Australia knows Afghanistan is a mess, Wikileaks shows

No wonder so many in positions of power fear Wikileaks. What we are seeing is diplomacy and statecraft laid bare. And the results are devastating. We are lied to on a daily basis.

And what of the countless corporate journalists taken on embedded trips to Afghanistan, simply “reporting” futile battles and tiny details that ignore the big picture? They’ve been on the drip-feed and it shows:

We squabbled with our allies, yet in public we talked of close co-operation. We frustrated the Americans with unfulfilled promises. Our politicians big-noted in public but dithered in private. Our bamboozled bureaucrats tried to make sense of the details. All along, the public was kept in the dark.

Not any longer.

Thanks to WikiLeaks, we have an insight into the diplomatic skirmishes behind the war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year and which has cost 21 Australian lives.

Leaked US diplomatic cables expose friction between Australia and its allies, undermining the public veneer of coalition solidarity.

We did not trust the Dutch, our key partner in Afghanistan.

We confounded the Americans by dithering over Kevin Rudd’s promised ”civilian surge” – a promise made to head off a US request for more troops, by offering advisers and police instead.

Ministers and officials were left in the dark over the promise, while federal departments bickered as they struggled to make the pledge a reality.

The US State Department cables, released exclusively by WikiLeaks to The Sunday Age, include reports from the US embassy in Canberra that reveal deep distrust between Australian and Dutch forces in Oruzgan province, where Australia was part of a Netherlands-led force.

In February 2007, Australian officers, concerned the Taliban were preparing a do-or-die offensive, started planning to send special forces back to Oruzgan.

This was just five months after the Howard government pulled them out, in September 2006, when it argued Oruzgan was ”relatively stable” and that Australian reconstruction troops remaining in the province were well protected by their own forces and Dutch troops.

But the claims of stability and the stated faith in the Dutch were undermined when intelligence reports warned of a Taliban resurgence.

While the army planned another special forces deployment, officials in Canberra briefed journalists that the troops would be under Australian – not Dutch – command. But privately, Australia actually wanted them under US command.