Afghanistan: case for a 'lessons learnt' study?

Parliament house flag post
Khost children in 2010

Afghanistan: case for a 'lessons learnt' study?

Posted 17/07/2014 by Ravi Tomar

On 16 May 2013, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee tabled its report on The administration, management and objective of Australia's overseas development programs in Afghanistan in the context of the ‘Transition Decade’. On 26 June 2014, more than a year after the report was released, the Government tabled its response.

The Committee report was significant because it was the result of the first inquiry into any aspect of Australian involvement in Afghanistan since troops were first deployed in the country in 2001. The primary focus of the inquiry was issues pertaining to Australian development assistance in Afghanistan, including the involvement of the ADF.

Recommendation 1  of the report suggested that the Australian Civil Military Centre (ACMC) undertake a ‘comprehensive review of Australia’s civil–military–police mission in Uruzgan Province’. It was recommended that such a review should cover issues such as whether the ADF’s involvement in delivering development assistance:

  • served counterinsurgency objectives
  • affected sustainable development by having short-term, tactical objectives
  • influenced the distribution of development assistance (the suggestion is that more funds were directed to insecure areas)
  • diverted development effort away from poverty alleviation
  • placed facilities built with military aid, and those using them, at increased risk from attack by anti-government forces and
  • undermined the perceptions of NGOs as neutral and impartial thereby placing the safety of their aid workers at greater risk.

The committee also believes that it is important for the review to consider whether Australian development assistance had any role in empowering local individuals in Uruzgan and, if so, the lessons to be learnt from it.

In its response, the Government agreed ‘in principle’ to the above recommendation, with qualifications. The response stated that the ACMC ‘was already scoping a “lessons learned” analysis for whole–of–government consideration’ and that the project was at the ‘concept development phase’. It added that the review would take several months, cost about $400,000 and be led by a former senior Australian official.

However, the Government turned down the request for a review of the specific issues identified in the report because they fall beyond the expertise, mandate, competence and authority of the ACMC.

While the ACMC might not be the appropriate body to conduct such an exercise, it can be argued that there is a substantive case for a broader ‘lessons learnt’ study to be commissioned by the Government.

While there were ad hoc media releases, press conferences and ministerial statements in Parliament, Australia’s longest war has been one of the least discussed in Parliament. It was only in August 2009 that the then Defence Minister, John Faulkner, outlined in a Ministerial Statement his intention to provide regular updates to the Parliament on Australia’s role in Afghanistan.

The last Ministerial Statement was delivered on 11 December 2013 in the Senate by the Defence Minister, David Johnston.

Even so, parliamentary debates have hardly made a significant contribution. As Kevin Foster, in his book Don’t mention the war: the Australian Defence Force, the media and the Afghan conflict, has observed (p.125), ‘parliament has functioned less as a forum for meaningful exchange than as an echo chamber where members of the legislature find comfort in the restatement and endorsement of their views’.

This lack of scrutiny by the Parliament does not mean that there has been popular support for the war in Afghanistan. A 2013 Lowy Institute poll found that 61 per cent of Australians considered the Afghanistan war ‘not worth fighting’, with only 35 per cent supporting it.

Also, as James Brown of the Lowy Institute, writing in The Age, has argued, the Australian focus, both in and out of parliament had been more on tactics rather than strategy, alliance management had become increasingly difficult and the challenge was to ‘help explain to Australians what the military achieved in Afghanistan. A strategic review would help them articulate the answers’.

Interestingly, the Defence Committee of the UK House of Commons reached similar, albeit more wide-ranging, conclusions. In a report on Afghanistan published in May 2014, it recommended an independent, whole-of-government ‘lessons learnt’ study and suggested (recommendations 17–19):

…the study should include a balanced review of the successes and setbacks of the campaign, identifying lessons from the tactical to the strategic, clearly distinguishing the pre-2006 section of the campaign from activities in Helmand from 2006 onward…

More specifically, the study should set out what the political ends were, how they changed during the course of the campaign, and judge whether the ways and means, diplomatic, economic and military, were sufficient during the course of the campaign…

Furthermore the study should analyse how public perceptions were captured, understood and considered by policy makers and what measures were taken to shape public understanding as the conflict moved through its various phases over a decade or more.

The report also made it clear that while the official history could wait ‘the narratives should not’.

Given the fact that Australia has committed some $9.3 billion to operations in Afghanistan, with 41 ADF personnel killed (as at 1 July 2014) and another 261 injured (as at 28 October 2013) there is a strong case to be made for a comprehensive and publicly available lessons learnt’ study.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment Sport illicit drugs people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations health financing Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget gambling school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA emissions trading dental health Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations people smuggling National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service constitution International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure poker machines ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament political parties Census High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth paid parental leave Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy violence against women domestic violence mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs health reform Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing health system money laundering asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship human rights High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency productivity human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits

Show all
Show less
Back to top