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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 11:08 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 11:08 | SYDNEY

Our undeserved COIN reputation

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22 July 2011 13:52

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

When Dr Milton Osborne was writing his Lowy Perspectives Paper, Getting the Job Done: Iraq and the Malayan Emergency, in February 2005, I was trying to do counter-insurgency in Iraq, and I could really have used that paper.

I constantly needed to rebut my US military comrades' and US Congressional delegations' expectation that, as an Australian, I would have the counter-insurgency (COIN) answer in my DNA. Their belief that we Australians played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Communist terrorists is still one of the great snow jobs of military history.

When I am asked, 'Could we have learned anything from the Malayan Emergency to apply in Iraq?', tongue in cheek I say they were almost identical. In the Malayan Emergency we spent a long time misinterpreting the nature of the insurgency and had to learn the war, before executing it correctly. Then for a period we applied insufficient military resources. Many even argued that you could achieve military effects from the air alone.

We made no progress until we intimately linked the civil and the military. When adequate foreign and local military and civilian resources were applied over a very long period, results were achieved. Success was assisted greatly when the host nation population saw they had a political stake in success, and the struggle went on for years after the foreign troops left.

Of course the answer to the question, 'How much is enough, and for how long?', which came partly from experience in the Malayan Emergency, has been revalidated by the Iraq experience, but ignored again in Afghanistan.

So I congratulate Dr Osborne on his comments in relation to Peter Leahy's advocacy of more civilian resources for Afghanistan. I never met anyone in any position of authority who said that success in these wars could be achieved by military forces alone, but the creation of relative security for the people by the use of military or para-military forces is the first and most essential step. Security does not have to be perfect. But political, social and economic progress will not occur while the local population has the insurgent or terrorist tearing their collective throat out. 

It is good to see Peter Leahy rejoining the debate, and to his credit he has made these points before. But I fear the argument is now irrelevant. There is little any of us can do now except hope that the 28 million people of Afghanistan will see anything like the freedom and stability we were so willing to give to the East Timorese.

 It is not just the Taliban and the rump of al Qaeda working for us to fail. President Obama has denied his generals the second fighting season in 2012 they needed near full strength, and by doing so has significantly increased the risk of failure. President Obama has proven to be as great a force as our enemy for the dislocation of his own strategy. And it is even more tragic that he seems to have acted against all our interests in Afghanistan for the most selfish of political reasons — he wants to be re-elected.

Many people say, as if to excuse the inexcusable, 'Yes, but that's politics!'. If we accept that, we accept that our elected leaders can act with the most pronounced selfishness and against any definition of our long term interests. It will of course occur, but we should never accept it.

Photo by Flickr user Daniel Dale.

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