End nears in Afghanistan

THE United States has been holding talks for some time with various Afghan factions about its plan to withdraw much of its military occupation force in 2014. Even the Taliban – once accused of harbouring the terrorist enemies of the west – has been included in the talks, aimed at permitting the Americans to leave a ‘‘training’’ force in the country after the general withdrawal.

With a major NATO meeting on the future of Afghanistan in Chicago next month, Australia is merely reading from a bigger script in announcing that its troops too will soon be coming home.

Of course, it might be politically advantageous for the government to preside over the end of Australia’s military involvement in the war just before next year’s election. But Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stopped short of making that promise.

Given the fluidity of the political and military situation in Afghanistan it would be unwise to be too definite in announcing plans that may have to be changed to meet unpredicted circumstances.

Indeed, the Afghan government hardly looked in command during the Taliban attacks on Kabul in recent days.

Even if the most optimistic timetable is met for the withdrawal of Australian troops, the war will have lasted 12 years. As things stand, it has already cost Australia more than $7billion and 32 lives – a hefty expense in blood and money for a relatively small player in the campaign.

The Prime Minister said she supported debate in Australia on the subject of the war, its costs and its benefits. That’s a challenge the community should rise to.

Afghanistan has never been a popular war among Australians, many of whom have struggled to see in the involvement any cogent purpose other than honouring the familiar obligations of the US alliance.

It would be interesting to gauge community opinion on the question of whether future military commitments of a similar nature should be so readily made by governments without far greater debate and discussion than that which accompanied the Afghan adventure.

That said, few Australians would fail to sympathise with the families of the fallen who have urged the nation not to see their sacrifice as futile. It is certain that, in many respects, Australia’s contribution to the general well-being of Afghans in its area of operations has been significant.

Whether those benefits have been proportionate to the effort, cost and losses is a question worthy of close examination.

BY raising more than $800,000 for cancer research over five years, the Maitland Cancer Appeal Committee has made an extraordinary contribution to the Hunter community. This weekend the group will hand over $300,000 for leukaemia, melanoma and prostate cancer research.

Committee founding member Alice Bennis exemplifies the spirit of the committee, throwing herself into fundraising in memory of three family members struck down by malignant disease. In doing so, Mrs Bennis is creating the best possible memorial, improving the likelihood of cure for sufferers from the scourge of cancer.

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