't this building under the security of U.S. forces? This basic oversight is illustrative of the incompetence of the U.S. command structure, a point illustrated by Sebastian Junger in his book War.

The war in Afghanistan is a mess, militarily, politically and morally, and getting messier.

In 2009 Daniel Clune reported to Hillary Clinton from the U.S. Embassy in Canberra that:

...Most important to Rudd…was the domestic political context; he needed to demonstrate to the Australian people, a majority of whom now opposed military involvement in Afghanistan, the importance of maintaining their commitment, which meant leader-level engagement…(WikiLeaks cable 09CANBERRA156)


This is another example of one power elite working compliantly to assist another, pulling out a star attraction to engender popular support against a majority view, and probably with equally little concern for our real national security interests? It is an example of "the Canberra malaise", a virulent disease of disinformation and constructed denial afflicting Australian governance.

Press conferences are constructed to further reduce the opportunity for already lazy and compliant journalists to ask elected representatives important questions; for example, whether Afghanistan is still of importance to Al Qaeda?

In the 9/11 anniversary week, there are plenty of questions that need answers. What capability does Al Qaeda, which analysis now reveals to be fractured, have to inflict harm? Where is the evidence to substantiate the alleged ongoing relationship between the post-September 11 Taliban and post-September 11 Al Qaeda? Is there any evidence that if the Taliban returns to power Al Qaeda will be able to reconstitute its training camps in Afghanistan? What is our Government's official position about our foremost ally condoning torture?

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About the Authors

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Bruce Haigh
All articles by Kellie Tranter

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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