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This one time in Afghanistan. Was it all for nothing? | ticker VIEWS

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An Australian journalist

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.

Reporter Ahron Young 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.

The Australian base in Uruzgan in 2013

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.

Australian troops in Tarin Kot watching the AFL

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.

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Trump’s campaign tactic – debase and disgrace the legal process

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Donald Trump, former president of the United States, hated Arraignment Day I in Manhattan two months ago, the first time a former president had been criminally charged. 

Trump was being forced against his will into a proceeding he had utter contempt for.  He was being arrested and fingerprinted and photographed under an indictment under the jurisdiction of Manhattan in New York City for allegations of hush money payments and fraudulent bookkeeping practices to conceal criminal activity. Trump heard the charges read out against him and he entered a plea of not guilty.

Trump had a terrible day. Trump wore a scowl throughout. His countenance was fearsome.  What Trump hated most about his arraignment in New York is that he had to sit at a table with his counsel side by side with him — equal to him — and with the judge above him looking down on him. Trump could not control the discussion and could not interrupt to make his points.

Trump was subordinate to the judge. He was subordinate to no one as president.

Arraignment Day II

Arraignment Day II in Miami will be worse from Trump, even more stressful.  The charges are substantially more serious:  the alleged violation of federal criminal statutes involving the alleged mishandling and illegal possession of classified documents, lying to legal authorities, and obstruction of justice.  Potential penalties run to years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

Trump throughout his business life had always crafted his affairs to avoid being a defendant. But in his term in office, he was caught up in it big time. He was a defendant in two impeachment trials – again, unprecedented events – and left office in disgrace.

But Trump does not feel disgraced. He never does.  Trump does not have a reverse gear.  He never retreats.  Never admits. Never concedes. Never yields.  Trump is never embarrassed. Trump never feels ashamed. When something goes wrong, it is always the fault of someone else.

And Trump never repents.

Trump can feel this way because Trump is waging war on behalf of his armies in “the final battle” for the future of the county. In his first, fiery post-indictment speech in Georgia, Trump said, “They’ve launched one witch hunt after another to try and stop our movement, to thwart the will of the American people.  In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you … “Either we have a Deep State, or we have a Democracy…Either the Deep State destroys America, or WE destroy the Deep State.”

It is a powerful formulation, and his true believers love it.

Hours later, In North Carolina, Trump mainlined his distilled message for the Republican crowd:

“We are a failing nation. We are a nation in decline. And now these radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement.

It’s totally corrupt and we cannot let it happen.

This is the final battle.

With you at my side we will demolish the Deep State.

We will expel the warmongers from our government.

We will drive out the globalists.

We will cast out the communists.

We will throw off the sick political class that hates our country.

We will roll out the fake news media.

We will defeat Joe Bide and we will liberate America from those villains once and for all.”

Any lesser mortal would be staggered by these events.  Any other presidential candidate would be driven from the race.  But not Trump.

Debase and disgrace

Trump is using the same playbook today as he successfully triggered after being charged in New York:  debase and disgrace the legal process by terming it completely political.  Trump said the federal indictment is “election interference at the highest level.”

Almost every other Republican running for president has adopted this line, insulating Trump from pressure to leave the field.

Trump’s chief opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said after these indictments: “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.”

Republican congressperson Nancy Mace: “This is a banana republic. I can’t believe this is happening.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: “Democrats are arresting their political enemies. and they work together in their corrupt ways to get it done.”

Trump is using his affliction to raise millions of dollars from his base.

Trump will likely face Arraignment Day III in Georgia in August.  A state prosecutor is expected to charge Trump with criminal interference in the certification of Georgia’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

As of now, there is no sign of cracks in Trump’s support among Republican voters.  There is no surge to another candidate.  What remains to be seen is whether Republican voters, as they see Trump spend his days in courtrooms and his evenings at rallies around the country, reach a conclusion that this is a spectacle too far, too much to bear, and that they want to turn to another conservative populist who stands for them in the political trials— and not the criminal trials – of 2024.

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Donald Trump’s legal woes will serve him well

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It’s not often that a U.S. President faces federal indictment, but if it’s going to happen to anyone, it might as well be Donald Trump first.

The news that Donald Trump is facing a federal investigation over the removal of secret documents from the White House in 2021 came as no surprise.

Keen watches of the Washington soap opera have seen this playbook before, albeit in a different form.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a Washington outsider. But as seriously damaged as he may be (thanks to the events of January 6), his support base has only grown whenever he faces scrutiny.

For his supporters, his legal woes mirror their own relationship with the government – a giant, unfair beast that picks and chooses its fights.

Trump is accused of storing sensitive documents—including those concerning matters of national security—in boxes, some even in a shower.

The documents were seized last August when investigators from the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago.

The Department of Justice has historically avoided charging people who are running for public office. Whether they should do that is a debate for another day. But it’s happening now. And it’s making it all too easy for Trump to claim there is a concerted campaign to get him away from the White House.

Trump exposed the deep state. IF they exist, they probably don’t want him back in power. Whether they exist doesn’t matter really, because plenty of Trump’s supporters agree with him, and believe the secret state is working against them. Call it QAnon, call it a conspiracy – it doesn’t matter in a democracy.

The DoJ now has to go all in. Failing to secure a conviction would be a serious embarrassment for the department.

This is the second time Trump has been indicted in recent months, yet the opinion polls show he only increases his popularity among MAGA and Republican voters. It leaves the Republican party in a difficult position. Support their leading candidate or support the law?

As other Republicans rallied around the embattled candidate, Trump held on to his loyal base of supporters.

For the Democrats, and for Biden, another reality will soon sink in – if Trump becomes President, and they lose office next year, how will a Trump-run DoJ deal with them?

Broadly, the tit-for-tat one-up-manship of U.S. politics is breaking tradition and potentially breaking the country.

 

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