39 reasons to bring troops home from Afghanistan now
As far as the Australian public is concerned there are now 39 very good reasons for bringing the troops home from Afghanistan without delay.
The death of a special-forces soldier overnight takes the national death toll to 39 and there have been 242 wounded as well, many severely.
As the final official draw down date of 2014 approaches each new death will resonate even more with a public now almost 70 per cent opposed to the Afghanistan mission.
Despite the government’s best efforts to soften the blow of the casualties by covering up inquiry reports and seeking to limit information about the fallen soldiers, the growing list of dead is testing the public’s resolve.
The Gillard Government insists that it is on track to meet its 2014 withdrawal timeline, but given that 2012 still has more than two months to run, the government will be under growing pressure to explain why the troops – all of the troops – cannot be home by the end of next year.
Surely 14 months is long enough to hand over to the Afghans who are, for all intents and purposes, responsible for securing Oruzgan Province.
Most mentoring diggers will be back in the main base at Tarin Kowt by December and they will only support the Afghans with mobile patrols originating at Camp Holland.
Special forces will continue to do the type of search and destroy missions against bomb makers that resulted in the latest death, but for the bulk of the force it will be a matter of sitting in TK, going to the gym, drinking Green Beans coffee and wondering what the hell they are doing there?
A six-month deployment at the base at TK is cruel and unusual punishment for anyone let alone young soldiers desperate to get out and patrol.
There is no doubt that the timetable for withdrawal is flexible and the government will be asking the military brass to draw up plans for an earlier homecoming for the mentoring forces and their force multipliers.
For the special-forces task group however the transition is not so clear. The government has already committed to keeping the elite force there well beyond the 2014 end game (if requested by the Afghan Government), but they will have to provide damn good reasons for Australians to accept the risks to our most highly trained soldiers.
As the mentoring force pulls back to the main base the only Australians exposed to danger will be special forces troops from the SAS, Commandos and Incident Response Regiment.
Regardless of the need to support the Afghan army with the very special skills that SF troops offer in the ugly fight to keep the insurgency at bay, the government would do well to take heed of the ground swell of community concern about these elite men staying on as the bulk of coalition forces head home.
As the US draw down gains momentum they will be left increasingly exposed without the levels of fire and air support that they have enjoyed since day one.
The death of any soldier is tragic, but casualties among our over worked special-forces troops in the aftermath of the overall withdrawal will be even more disastrous as 75, 80 and then 90 per cent of the population asks, Why?