The assistant defence minister doesn’t seem aware of Australia’s ‘whole of government’ effort in Afghanistan.

If you want to know why the war on Afghanistan was lost, all you have to do is listen to Andrew Hastie.

In a press conference last week he rejected claims Australia had been slow to act on evacuating Afghans who had helped our army out of Afghanistan, saying:

“Every interpreter who went out on the ground, got shot at, or exposed to roadside bombs, has had their case resolved by this government.”

Hastie shows a complete lack of insight into what was Australia’s commitment and role in Afghanistan, what was happening on the ground in Afghanistan, and what has occurred since.

This is exacerbated by the fact that he is someone who, as an officer in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), led Australian Special Forces, and is now assistant defence minister.

Quite simply, he should know better.

Australia’s mission to Afghanistan was a whole of government effort.

Yes of course there were kinetic forces, involved in combat.

However, there were many other strings to Australia’s bow in Afghanistan.

We had ADF training and mentoring roles, which is why their missions were called MTF1,2,3 etc, for Mentoring Task Forces.

The MTFs sadly lost many soldiers, and many were wounded during their service in Afghanistan, and yet not all their interpreters have been granted visas.

There were Australians in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) which included ADF members, AusAID Development Advisors (DevAds), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Political Advisers (PolAds), Australian Civilian Corps Stabilisation Advisors (StabAd’s), and Defence civilians, not to mention the Australian Federal Police.

These Australians were also exposed to roadside bombs, were shot at, and not all their interpreters have been granted visas.

Sadly, it would appear from Hastie’s comments that he only values the special forces role in which he was directly involved.

The non-kinetic roles in which Australians were involved also needed the support of Afghans, primarily as interpreters.

The interpreters who were working with some of the special forces were possibly less exposed to the community/Taliban than those working alongside other Australians in the mission.

They were in and out quickly, with their identities protected by balaclavas.

Those who worked in the community, and whose interpreters were seen day-in, day-out working with the PRT, working alongside Australian soldiers, training Afghan soldiers and police and living on small bases in the community, were easily identified by the insurgents.

Those Afghans who were in shuras (councils), interpreting day-in, day-out for the PRT with tribal and village leaders and Afghan government officials, were readily identifiable.

And the AFP had a multi-faceted role in Afghanistan from 2007-14 where they relied heavily on Afghan local staff in their work at the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan and in intelligence, in counter narcotics, and of course a huge role training thousands of Afghan police.

So, when someone in Hastie’s positions is either ignorant of what went on in Afghanistan and what Australia’s whole of government mission was, or perhaps (even worse) appears not to value anything except the special forces combat patrols in which he was engaged, we are in real trouble.

My personal experience contradicts Hastie’s assertions. The interpreter who was with me when I (an Australian AusAID civilian and stabilisation adviser in the PRT) was blown up by a suicide bomber couldn’t even get an Australian visa.

Due to the threats to kill him he had to make his own way here. My replacement, an Australian civilian female, was also wounded when her US armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.

So, yes Andrew, my colleagues and I were “on the ground working outside the wire (unarmed) and exposed daily” and no, not every “every interpreter who went out on the ground, got shot at, or exposed to roadside bombs, has had their case resolved by this government”.

by David Savage
President AFPFMA

Opinion piece appeared in Guardian Australia