Coalition forces spent 20 years in Afghanistan. I was an Aussie journalist embedded for a month with the Australian Defence Force. Now we’re asking – was it all for nothing?
It began with a cup of pashawari tea, a tradition when entering someone’s home in Afghanistan. I was inside the new Afghan National Army (ANA) military base in Tarin Kot, in the Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan.
As we walked in to meet local Afghan leaders, I was warned by an Australian commander to drink the tea, for fear of offending the locals.
It was 2013, as Australian troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan, and the handover of security to the ANA was well underway.
We’d flown in from the UAE on an ADF C130 Hercules on a secret path between Iran and Pakistan, down a narrow air corridor into Afghanistan.
Some on the flight crew looked nervous. I sat in the cockpit as we literally dove into the landing position. I could see the ground coming up in front of my eyes before the pilots pulled up and we landed safely.
It’s a landing move designed to prevent enemies on the ground from firing at the aircraft.
This was how you landed in Afghanistan.
Over the following weeks, I travelled through the country. From Kabul to Kandahar, meeting troops from around the world. The American base in Kandahar was incredible, They had literally built a mini American town – with fast food stores and shops selling everything.
The military bases were all protected by a white airship which sat about 100 metres in the air above them, monitoring the surrounds to give advanced warning of a Taliban attack. It was a constant reminder that despite the presence of French fries, we were in the middle of a war zone.
“Are they ready?”
Back at Tarin Kot, I asked an Australian military commander about the readiness of the ANA. “In all honesty are they ready for Australian troops to pull out?”
The answer: “Absolutely. These guys are taking it to the Taliban every day. They are chomping at the bit to do this themselves.”
That year, the ANA, with assistance from the Australian troops, had killed over 200 insurgents in the Uruzgan province.
Even then, despite the tight media control I endured as an Australian journalist visiting Afghanistan as a guest of the ADF, the ANA commanders spoke candidly on camera about their problems.
“We don’t have enough medication here. We ask for medication but they don’t send enough,” he said.
Afghanistan always presented a catch-22 for western forces. Trying to defeat the Taliban when the country provides 90% of the world’s supply of opium.
In many cases, the families live by the rivers. They would grow poppies and once they were ready to harvest, the eldest son was taken with selling them at the border. On the way, they might encounter Afghan police. A firefight would break out, the eldest son would usually win, and he was referred to as the Taliban. None of it made much sense. How do you defeat that?
I’d ask “why don’t we try and introduce something else for them to sell, instead of poppies?”
Well, of course they’d tried that. From sugar to rice. Nothing sold as well as opium.
An Australian built base
In Tarin Kot, the Australian government build the ANA a brand new $60 million base. I toured the base, accompanied by two ADF “guardian angels” as they’re called.
Their job was to escort me through the Afghan base, and avoid a “green on blue” attack whereby we come under fire from the ANA soldiers.
A year earlier, in 2012, three Australian soldiers had been killed by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform.
Despite that, the Australian commanders were certain their efforts were paying off.
As an Australian soldier told me in an interview, “A facility such as this will continue to give them that firm security footprint to continue that success.”
Eight years later, with Australian soldiers long gone from Uruzgan, the Afghan National Army put up little effort to confront the Taliban. Last week, the Taliban took control of Uruzgan.
According to the Associated Press:
In Tirin Kot, the capital of the southern Uruzgan province, Taliban fighters paraded through a main square, driving a Humvee and a pickup seized from Afghan forces.
I can’t help but ask – did we build the Taliban a $60 million base?
The greatest achievement the Australian army spoke of was the liberation of women and young girls in Afghanistan, who could now get an education.
There are now grave fears as hundreds of thousands of Afghans flee their homes.
Twenty years for what?
Coalition forces, including Australia, the UK and of course the US, spent two decades and the best part of a trillion dollars trying to establish a functioning state in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Taliban fighters are now riding around in American humvees and carrying M-16s they’ve “taken” from Afghan forces.
Local soldiers had no motivation to fight, due to large corruption and mismanagement. It all worked, so long as the American tap kept pouring money down the local drain.
President Biden was the fourth president to oversee the war in Afghanistan. There was bipartisan agreement in Washington that the war wasn’t going anywhere.
Still, it’s shocking to see how quickly the country fell to the Taliban. After all that.
Spare a thought for all the servicemen and women who were there, some of whom I met. It’s got to be a tough time for them.
Does Donald Trump stand a chance against Joe Biden?
As Americans prepare to head to the polls, Democrats and Republicans may be tied for control of Congress
The U.S. is preparing for the all-important midterm elections in a matter of months.
For President Joe Biden, it could be a stark warning that his leadership is on thin ice, or it could be the validation he needs ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
There will be 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate up for contention this November.
But as President Biden prepares to ride the campaign wave, it’s the so-called “MAGA Republicans”, which are drawing attention.
The majority of Americans believe political violence will increase across the country. According to the same polling from CBS, U.S. voters think the nation will become less democratic for future generations.
Kim Hoggard is a former U.S. government official, who served in the Bush and Reagan Administrations, she said the current political climate is proving a challenge for leaders to connect with voters.
“I wonder how it is that in this period in American political history where divisiveness is so wide and so dangerous, how it could be that a president can achieve high approval ratings anymore.”
In fact, around six in 10 Americans (57%) disapprove of Biden’s performance, according to recent Ipsos polling from Reuters.
The president’s dwindling ratings have been characterised by some factors out of his control—the pandemic, rising inflation, cost of living, and the war in Ukraine.
But there is one foreign policy outcome, which could be the reason for his falling support, according to Stephan Loosley from the U.S. Studies Centre.
“There’s no question that an enormous hole was punched in the Biden White House with the fiasco, the calamity of the Afghanistan withdrawal, which was badly mishandled.”
However, when it comes to the war in Ukraine, Loosley said Russian President Vladimir Putin misread the strength of U.S. intelligence, and Biden’s hold on his NATO allies.
“The President’s mobilisation of NATO in the face of the illegal Russia incursion of Ukraine has been extraordinary,” he said.
In light of this, President Biden has still managed a strong legislative agenda. This includes climate change action, healthcare reform, military aid for Ukraine, and infrastructure commitments.
Is this enough to sink Biden’s ship?
The U.S. midterm elections are scheduled for November, and with a general election on the cards for 2024, there is much discussion about the rise of former President Donald Trump.
On the other hand, Biden can’t seem to let the former president out of his mind. In fact, he recently spoke about the rise of Make America Great Again (MAGA) Republicans during a nationwide address.
“There’s no democracy where you can be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy,” he said.
The president’s approval ratings are also yet to reach the record low levels of President Trump, which sunk to 33 per cent at the end of 2017.
As it stands, the Democrats have 221 seats in the House of Representatives, and 48 members in the senate.
“The probability of the Democrats losing control of the house is very real. That’s been the history of American midterms since Harry Truman,” Loosley said.
Of course, Trump hasn’t been without his own worries—the fallout from the Capitol riots, raids at his Mar-a-Lago estate, a lawsuit against his company, and a criminal investigation in Georgia.
Kim Hoggard, who is a former White House Assistant Press Secretary, said these events show Trump is unfit for office.
“The mishandling of sensitive information and top secret intelligence information show what a dangerous person he would be if he were to regain the presidency,” she said.
He may be considered dangerous but nearly one in five (19%) of Americans identify as ‘MAGA Republicans’. This is hardly going to be a blip on Joe Biden’s radar.
“There’s no question that Mitch McConnell is determined that Trump will bear any responsibility for Republican losses in the midterms,” Stephen Loosley from the U.S. Studies Centre said.
Mitch McConnell is the Minority Leader in the Senate and he believes the House of Representatives will flip this November.
“You have all these investigations, inquiries, and probes running simultaneously, it’s got to divert and distract the Republican Party and it’s got to damage some Republican candidates’ races,” Loosley said.
In terms of Trump’s 2024 possibilities, Kim Hoggard said the criminal investigations and lawsuits “are going to significantly affect his [Trump’s] ability to be a viable candidate”.
The monarchy fights for survival without the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II was notably one of the most respected figures in the world, and now the monarchy fights for survival
Queen Elizabeth II was the most private, public figure. Her Majesty was a constant thread in millions of lives. A symbol of continuity for seven decades.
Undoubtedly, the Queen’s global impact will be hard to match.
As her reign fuelled widespread revolution that altered the very landscape of the nation.
Politically, culturally and technologically, the Queen’s leadership was unwavering, and her wish was for this lead to stand the test of time.
History shows, the royal family is not immune from life’s challenges and controversies.
But through turbulent times, the Queens poise, strength and class always prevailed.
Above everything else, she was a constant. The ever-reliable presence holding the royal family together.
Contributor Cei Dewar, was lucky enough to meet the Queen and says millions around the world are mourning her loss, and everything she represents.
Monarchy fights for survival
As the world waves goodbye to Her Majesty, the monarchy fights for survival, finding its way forward without Queen Elizabeth II.
King Charles III is at the reigns, inheriting the lead on what the royal family becomes.
The King is taking the reign on a very different world.
He will be exposed to public scrutiny like never before, the internet phenomenon, and a world where Republicans are on the rise.
However, His Majesty has expressed his determination to focus on diversity, climate change action and maintain the institutions relevance on the global diplomatic stage.
King Charles’ tumultuous personal life was often the downfall of his popularity, but now, he has pledged his life to serve as King.
Charles’ reputation slipped after the death of Diana, and ever since he has worked to build his popularity.
But solidarity within his own family will be the key driver of success.
Notably, Prince William and Harry have already showed their reconciled solidarity. Standing side by side, reunited in grief.
Their relationship will be paramount to conserving the monarchy.
While the future of the monarchy hangs in the balance, it will be difficult for King Charles the III to fill the shoes of his late mother. As well as connect with the national psyche and be a reassuring presence.
Most people don’t know a world without Queen Elizabeth II, and although saying goodbye is heartbreaking, a new reign now begins.
Perhaps, the rise of Charles to the throne will be the injection of change the royal family needs to last beyond the 21st century.
A big job lies ahead. For now, the world has his pledge and actions will speak for themselves.
Charles the King, a role he has been waiting for his entire life.
Do countries pick and choose where justice falls?
For years, human rights groups have been urging world leaders to hold China accountable for its alleged human rights abuses
There have been numerous reports of human rights abuses within China, but no clear way of holding the country to account.
In particular, reports of abuse against the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang province have sparked global concerns.
The UN Human Rights office released a report highlighting the brutality of abuse against muslim minorities in China.
The damning report confirms what human rights groups have been concerned about for years. It details victims accounts of “detention, torture, cultural persecution and forced labor.”
While, the UN Human Rights Office says it’s committed to supporting China to address the issues evident in the report, other groups say immediate action is required.
Non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Watch, is calling on Australia to join other leading nations in making Chinese crimes against humanity punishable.
The organisation wants to see China exposed to sanctions, starting with legislation to prevent the import of any goods made with forced labor.
The group wants businesses, states and the international community to take action.
Holding China accountable
While the reports of China’s abuse in the Xinjiang region are horrific, world leaders seem to be finding it difficult to hold the communist country accountable. It raises questions about where accountability comes from and how it is policed.
Human Rights Watch want the Australian Government to move in line with other leading nations like the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada to target China’s behaviour.
They want businesses to stop importing goods that are manufactured through forced labor, and a new legislation in place to enforce it.
However, thousands of Australian businesses rely heavily on China’s manufacturing hubs.
For some, they’re the backbone of their survival. So is it fair or realistic to put this expectation and responsibility on Australian business owners?
However, the level of complexity attached to a problem shouldn’t justify turning a blind eye to it.
Australia lagging behind
The EU, US, UK and Canada have all made significant efforts to tackle China’s alleged human rights abuses.
They have taken a stand by implementing acts and legislation to deter China’s behaviour. The United States, for example, has the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which provides customs authorities increased powers to enforce bans on imports from forced labor.
This has many wondering why Australia hasn’t taken any concrete action to condemn China’s human rights abuses.
Tensions between Australia and China have been at an all time high since Australia moved to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
Some say Australia is concerned for the repercussions and consequences of holding China accountable on the global stage.
Does China care about sanctions?
As a communist country, China has shown time and time again that it does not mind being an outlier on the global stage.
Some say that targeted sanctions will not deter or stop the abuse against ethnic minorities. While others say if a coalition of countries band together to call out the abuse, then it is more likely to have a real impact.
Many countries around the world has or has had reports of human rights abuses in one way or another.
Soon, Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which in largely known for its human rights abuses. In particular, there have been reports of human rights abuses during the construction of the stadiums required for the cup.
However, all of the countries who are now taking a stand against China are heading to the world cup. It raises questions of hypocrisy and whether leading Governments are selecting who they hold accountable based on their own political rhetoric.
Are world leaders picking and choosing where justice falls?
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