Reader reply: Tom Hyland on Afghanistan.

Tom Hyland, International Editor for the Sunday Age, kindly sent the following email in response to Wednesday’s post Resources: Australian Counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. It is posted here with permission, edited slightly to present the links in the same format as the original post.

I’ve just come across your excellent list of resources on Australia and Afghanistan.

The lack of information here contrasts with what’s available from the Netherlands and which helps put Australia’s role in perspective.

There’s this:
3D ‘The next generation’. Lessons learned from Uruzgan for future operations
Netherlands Institute of International Relations
December 2011

This has excellent background, and highlights the early tension between the Dutch, Australians and US:
Mission Uruzgan: collaborating in multiple coalitions for Afghanistan
Amsterdam University Press
June 2012

An earlier TLO report is also useful:
The Dutch engagement in Uruzgan – TLO report 2010
The Liaison Office
May 2010

Here in Melbourne, Richard Tanter did great work setting this up:
Australia in Afghanistan: quick guide
The Nautilus Institute
October 2010

And forgive my journalistic preciousness, but Lateline’s report on the TLO/AusAID issue was an old story (worth re-telling nonetheless).

You read it here first:
Taliban far from defeated in Australian zone: report
April 22, 2012

And again here:
Independent analysis of Oruzgan mission axed
May 27, 2012

As for why there’s a paucity of reporting here, people in my business usually blame military and government obstruction – a valid complaint, up to a point.

The other side of the story is that editors, based on what they assume to be readers’ interests, are just not interested in the story.

Resources: Australian counter-insurgency in Afghanistan.

On Monday, Lateline aired a story about AusAid cancelling a $US4.6 million contract with The Liaison Office, a Kabul-based NGO. This was allegedly because its report on the war effort in Uruzgan province lacked a positive spin. Whether or not that’s true, it highlights how rare it is to get reliable and nuanced information on Australia’s role in Afghanistan.

One problem has been restrictive media policies put in place by the Department of Defence, which have resulted in an unfortunate lack of in-depth discussion.  There is little easily-accessible information on what Australian forces are actually doing, or of what impact they may be having in Uruzgan province, the operational focus of the deployment. Relatively few Australian scholars specialise in Afghanistan.

This post presents a selection of reports released in the past two years that make clearer what the ADF is doing and the context they operate in.

The first six listings include descriptions and some personal thoughts. After that is a list of reports for which I haven’t provided summaries, because I haven’t read them yet.

All the reports focus on Uruzgan or on Australia’s role more broadly. None focus on the Afghan war in general; I chose them parochially for their relevance to Australian involvement.

Some of these are by government agencies and some are by independent organisations. All are open-access and in pdf format.


Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan: revised facts and figures
Nicole Brangwin, Marty Harris, Ravi Tomar and David Watt
Parliamentary Library
November 2011

This paper is what it sounds like. It contains key data on Australia’s contribution, not just in terms of Defence but also the other government departments such as DFAT and AusAID. The paper presents funding figures, key dates, government statements and other information, along with many links for further research. Originally produced to assist Members and Senators prepare for the October 2010 Parliamentary debate on Afghanistan, it has been thoroughly updated since.

I recommend it as a useful starting point for anyone writing on this topic.


Two Afghan views of Australia from Uruzgan
Omaid Khpalwak and Governor Mohammed Shirzad
Lowy Institute for International Policy
November 2011

The first half of this paper consists of notes taken by Afghan journalist Omaid Khpalwak, who was sadly killed by US forces on July 2011, after being mistaken for an insurgent.

He interviewed many locals about what they thought of the Australian presence in Uruzgan, with reactions ranging from firm support to strong criticism. The criticisms are mostly for their support of Matiullah Khan (discussed more in reports below), but also for night-raids and civilian casualties.

The second half is an interview with Uruzgan Governor Mohammed Shirzad, conducted by Susan Schmeidl and Hekmatullah Aazamy. Shirzad is supportive of the ADF presence and confident of improvements in the security situation, though also critical about civilian casualties. He makes some suggestions regarding operations and development projects.

This paper differs from the others here by being brief, and light on details, but is important for showing the diversity of Afghan views on the ADF’s role.


Counterinsurgency in Uruzgan 2009
Colonel Peter Connolly
Land Warfare Studies Centre, Australian Army
August 2011

This paper examines Australian operations in Uruzgan in the second half of 2009, and is written by one of the commanders involved. It covers the role of the Second Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force in providing security for the elections and training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army, in the context of an active “fighting season.”

The detailed and acronym-laden text is aimed at a military audience, but is highly readable and includes personal accounts of Peter Connolly’s service. It is valuable for covering the task force’s many adaptations in a mere six-month period. It also shows the difficult decisions ADF commanders have to make in operations, which is not easily conveyed in media coverage.


In it for the long haul? Delivering Australian aid to Afghanistan
Phil Sparrow
Australian Council for International Development
March 2011

If there has been little in-depth media coverage of the ADF’s role, there has been almost none of the role played by AusAID and various NGOs. That makes this paper on Australia’s aid programs in Afghanistan – government and non-government –particularly valuable.

Like the Parliamentary Library report above, this paper has a strong focus on facts and figures, and runs through the role of various government departments and NGOs. However, it also makes a strong analytic contribution. It discusses successes and failures and is particularly critical of aid programs being incorporated into counter-insurgency, instead of being needs-driven. It argues that this militarisation of aid undermines its purpose, which harms the stabilisation effort as a whole.


The man who would be King: challenges to strengthening governance in Uruzgan
Susan Schmeidl
Netherlands Institute of International Relations
November 2010

This paper and the next give detailed accounts of Uruzgan politics post-2001. They are indispensable for understanding the context the ADF operates in, and the impact ISAF forces overall may be having on the local population. It is not a simple matter of being either occupiers or protectors. Rather, foreign forces are operating in an area with complex pre-existing power-structures, and their interaction with these power-structures will shape the war’s outcome.

This paper focuses on the failure to create effective governance in Uruzgan. It argues that this has allowed local strongmen to hold government positions while actually undermining the state, which the Taliban capitalise on for their own ends. One example discussed is Matiullah Khan, now police chief of Uruzgan, who was regarded as a valuable ally by Australia and a dangerous warlord by the Dutch. He has proven periodically controversial in the media, particularly after it was revealed that some of his fighters were taken to Australia for training.

The paper is a highly detailed account of the key actors in Uruzgan (not just Khan but many others), demonstrates how power functions in the province, and ends with recommendations for improving governance.


The battle for Afghanistan: Zabul and Uruzgan
Martine van Bijlert
New America Foundation
September 2010

This paper examines the Taliban’s resurgence in Uruzgan and the neighbouring province of Zabul. It attributes the insurgency’s strength to networks of fighters dating back to the Soviet occupation, neglect by the central government, and supporters based in Pakistan. Similar to Schmeidl’s report, it also argues that Karzai-era strongmen (who have become de facto ISAF allies) alienated particular communities who have then turned to the Taliban. In other words, it argues that much of the insurgency was avoidable.

While the previous paper was a lengthy, detailed analysis of power relations in Uruzgan, this more concise paper shows specifically how those dynamics affect the insurgency. It is based on solid research (including 300 interviews) and is possibly the best short-but-detailed account of insurgency in Uruzgan available.

I strongly recommend it.


Further sources:

Uruzgan: 18 months after the Dutch/Australian leadership handover
The Liaison Office
April 2012
(This is the above-mentioned report that featured on Lateline)

Death of an Uruzgan journalist: Command errors and ‘collateral damage’
Afghanistan Analysts’ Network
25 April 2012
(This report is on the death of Omaid Khpulwak, who was described as one of the most promising Afghan journalists of his generation and whose work featured in the above-mentioned Lowy report)

Backgrounder: Karzai appoints four provincial governors
Institute for the Study of War
23 April 2012
(This 3-page backgrounder provides some information on Matiullah Khan)

Exiting Afghanistan: Challenges to transition
Australian Strategic Policy Institute
March 2011

The Australian Army after Afghanistan
Security Challenges Journal
Winter 2011

Other reports and articles relevant to Australia’s role in Afghanistan can be found on the websites of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network, the Australian Army Journal and The Liaison Office.

Australian terror suspect in Kenya?

Today the Shanghai Daily reported that two terror suspects, an Australian and a Tanzanian, have been arrested in Kenya.

The article raises a possible al-Shabab connection, stating that “the country’s security agencies have been on high alert after intelligence reports hinted that al-Shabab terrorists are escaping into the East African nation as the operation to rout the insurgents from Somalia gains momentum.”


If the arrests are al-Shabab linked, this will be the first allegation of an Australian becoming involved with the Somali jihadist movement since 2009, when the Holsworthy Barracks plotters were arrested. Following those arrests, no evidence has appeared of new Australian connections to al-Shabab.

While the Sydney Morning Herald reported in March 2012 that ASIO still had concerns that some Australians were providing money to the group, there was no open source confirmation of this.

By contrast, claims in 2007 about Australians (mainly from a small segment of the Somali diaspora) supporting, and travelling to fight with, al-Shabab were supported by statements from some community leaders, the mother of one person involved, and later with evidence that appeared in the Holsworthy Barracks trial.

However, such support is less likely to occur now than before 2009, as the authorities have proscribed the organisation and imprisoned a key intermediary, Saney Aweys. Also, al-Shabab’s already limited popularity in the global Somali diaspora has declined in the past few years.


I’ve no idea what will come out from these recent arrests in Kenya, as there has only been one report. It could prove to be very significant, particularly as al-Shabab merged with al-Qaeda in February this year. Alternatively the two people may be innocent, they might not be linked to al-Shabab, and the article itself could simply be wrong.

If it does turn out to be new evidence of Australian involvement with al-Shabab, I suspect it will be much less extensive than what occurred between 2007 and 2009.


Update 1: More detail has appeared in The Star, a Kenyan newspaper, which reports that the man is suspected of belonging to a bomb-dealing syndicate in Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa. Some shots were fired during the arrest, and it’s not clear if he will be taken to court. The article in The Star does not suggest any al-Shabab connection.

Update 2: Turns out the journalist Philip Dorling inquired with DFAT about this case. It’s looking doubtful that the arrested man is an Australian after all.

Resources: new information about ASIO security assessments.

ASIO security assessments are currently controversial, because refugees deemed to be security risks are detained, indefinitely, with no right to appeal. The media has covered this well recently, but it’s hard to find information on the assessment process itself.

This post presents two new sources that became available in June. I have not read them in full, but they should be very useful for anyone researching this issue.


The first is this report released on Monday by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO): Security Assessments of Individuals.

It gives a large-scale overview of ASIO assessments, not just of visa applicants but also of people applying for sensitive jobs, and counter-terrorism security assessments. The report provides plenty of statistics, covers changes in assessment practices over time, and has a particular focus on boat arrivals. Some of the information is also in ASIO’s annual reports, but this paper puts all that in one place.

The audit examined 411 randomly chosen cases and gives largely positive findings:

18. Within this context, the ANAO concluded that ASIO’s arrangements for providing security assessments of individuals to client agencies are robust and, broadly, effective. The agency has a sound governance framework in place, including strategic risk management arrangements that are updated regularly. There is an effective mechanism to report to the ASIO Executive and the Government on risks that affect security assessment processes, including most recently, the emerging area of risk arising from the rapidly increasing number of security checks for immigration community detention cases. However, at an operational level, there are some aspects of the security assessment regime that deserve further focus. These aspects limit assurance that the agency is making sound assessments that result in non-prejudicial advice, and that the recent initiatives implemented to reduce the IMA security assessment caseload are being managed sustainably. It is also important to address impediments to mutual accountability between ASIO and its client agencies, and that ASIO puts in place workforce planning strategies to respond to future changes in demand for security assessments.

It also shows how extensive ASIO’s security assessment role is:

    3. In the last six years, ASIO has completed, on average, 179 847 security assessments annually. The number of security assessments completed varies from year to year and between assessment types. Over this period (from 2005–06 to 2010–11), ASIO completed between:

  • 34 000 and 73 000 visa security assessments annually (around 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the annual security assessment caseload);
  • 18 000 and 31 000 personnel security assessments annually (around nine per cent to 16 per cent of the annual caseload); and
  • 65 000 to more than 135 000 counter-terrorism security assessments annually (around 40 per cent to 66 per cent of the annual caseload).


The second source is the proceedings of the recent challenge to indefinite detention, available at: Plaintiff M47/2012 v. Director-General of Security & Ors.

While the ANAO report did not give information on how ASIO actually assesses someone’s potential threat to security, these High Court proceedings give some insight into one person’s assessment process. The plaintiff in the case is a Sri Lankan Tamil, who was found to be a refugee but then failed an ASIO assessment because of involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and is now locked up with little hope of release.

Most of the proceedings don’t examine the actual assessment, but some bits do. The man argued he was denied procedural fairness by not being given a chance to respond to the following allegations against him:

(a) that the plaintiff maintained further involvement with LTTE Intelligence activities from 1999-2006;

(b) that the plaintiff remains supportive of the LTTE’s use of violence to achieve political objectives; and

(c) that the plaintiff is likely to continue to support the LTTE activities of security concern in and from Australia.

See page 18 of the plaintiff’s submission.

The government side disputed the claim, arguing that:

The transcript of the interview (Special Case, Attachment 5) demonstrates that ASIO informed the Plaintiff of the purpose of the interview and provided him with an opportunity to provide any information that he wished in relation to each of the following topics:

40.1. whether he was a voluntary and active member of the LTTE Intelligence Wing from 1996-1999;

40.2. whether his responsibilities included identifying Sri Lankan Army collaborators;

40.3. whether he was aware that his identifying of Sri Lankan Army collaborators likely led to extra judicial killings

40.4. whether he maintained further involvement in intelligence activities on behalf of the L TTE from 1999 to 2006;

40.5. whether, during the interview, he deliberately withheld information regarding his activities of security concern, and provided mendacious information; and

40.6. whether his purpose in withholding information and providing mendacious information was to conceal his activities with the LTTE.

The focus of the interview was upon the Plaintiff’s membership and role with the LTTE in Sri Lanka. A particular focus was whether he joined the LTTE voluntarily, and then performed his roles with the LTTE voluntarily, which had obvious ramifications for the existence and degree of his support for the LTTE. The Plaintiff repeatedly insisted that he was forced to join LTTE.

Consequently, it was futile for ASIO to explore with the Plaintiff whether his past voluntary association with the LTTE meant that he remains supportive of, or would continue to support, the LTTE. His denial of the premise for any such questioning had the consequence that any questions about whether he remained supportive, or was likely to continue to support, the LTTE, could only have been asked on the premise that his denials were false. Such questioning would have been pointless. Procedural fairness did not require it to occur.

See pages 10-11 of the defendant’s submission.

It will be interesting to see whether the High Court finds that the process met the standards of procedural fairness, and the Court’s findings could change how these assessments are done in future.