Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Rudd flies in ahead of new Afghan strategy an -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Reporter: Linda Mottram

ELEANOR HALL: As the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, heads to Washington today, the US President Barack
Obama is set to announce the details of a new strategy for Afghanistan, which is likely to involve
a bigger troop commitment.

The revamped strategy will have implications for Australia's forces, whether or not Australia
contributes any more soldiers.

Radio Australia's Linda Mottram reports.

LINDA MOTTRAM: The tenth Australian military casualty in Afghanistan last week prompted the Federal
Government to restate a key Australian interest in the war: that Afghanistan and the border areas
with Pakistan are the hotbed of global terrorism, that Australians have been victims and that the
threat must be rooted out.

Major General Jim Molan, now retired, served in East Timor and he commanded 300,000 coalition
troops in Iraq in 2004. He agrees with the Government's view but says there are other interests
too, among them humanitarian and moral and not least, Australia's alliance with the United States.

JIM MOLAN: Australia has said for many, many years that the centre of its security policy is the US
alliance - and an alliance goes both ways. And if you put weight on the value of that alliance then
Australia should pay its dues at some stage.

LINDA MOTTRAM: But, notwithstanding the strong performance of Australia's troops in Afghanistan,
critics like Jim Molan say that in eight years, the war there has achieved little. That's certainly
Barack Obama's concern, prompting his administration's wide-ranging reviews of strategy there.

For Australia, a new US approach will have implications and not just for the numbers of troops
deployed. Doctor Benjamin MacQueen from Melbourne University works on the impacts of US foreign
policy on political transformation in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. He says the
change in the American approach will be significant.

BENJAMIN MACQUEEN: It's a combination of the physical change of having 17,000 more troops on the
ground so there'll be an increased physical US presence there but a change in philosophy in terms
of, trying to sort of peg back to more pragmatic goals for the, both the military and the
reconstruction efforts there.

And also in terms of military strategy there's going to be a shift towards a counter-insurgency
focus.

LINDA MOTTRAM: General Molan says a greater focus on Afghanistan's people is vital but he puts a
premium on a larger number of troops.

JIM MOLAN: Really we haven't done much because the level of troops in Afghanistan have been too low
to do anything with; until this last commitment of American troops we only had 60,000 foreign
troops in a country of 30-million people and of a size two or three times the size of the ACT, and
worse country.

So really on the big scale we haven't done much. The British have done a lot of fighting in Helmand
province and it's been really nasty fighting. But the way this will be won is not with a focus on
the enemy but with a focus on the people and this is the big change that's come out of Iraq.

LINDA MOTTRAM: General Molan would have Australia doubling its numbers on the ground this year,
with an extra thousand soldiers, towards a goal of a total of 6,000 troops in Oruzgan Province
where Australian forces operate.

The signals from Canberra are that any increase in troop numbers would be nowhere near that high.
Dr Benjamin MacQueen says a doubling of Australia's effort would be a stretch.

BENJAMIN MACQUEEN: I can't see Obama asking and Australian accepting say a doubling of Australian
ground troops to around 2000. Fourteen to fifteen hundred I think is going to be the mark.

LINDA MOTTRAM: And do you anticipate that Australia will continue to do the sorts of things that
it's currently doing or do you think that the Obama strategy is going to fundamentally redefine
what Australia's role is as well?

BENJAMIN MACQUEEN: Part of the shift with Obama's strategy towards this counter-insurgency policy
is going to be focussed along the Afghan border and looking at longer term troop presence and the
continuity of presence in those areas.

So there could be a segment of the Australian troop force that's actually shifted slightly eastward
towards the border area which is also a very dangerous, volatile area.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Benjamin MacQueen from Melbourne University, ending that report by Linda Mottram.