Five Australian soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says deaths are Australia’s worst combat losses in nearly half a century
Three soldiers were shot dead in southern Uruzgan province by an Afghan army soldier who turned his gun on them as they were relaxing at their base late on Wednesday evening. Two others died in a helicopter crash in neighbouring Helmand province in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“I believe this is the most losses in combat since the days of the Vietnam war and the battle on Long Tan,” said Prime Minister Julia Gillard. In that 1966 battle, 18 Australians were killed.
“This is news so truly shocking that it’s going to feel for many Australians like a physical blow,” she said.
Gillard said she would be heading home early from a conference of Pacific nation leaders she was attending in the Cook Islands, the Australian Associated Press reported.
The Afghan soldier who turned on his Australian comrades-in-arms shot them at close range with an automatic weapon, killing three and wounding two, said Air Marshal Mark Binskin, vice-chief of the Australian Defence Force.
Troops on the scene returned fire, but the shooter managed to scale a fence and escape from the base, Binskin said. Australian and Afghan soldiers were hunting for him.
It was the latest in a growing number of insider attacks by Afghan police and soldiers on the foreign troops training them or fighting beside them; 45 people have been killed this year to date, compared to 35 in the whole of 2011.
Afghan and Nato commanders are struggling to find ways to prevent the attacks, which are undermining the training mission at the heart of the international vision for long-term support of Afghanistan.
Last year, four Australian soldiers died at the hands of their allies, although the majority of casualties have come from the US.
Australia makes the largest contribution to the Afghan mission of any nation outside the Nato alliance, with 1,550 troops on the ground. It has lost 38 soldiers in Afghanistan.
Australian peace coalation:
US vets handing back their medals
Stop the War Coalition, May 24, 2012
The NATO announcement that it will be “withdrawing” in the summer of 2013 is an admission of defeat.
But there are no victors in this war. The country is no closer to peace and security today than when the Taliban were forced out in 2001.
Despite Obama’s massive increase of US forces there is no prospect of “winning” as Colonel Daniel Davis reported to Congress.
Stop the War Coalition would welcome the end of the foreign occupation of Afghanistan – if it were actually true.
How real is “withdrawal” when the US has committed military forces to remain until 2024 and intends to maintain its many huge military bases?
How else can we interpret PM Julia Gillard’s commitment to funding for another three years the corrupt Hamid Karzai government and Australian Special Forces’ ongoing work with the US forces?
Their function has been and remains that of death squads to support the same corrupt drug dealers and warlords who have dominated Afghanistan under Karzai.
Over the past five years, the Western occupiers have been many announcements that the “security” situation was improving and that NATO troops will be able to “hand back” the country to the Afghan national army.
All have proved illusory.
Extraordinarily large funds have been provided as ”aid”, yet the ordinary Afghans remain mired in poverty, with short life expectancy, low levels of literacy, horrific mortality among women in childbirth and violence against women unacceptably high and widespread.
Opium poppy is still the most lucrative crop with no alternative crops or livelihoods available to most poor farmers.
After 11 long and devastating years of war, NATO must get out now and allow the Afghans to determine their own future. They could hardly do worse than under NATO’s rule. Another 12 months or more of war and occupation will only further devastate the country and its people.
Australian troops must be withdrawn immediately and the military funding promised by the Gillard government be re-allocated to grassroots Afghan-controlled health services, educational materials and teacher training. This could make some difference to the lives of ordinary Afghans.
Leaving the Australian Special Forces to carry out extra-judicial killings, as the Australian government intends, continues the worst aspects of the foreign occupation.