Trooper

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a column for NewMatilda.com asking the question, ‘What are we doing in Afghanistan?’

If we had two political Parties in this country with opposing views on policy, whether in foreign affairs or Tasmanian pulp mills, the death of the unfortunate Australian soldier Trooper David Pearce, killed on Monday by a roadside bomb in Oruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan, might have been the point where the Government was asked by the Opposition just how it justified keeping our small, pointless contingent in such a dangerous place.

But of course, Kevin Rudd, as with many other issues, marches in lockstep with John Howard on Afghanistan.

Like the man he so often follows, Rudd wants our troops to stay in Afghanistan. So when Howard says, as he did on Tuesday, ‘The operation in Afghanistan is a just cause and this soldier was part of an Australian contribution to that just cause,’ Rudd came out and told us the same thing: ‘We will always be attentive and responsive to requests made by our friends and allies in Afghanistan in terms of future needs.’ Unlike most Opposition leaders, Rudd didn’t ask why the Government is sending our soldiers to die. And he certainly didn’t ask our leader to define ‘just cause.’

Somewhere in the waffling about our role in Afghanistan there is always a reference to it being part of the ‘War on Terrorism’. This is plain nonsense. To repeat myself from last month, terrorism has long abandoned Afghanistan as either a haven or training ground. Osama bin Laden and his inner circle are somewhere in the tribal border areas of Pakistan, while al-Qaeda in Iraq recruits locally and from other parts of the Islamic world, and has a successful on-the-ground training facility in well in the streets of Baghdad mainly.

The most ambitious terrorists are probably now doing engineering and electronics degrees in the universities and technological colleges of Europe and America, and the Islamic terrorists plotting away in Indonesia would recognise Osama mostly because they buy T-shirts with his face on them in the local tourist shops.

The war in Afghanistan is now a war on the local inhabitants, who would stop killing Americans, Canadians, Brits and now Australians, if only we would go away. The Taliban, who are local inhabitants, are fighting to throw out the foreign invaders. Funny people, the Afghans, they just don’t like foreigners especially foreigners from non-Muslim countries invading their country. In fact, under one Afghan leader or another’s banner, they’ve thrown out every foreign invader, from the British to the Russians, for the last couple of centuries.

What drives me nuts about all this is that nobody seems to read any history or for Christ’s sake, any news. And knowing nothing, nobody asks questions. The first question should be, ‘Why is this resurgence of the Taliban that everyone is talking about, taking place?’

In September 1996, I was in Kabul the day after the Taliban hanged Mohammad Najibullah, the Russian stooge Afghan dictator, from a steel traffic platform in the centre of Kabul. I talked to the Taliban fighters, who were basically country boys who had never been in a big city like Kabul before. They were friendly, slightly confused, open-mouthed at the wonder of it all.

The locals were not ecstatic to see them, but they were glad that Najibullah and his brutal secret police were gone. And they were relieved that a unifying force seemed to have appeared that was strong enough to quell the civil war that was wrecking the country. And if the Dari-speaking  sophisticates of the big city were reserved, the Pushtu-speaking majority, largely from the south of the country, welcomed the Taliban as heroes. They were the saviours who had rescued Afghanistan from the rapacious and brutal warlords who then ruled the country.

It’s clear that the current resurgence of the Taliban is due to the fact that they’re being seen as saviours once more this time, from the white ‘crusaders’ who have recently invaded their country. The xenophobic, badly educated, deeply religious Afghan rural masses have forgotten any Taliban brutalities brutality is a way of life in the country, anyway and turned on the new invaders with increasing success.

If there’s one thing Afghans do very well, it’s fight, and like all good guerrillas, they’re learning as they go. The roadside bomb that killed Trooper Pearce may have been made in Iran, and may even have come to the Taliban from weapons testing sites in Baghdad? Basra? Tikrit? But Afghans have quickly learned how to use this ‘useful’ new technology.

Neil James, Executive Director of the Australian Defence Association, told the ABC on Tuesday that the Taliban seemed to be changing tactics relying more on the use of explosive devices and other such tricks, rather than engaging directly with the NATO forces opposed to them. Gee whiz, lightly armed irregulars avoiding regular military forces backed by armour, heavy weapons and a sophisticated airforce? Using underhand guerrilla tactics the cowards! the sneaks!

So how will this all end up? Don’t know myself, but the Afghans aren’t going anywhere they’re home already. As for our boys? Well, if the opinion polls are right, I guess it will be up to that hardened warrior Kevin Rudd to decide. Wonder how many Australians (and Afghans) will die before he makes up his mind?

It’s not a nice place to die in, Afghanistan. Rudyard Kipling, who lived up that way and saw the Brits get hammered over a century ago, wrote what it’s like to mix with the locals. And the times haven’t changed much, it seems:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

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