Usually careful to support the government’s position on Afghanistan, Senator David Johnston told the National Times he doesn’t believe ”anyone is critically analysing that civilian side of the (international) operation”.
On Australia’s aid effort in the country, he says ”a rethink … is necessary”. He ‘would want to see our civilian commitment increased dramatically.’
‘I think the numbers of our civilian personnel – DFAT, Ausaid – are relatively, extremely low.’
He made the comments while assessing the challenge for Australian troops in the aftermath of the murderous attack by a rogue US soldier in Kandahar.
Sixteen civilians were killed in the rampage.
‘Hearts and minds are the key to a counterinsurgency; we’ve known that for many years now,’ Senator Johnston said, referring to the damage the attack has likely done to relations between Afghans and visiting forces.
He praised the effort of Australian troops in establishing good relations with local Afghans, but added ‘the point about the civilian side is what concerns me because I don’t believe there has been such earnest commitment on the civilian side as is necessary in a counter-insurgency’.
His argument echoes the views of Australia’s former Chief of Army, Peter Leahy. In an editorial in The Australian last year, Peter Leahy argued Australia was ‘pursuing only half a strategy in Afghanistan’ and wrote of the need for ‘a much more comprehensive civilian effort in Oruzgan’, the southern province where Australian forces are based.
The Australian government spent $141.2 million on aid to Afghanistan last financial year – the most to any Asian country with the exception of Indonesia. The aid effort has been increased in this year’s budget to $165.1 million.
Afghanistan is one of the World’s poorest countries. 42 percent of the population live in extreme poverty.