As Australian soldiers were relaxing, playing cards in a tent in Uruzgan province yesterday, a rogue Afghan opened fire at close range killing three soldiers and wounding two others. And in an unrelated incident, two members of the Special Forces died when their helicopter crashed. It was our country's worst day in combat since the Vietnam War and the hunt is now on to find the man who was a member of the Afghan National Army and a guard at the base.
There is no shortage of experts who have an opinion as to why it happened. The so-called green-on-blue attacks have increased over the last two years and it's the fourth time a member of the Afghan Army has turned on Australian forces. Former Afghan Commander John Cantwell said "At the heart of their mission, which is training the Afghan Army, is the idea of trust, and if that trust is eroded, the mission is therefore eroded and put at risk."
Sir Simon Gass, the NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan said there are a number of reasons why insider attacks are increasing. In some cases, they have a connection to the insurgency and "in some cases it seems that it is more about personal issues and disagreements and flaring tempers and as we approach 2014, the point at which our campaign comes to an end in Afghanistan, we may be seeing some Afghans expressing their view on that by committing this sort of crime."
Australian Professor William Maley says the Taliban are trying to infiltrate Afghan security forces so they can carry out attacks like this one yesterday. "From the Taliban's point of view, these attacks are politically positive, not just because they unsettle the public in contributing countries such as Australia, but they also create in the minds of ordinary people in Afghanistan the sense that the Taliban are strong and the international forces are weak" he said. "There's a great fear in Afghanistan that 2014 may witness a collapse and a return of the Taliban and it's in the interests of the Taliban to make it appear that as the international forces leave, they do so with their tails between their legs."
Experts believe that Afghan soldiers are being threatened by members of the Taliban to organise or directly participate in the killings. After decades of war, many locals can see what will happen when the troops go home and are keen to show their loyalty to the Taliban.
Thirty eight Australians have now died in Afghanistan since 2002. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said "The Afghan army is copping most of the casualties....not us, that's the way it should be...we're training them."
Tony Abbott said yesterday that Australia didn't want to be seen as a country who "cut and run." But the Dutch had the good sense to get out, ending their military commitment in 2010 after four years, with 24 soldiers killed and 140 wounded. NATO begged The Netherlands to extend their mission but they refused. Dutch citizens were so against the war, it brought about the downfall of the Coalition government. This worried other European countries, especially Germany who has the third largest commitment after the US and the UK. The German people are still against the war but like us, are powerless to do anything about it.
Although we live in a democracy, we have no say in sending our troops to Afghanistan and are baffled by our politicians' resolve to stay the distance and wonder about the legitimacy of being there in the first place. We can only look on, shake our heads, and watch as more young men die, and wonder why.