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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 03:51 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 03:51 | SYDNEY

Doubts about Leahy's Afghanistan plan

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21 July 2011 11:50

I have been hesitant to use my long-ago experience in Vietnam as a basis to enter the debate about Australia's role in Afghanistan, not least because of the great differences between the two countries. But General Peter Leahy's suggestion that Australia is pursuing the wrong Afghan strategy and should place more emphasis on civilian aid prompts me to do so.

Between 1966 and 1971 I was a regular visitor to Vietnam, spending time with both the Task Force in Phuoc Thuy province, with members of the Australian Training Team, and twice as the house guest of a member of the South Vietnamese Senate's Defence Committee, traveling with that committee to all four corps areas to observe developments in the field. I talked to a range of observers of counter-insurgency, including specialists from RAND and individuals such as a the late Gerald Hickey, one of the best informed commentators on Vietnamese village life.

In all cases, I was particularly interested in civic action programs. This was because I had published a monograph on the inapplicability of the Malayan Emergency New Villages program as a basis for the Strategic Hamlets program in South Vietnam. Some of the issues involved in that monograph are outlined in my Lowy Perspectives Paper, Getting the Job Done: Iraq and the Malayan Emergency, published in February 2005.

Whether Australian interests are served by our commitment in Afghanistan is one issue, and I have grave doubts on this score. But the purpose of this post is to question the suggestion that Australia is in a position to contemplate the sort of strategy General Leahy proposes.

For not only in Vietnam but in every counter-insurgency campaign of which I am aware, the goal of overcoming insurgents through programs that emphasise civic as well as military action can only be contemplated when both the non-military personnel who are carrying out that action and their clients can be protected.

It seems evident to me that such a situation does not exist in Afghanistan, and is not likely to be achieved in any foreseeable future, whatever brave statements are made to the contrary.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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