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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3346

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (21:11): I rise to again voice my opposition, in the strongest possible terms, to Australia's continuing involvement in the war in Afghanistan. I do not dispute the claim al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks on America on 11 September 2001. Nor do I dispute the claim that al-Qaeda was based principally in Afghanistan, so there was a legitimate need to invade that country if the terrorist organisation was to be brought to heel. In fact, I was an analyst in the Office of National Assessments at about that time and it was abundantly clear to me that al-Qaeda was anything but a band of terrorists hiding in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan. The reality instead was that al-Qaeda was so large as to deploy formed bodies of troops and was an intrinsic physical and financial part of the Taliban regime, controlling virtually all of the country by late 2001.

Hence I do believe we should have joined the international community in the invasion of that country, just as the international community, including Australia, should have moved quickly to rebuild the country in 2002. But of course the international community, including Australia, did not seize the brief opportunity to maintain the fragile peace while it poured in the billions of dollars of promised aid, preferring instead to cut and run and in the process create the conditions for the civil war we have battled ever since. Yes, it is a civil war. All the nonsense we continue to hear from the government and from the opposition about needing to stay in Afghanistan to rid the world of global terrorism is just that—nonsense. The fact is that Islamic extremism no longer relies on a single group and Afghanistan is no longer terrorism central. What we have instead is a transnational collection of violent individuals and groups, some acting alone and some connected, who collectively comprise the global Islamic extremist threat. Against this backdrop al-Qaeda is now irrelevant, its earlier roles of direct action as well as controlling and inspiring others now virtually redundant. In other words, there is simply no reason whatsoever for Australian troops to remain in Afghanistan any longer to keep us safe from terrorists. Nor is there any reason to remain in Afghanistan in solidarity with the United States, because the US is now set to get out sooner than later and, in any case, the bilateral relationship is more than strong enough to withstand us showing a bit of independence sometimes. If there were a reason to stay on in Afghanistan, surely it would be to make it a better place. But, regrettably, that is a pipedream. The dreadful reality is that Afghanistan will remain strife torn until foreign troops have left and the country has been allowed to find its natural political level. It was ever thus.

In offering my thoughts tonight I make no criticism of the Australian Defence Force. They are doing their job and doing it magnificently. In particular, my former wife, Brigadier Simone Wilkie, is said to be excelling. But regardless of whether Australian forces fight on for two months, two years or 10, Afghanistan will revert to chaos when international forces withdraw. This is set to be a chilling replay of the way the formidable successes of the Australian task force in Phuoc Tuy province were eventually swamped by the broader military defeat in Vietnam. If this is to be the case, to paraphrase US Senator John Kerry, himself a war veteran: how do you ask a soldier to be the last one to die in Afghanistan and how do you ask a soldier to be the last one to die for the mistake of staying on unnecessarily? God help the Australian politicians who have it within their power to end this war but who choose not to, for in their hands is the fate of our sons and daughters, and it is in their hearts they will need to live with John Kerry's questions.

In closing, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to put on the record the member for Moore's concern about the war in Afghanistan. He had hoped to express them himself tonight but is unable to.