News / Middle East

Australian Parliament Debates Afghan War For First Time

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, center, meets Corporal Craig Turnball and his Explosive Detection Dog during her visit at Multinational Base Tarin Kot in southern Afghanistan, 02 Oct. 2010
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, center, meets Corporal Craig Turnball and his Explosive Detection Dog during her visit at Multinational Base Tarin Kot in southern Afghanistan, 02 Oct. 2010

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Phil Mercer

The Australian government's arguments for sending its forces into Afghanistan have been challenged in the country's first parliamentary debate on the conflict. Dissenting members of parliament accuse ministers of failing to explain to the public why Australian troops are fighting and dying in what some critics describe as an "unwinnable war."

Most members of parliament support the deployment of Australian troops in Afghanistan. But independent member Andrew Wilkie says his colleagues' support for the war is eroding democracy in Australia because they are not representing the views of voters.

Several opinion polls suggest Australia's role in Afghanistan is not popular in the country.

Greens member Adam Bandt said in a parliamentary debate in Canberra that the troops should be brought home immediately.

"It is also now clear the main reason we are there is not to defend democracy or human rights but simply because the United States has asked us to go and wants us to remain," Bandt said. "And it is now clear that although our alliance with the United States is important, a simple request is not good enough reason for our troops to fight and die in an unwinnable and unjustifiable war."

The Australian government says it will not abandon Afghanistan to militants and chaos. Defense Minister Stephen Smith says that insurgents must not be allowed to win.

"We have a responsibility to Afghanistan and to our allies and partners to remain committed," Smith said. "We have a responsibility to the fallen to continue the task but most importantly we have a responsibility to the Australian people to ensure that we protect Australia's national interest and that is what we are doing in Afghanistan – Australia and Australians should expect no less of us."

This is the first time Australia's parliament has officially debated the conflict in Afghanistan. It was one of the conditions demanded by Green members in return for their support of Labor's minority government.

The three-day debate concluded Thursday. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says the Afghanistan mission, combined with intelligence operations, has prevented a large number of terrorist attacks across the world.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said some Australian troops and advisers were likely to be in Afghanistan for the next decade.

Australia has 1,550 military personnel in the troubled country. Since 2001, 21 of its soldiers have died in the conflict.

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