Afghan Troop Withdrawal Worries Australian General

Friday, 31 Jan 2014 11:06 AM

By Edward Pentin

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Australia’s new governor general has told Newsmax he is concerned about very low levels of foreign troops in Afghanistan and fears the compartmentalization of political and ethnic groups threatens to undo the work of coalition forces.
 
Gen. Peter Cosgrove, who was appointed to represent Queen Elizabeth II as Australia’s ceremonial head of state Tuesday, said he was “worried about Afghanistan reverting” to its pre-war state because of “very low levels of foreign troops, whose job will be to be basically sit in enclaves and cantonments and only sort of emerge from time to time to basically train the Afghan army.”
 
“I’m afraid that a sort of compartmentalization of Afghanistan into pressure groups will be the first part of a bit of reversion,” he said.
 
U.S. and coalition forces aim to complete their mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but President Barack Obama has said he wishes to sign a security pact with the Afghan government to keep a limited American military presence in the country.
 
Cosgrove, 66, who was chief of the Australian Defense Force from 2002 to 2005 and oversaw Australia’s initial contribution to the war in Afghanistan, sees similarities in Afghanistan with his experience in East Timor.
 
As head of peacekeeping forces in the war-torn Asian country in 1999, he remembers the “eternal syndrome” of the Timorese government wanting the foreign troops to leave, but also wanting them to stay.
 
Afghan President Hamid Karzai “is doing the same sort of thing,” he said. “The United States isn’t actually wanting to stay but I think there’s a bit of dilemma. If they sort of leave and things go bad, people are going to say ‘All of that treasure, all of that blood.’ It’s the same in Iraq.”
 
He is also concerned about historical precedent when it comes to winning the peace in the central Asian state. “I turn to the British experience over a couple of centuries ago, the Russian experience over a longer period [and] Alexander the Great’s words that it was ‘a country too far.’ There’s a bit of form there.”
 
Cosgrove led Australian troops during the beginning of the Iraq War and continues to see the invasion as just, given what he knew at the time. Like other decision makers, he believed Saddam had WMDs and had been complicit with terrorists, based on intelligence and weapons inspectors’ reports.
 
But the experience, and the fact that he no longer has access to the latest intelligence, makes him reluctant to impart his advice on current conflicts such as Syria.
 
“Remember, I’m a bruised general,” he said. “I’ve been bruised by the fact that we took what we thought was a principled stand over Iraq and it turned out to be wrong. And we don’t hide behind the fact that Saddam was a nasty piece of work, because if you use that as your benchmark, you never stop, you’d be running around the world looking for nasty pieces of work.”
 
Reflecting on Iraq, he said after the allied invasion it resembled a pressure cooker “whose lid has come off.” Saddam kept it brutally repressed, he said, but now that has ended and “factionalism and community-based violence” has been “added to the pot.” But on a positive note, he observed Iraq now has a government, elections, and a parliament where Kurds, Shia, and Sunni are represented. 
 
A practicing Catholic, he recalled how “disgusted and horrified” he was when he learned of the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. “To me that was just intolerable [and] we were politically tremendously concerned,” he said. “We were morally repulsed and there’s no mealy mouthing in that sentiment.”
 
“One must not maltreat people, foe or not,” Cosgrove said. “One might kill them [in the line of duty], but one must not abuse their dignity as a human creation. They’re one of God’s creatures, so torture no, maiming no, oppressing the helpless no — for example, an enemy soldier who’s now disarmed and under control. In fact you must give that person succor.”
 
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he is hopeful for peace if there’s continued dialogue. “Before peace, there is stability, and stability has to rely on a hope for a better future,” he said. “So in that regard, what did Winston Churchill say? To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
 
Cosgrove’s new role is ceremonial rather than political, but as a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and with experience of the highest levels of Australia’s armed forces, observers believe his influence is likely to remain considerable.
 
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
 

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