The Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper (Australia)
New options to blunt Taliban
July 10, 2008 12:00am
THE death of Sean McCarthy in Afghanistan may send the message to allied forces that the time has come to meet insurgent attacks with an unorthodox approach.
The SAS signaller is the sixth Digger killed in action in Afghanistan and unfortunately it seems we can expect more casualties as our Special Forces soldiers bear the brunt of the fighting.
Canada has had 87 deaths, Britain 110 and Germany 25.
The SASR and 4RAR (Commando) are our two Specials Forces units and are a precision tool to be used sparingly, not as a blunt instrument.
Australian infantry soldiers have recently expressed their dissatisfaction at being kept away from the sharp end in Afghanistan.
And the question must be asked: how long can the new Rudd Government use the SAS Regiment and 4RAR (Commando) in an infantry role before they become worn out? When will the Government allow our infantry to do the job they have trained for?
In 1999 the Howard government used the army’s elite Special Forces unit, the SAS, to do most of the fighting in East Timor, which should have been performed by the infantry.
The political logic was that the public and media would accept SAS casualties rather than a young infantryman, fresh out of home or from a small country town.
That political priority seems to remain. But political logic does not necessarily make good military sense, and vice-versa.
In East Timor, the pro-Indonesian militia tried to inflict as many casualties as possible on our infantry units, including battalions made up of many reserve soldiers, in the hope that Australia would withdraw.
The moral of the story is, no matter how hard the Australian Government tries to insulate our infantry from combat by using the SAS, the unexpected happens.
But why put more Australian soldiers’ lives on the line in Afghanistan when there are alternatives?
I recently interviewed elusive Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the former warlord who helped the US remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Dostum claims he can defeat the Taliban, but his offer has been ignored by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
This former leader of the Northern Alliance claims he has a 5000-man militia just itching to go down south and take on the Taliban.
If a hardened force of 5000 militia were to be introduced to Oruzgan province, it could make an important impact on a determined enemy.
In insurgency or guerilla warfare, there are no set-piece battles where armies face off.
It is about hit and run, hearts and minds, use of roadside bombs and booby traps. To defeat an insurgency you have try the unorthodox.
Famed US army commander Colonel David “Hack” Hackworth made two interesting observations about the Vietnam War, also an insurgency.
He said that to defeat the guerilla, you have to think and act like the guerilla. And he said: “There are two groups who know how to fight the Vietnam War: the Viet Cong and the Australians.”
It seems our politicians may have forgotten the lessons learned by our brave soldiers in Vietnam.
Sasha Uzunov is a former Digger and a freelance journalist who’s just returned from Afghanistan