Statement: Crisis in Afghanistan

The fall of Oruzgun province to the Taliban, and the reported threat to Kabul, is an unmitigated and disaster for the good people of Afghanistan. They do not deserve this.

I fear for the lives of all Afghans who have worked closely with Australian and allied forces in the past, just as I am especially fearful of retribution against Afghan women and children who for 20 years have had new educational and life opportunities opened to them.

The threat to the future of Afghanistan represents an unmitigated failure of combined allied military and political strategy over recent years.

If Kabul falls it will also be seen in history like the fall of Saigon in 1975. It would constitute a major blow to US standing in the world. 

It would also be an appalling failure given the sacrifice of tens of thousands of Australian troops over the course of this century, including those still suffering the scars of war, and those who lost their lives.

I believe it is now urgent that the US Administration reverse the course of its final military withdrawal. It has been the most recent decision to remove the remaining 10,000 US troops, and the perception of a resultant military vacuum in the eyes of the Taliban, that has accelerated recent Taliban advance. If the US does so, and recommits a modest force to Kabul, disaster may still be averted. US allies should also support any such move — on the condition that it is credible.

I realise this is not a popular position to take given our collective exhaustion at this 20-year-long “forever war”. But I expect perceptions to change rapidly once we begin seeing images on our screens of mass civilian slaughter, public beheadings, and the enslavement of millions of women and girls. Perceptions will change further when Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for global terrorist operations.

In the meantime, Mr Morrison must act now to evacuate all Afghans who have worked with Australian forces and diplomats. The government’s inertia on this score in recent months has been unacceptable. Both John Howard and I have made repeated public appeals for immediate action on this. It seems these have fallen on deaf ears.

I realise Australians and their government are understandably preoccupied with the pandemic which affects all of us. But the hard business of government is never about a single issue; it’s about anticipating and responding to challenges on multiple fronts at the same time.

This is a crucial time with Australia’s national honour at stake. We must act.

14 August 2021