News that Australia will send 300 more troops to Afghanistan “shouldn’t surprise anyone”, says Neil James, Executive Director of the Australian Defence Association.
Troop strengths in Afghanistan are “directly affected by the climate cycle” and will fluctuate up and down accordingly. “When you’re fighting at high altitudes, as is the case in Afghanistan, you generally need more troops in late autumn, spring and summer, than at other times of the year when cold weather and snow impedes mobility and limits the intensity and scale of combat. Today’s troop announcement is simply a reaction to this.”
The latest Australian deployment is being conducted in co-ordination with our allies in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan: the US, UK, Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, etc. The real story, according James, is that these countries are getting “pi-sed off” at other NATO countries not pulling their weight, such as France, Germany and Spain. These latter countries are insisting that their troops not be sent into areas like Afghanistan’s “particularly dangerous” south-west region, where their NATO allies encounter significant fighting and suffer more and more casualties – most recently the six Canadians killed by a roadside bomb.
Does Australia have the capacity to send the extra personnel to Afghanistan? At this stage, it’s “not an intolerable burden”, says James. We are going to be there for some years and our force levels will move up and down as dictated by the operational situation.
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And over the next few years, Australia will recruit two new battalions to help cope with such extra deployments. Even so, notes James, the ADF is still around 30% smaller than it was in 1990. Troop numbers “should never have been reduced as they were under the previous government”. The Government is “simply rebuilding to earlier levels in order to cope with our volatile strategic situation”.