The Australian government’s resolve to stay in the war in Afghanistan has again been called into question following the grim news yesterday that another three Australian soldiers have been killed. Embarking on an early morning raid against the Taliban, three commandos died and seven were injured after a helicopter crashed at around 3:00am Afghan time.

In the last fortnight there have been five Australian casualties, bringing the total Australian causalities in Afghanistan to 16. Yesterday’s tragedy arrived on the same day as a new Essential Report poll revealing 61% of Australians believe our troops should be sent back home.

Possum Comitatus writes:

61% of respondents think Australia should withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, 24% think we should keep the same number and 7% think we should increase numbers.
Support for withdrawal of troops has increased by 11% since this question was asked in March last year.

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There was majority support for withdrawal of troops across all demographic groups and voter types. 55% of Liberal/National voters, 61% of Labor voters and 75% of Greens voters support withdrawal of Australia’s troops.

With the Dutch pulling their troops out later this year and the Canadians planning a 2011 exit, pressure is mounting for the Rudd government to make some noise about possible withdrawal strategies.

Is it time to count our losses and send the troops home?

Here’s what the pundits say:

The Age

Michelle Grattan: Poll shows most want our troops withdrawn

This is an unpopular war in Australia but one that is remarkably uncontentious politically. Both sides support the commitment – indeed, Tony Abbott would like to see more Australian troops there in a higher profile role – but neither wants to make the war a focus of domestic political attention.

Daniel Flitton: Price to pay for staying on course

But with five Australians killed in a fortnight, persuading people that the war is advancing in the right direction becomes all the more difficult.

Sydney Morning Herald

Hamish McDonald: ‘One of the worst examples of wartime leadership’

The wider US strategy of grabbing territory, establishing security for the people and bringing in the civil administration is faltering. There are not enough foreign soldiers or trained Afghans to hold the ground and no administration to bring in.

The Australian

Greg Sheridan: Long road ahead to win the war

If we want to win in Afghanistan, we are going to be there for many years to come, in substantial numbers.

Herald Sun

John Hamilton: What are we doing here?

Now is the time to ask – how long will this deadly war continue, and how long are we prepared to risk more young Australian lives in its prosecution? Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has repeatedly said that there is no “blank cheque” for our troop involvement in Afghanistan. The time might now be right to write a figure for a withdrawal date on the cheque form and cross it “not negotiable” when presenting it to America and our other allies.