Why We Flight
Greg Sheridan's backgrounder on John Howard's decision to send a thousand more Australian troops to Afghanistan speaks volumes. Australia had to struggle against European objections to allow the Diggers to fight.
There are two separate Allied operations in Afghanistan right now. There is Operation Enduring Freedom, led by the Americans with British participation. And there is the International Security Assistance Force, which is a NATO operation and manned mainly by Europeans and Canadians.
The Howard Government wanted to deploy its special operations group as part of Operation Enduring Freedom because it has a more robust mandate and stronger rules of engagement. But this was opposed by the Dutch. Overall the Dutch have more than 2000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Australians, who form a 400-strong Reconstruction Task Force in Tarin Kowt in Oruzgun, work intimately with the Dutch. The Australians have a high respect for the Dutch. But the Dutch are in Afghanistan as part of ISAF, not as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
ISAF has a long list of Taliban personnel it is prepared to target. These are the so-called high-value targets. However, at times the restrictions on its rules of engagement are ridiculous. If ISAF coalition forces discover a house with two Taliban high-value targets, and four other Taliban fighters who are not on the list of ISAF approved targets, it cannot attack the house. This is not a scenario of protecting civilians but of protecting Taliban targets who are just not specifically on the list.
The Australians were not interested in this kind of handicapped engagement. Sending soldiers into harm's way is a serious and profoundly consequential business. Canberra's view is you either send them in to do the business, or you're better off not sending them at all. However, in The Netherlands, as in most European countries, the troop deployments to Afghanistan are highly sensitive and contested issues. Canada, which has done magnificent work in Afghanistan and taken a serious number of casualties, faces the situation where its political Opposition - though it dispatched the Canadian troops to Afghanistan - now opposes their deployment.
Most European nations that do deploy in Afghanistan do so in the much more relatively peaceful north , rather than the violent south where the Australians are. ...
Because the Dutch are more numerous in Oruzgan than the Australians, that operation is under their leadership and they could not politically tolerate an Australian deployment, with them, under Operation Enduring Freedom. ... In the end, Canberra agreed to send its special forces group as part of ISAF but insisted they would remain under Australian national command and interpret their rules of engagement in an Australian way. They are partly reassured because the present head of the ISAF force is an American general who is extremely unlikely to complain about the Australians being too robust. ...
They will start with small, long-range patrols to build up the deepest possible picture of the province. They will move with speed and stealth and great lethality, and at times they will pursue their quarry relentlessly. They will be there, probably in rotations of a little less than six months, for at least two years. They will not give up. They will be the most formidable force in southern Afghanistan. They will make a huge difference. And they will take huge risks.
But not so great as the risks run by those for whom war is a costume party; to whom victory is a dirty word. The Australians know what the Europeans should soon rediscover: the danger comes from within one's self; that there are none so lost as those who have misled themselves.