Anton Kuruc writes:
As Australia prepares to exit its main combat forces from Afghanistan there will inevitably be a lot of retrospective analysis about our experience in the Hindu Kush.
On Four Corners on 16 April I was surprised that Minister Smith said: '...any political solution can only be an Afghan-led political solution. It can only be brought about by the Afghan government speaking to other parties, including the Taliban, and the establishment of the Qatar office of the Taliban is a very early sign that the Taliban may well be interested in going down that road...'
What struck me about these comments is the casual way the Minister divorced the military means from the political ends of war.
This goes to the very heart of what strategy is and how it should drive the operational and tactical arts. Australia's first Principle of War is 'the selection and maintenance of the aim' because the aim drives how the military is used. The central point of strategy and war is that the military is used by the nation's government to achieve a political objective. Therefore every war is always a political act with a political objective. Clausewitz explained this a century and-a-half ago.
In the end, every war is a struggle to decide who gets to impose a political solution that ends the conflict in their favour. If we are unwilling to impose a political solution on an opponent then we shouldn't go to war. If we go to war but are unable impose our political solution on our opponent then we have lost that war.
Some will rightly argue that the US sets the strategy for the whole Coalition. But the strategy still requires Coalition members to impose a solution in their Area of Operations and or through their operations. Joel Fitzgibbon's comments in recent interviews understood this critical difference. He stressed that Australia has achieved its part of the mission and therefore we can, by and large, bring the military home.
In the Four Corners program Minister Smith effectively told us that we are unable to impose the political solution that ends the war. That will be up to the Afghan Government and the Taliban. The Taliban has no formal status, indeed before its ouster it was a government not recognised by most countries in the world. Any negotiated settlement with the government in Kabul, or outright takeover of the Afghan Government, will bestow the Taliban with more legitimacy than it had before 9/11. In effect, any termination of the war where the Taliban gains anything is a settlement in its favour. It is hard to escape the irresistible conclusion that the Taliban will determine what political solution ends the war in its favour, and therefore the Taliban can rightly claim to have won the war.
What Minister Smith essentially said in the Four Corners interview is that he agrees that we have lost the war in Afghanistan.