In the darkest days for the Australian armed services, it mourned the deaths of five of its soldiers in Afghanistan, three murdered by an Afghan army infiltrator, in the nation’s deadliest combat since the Battle of Long Tan in 1966 when 18 soldiers were killed during the Vietnam War.
The Australians were killed in two separate incidents just hours apart late Wednesday and early Thursday.
The first incident took place at a base in Uruzgan province, when a man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on Australian soldiers, killing three and wounding two. A few hours later, two Australian soldiers died and a crew member was wounded when their helicopter rolled over while landing in Helmand province.
What is particularly distressing about the first incident is that it occurred while the Australians were relaxing at the base when the assailant, probably a Taliban infiltrator, began shooting at close range with an automatic weapon. Soldiers returned fire, but the shooter scaled a fence and escaped.
The Australians attempted to resuscitate their comrades, but the soldiers did not respond to treatment. One of the wounded soldiers sustained a serious gunshot wound and was evacuated to a base hospital for further treatment. He is in satisfactory condition. The other was treated at the scene.
The insurgent posing as an Afghan soldier is named Hekmatullah, and was a night guard at the Afghan army base where Coalition troops had stopped to spend the night. Australian and Afghan soldiers were hunting for the killer on Thursday. These attacks, in which Afghan armed forces or insurgents posing as soldiers or police fire on their coalition allies, have been on the rise over the past year and have surged even higher in the last few weeks. There have been at least 34 such attacks so far this year, killing 45 coalition members, mostly Americans.
This is a particularly dangerous circumstance in a war were there is no distinct enemy, and no Afghan man, woman or child, can be completely trusted. Often the perpetrators of these despicable acts, may not be Taliban members themselves, but rather people placed under duress by threats by the Taliban against the individual or their family members. It is particularly sad that there is no honour amongst insurgents, who will strike at unarmed soldiers relaxing in a base area, the same as they will kill and threaten to kill their own people for the sake of the cause.
Australia plans to begin withdrawing troops once Afghan troops are fully trained, and this may be as early as next year. Gillard said the latest bloodshed would not speed up that timeline.
“Our strategy is well defined, our strategy is constant. And we cannot allow even the most grievous of losses to change our strategy,” Gillard said. “We are there for a purpose and we will see that purpose through.”
It is unfortunate that Julia Gillard has not learnt a lesson from the history of Afghanistan. The largest army in the world; the Soviet army, in a 10 year campaign, which cost them 25,000 dead soldiers, could not win their Afghan campaign. The present Coalition will not win their campaign either. When they pull out in 2013, Afghanistan will revert to the way it has been for millennia; a lawless land governed by the gun, administered by regional commanders or warlords, and a return to fundamentalist Islam with the resumption of Taliban rule.
History proves that we learn nothing from history.