Despite being Australia’s longest war, there isn’t a great deal of detailed material available about the ADF’s military effort in Afghanistan. As the deployment winds down, the conflict is likely to get even less coverage or in-depth investigation.
For those who want to know more about what our soldiers have been doing, and what impact they have been having in the country, here is a small selection of videos compiled as a companion piece to this post of research resources.
The first two videos are short segments from Hungry Beast, the third is a double-episode of Four Corners, and the final one is a regular-length Four Corners episode.The Hungry Beast segments are embedded while the Four Corners episodes are linked to. Hungry Beast actually made several more videos about Australia in Afghanistan, including extended interviews with the people in these two segments. Unfortunately the videos on their site are not currently working, so I’ve only included those that I could find on YouTube.
Mud, dust & shit
17 November 2009
“That is a story, but it’s not the story.” – ‘Tom’, Australian soldier.
Chances are, most of what you have heard about the war in Afghanistan has come via the Australian Defence Force’s Public Relations department. Unlike other coalition forces, Australian journalists find it exceedingly difficult to gain access to our soldiers. Many resort to embedding with our allies to cover conflicts we’re involved in. And while there have been a number of first-person accounts of our allies’ soldiers’ experiences published abroad, we’ve heard almost nothing from the Australian perspective.
When Hungry Beast decided to do a story on the war in Afghanistan, we wanted to focus on personal stories. But when we approached Australian soldiers to ask them what it’s like to fight on the frontline, we were consistently met with one of three responses: polite refusal, open hostility or a referral to Defence PR. We found it increasingly bizarre that our soldiers wouldn’t discuss even the most trivial details of their time at war, and the story became as much about the army’s control over the media as it was about the war in Afghanistan.
Eventually, we found one currently-serving soldier who has served in Afghanistan, who was willing to talk. He offers a rare insight into the mind of someone who, quite literally, puts his life on the line in the name of this conflict. His reasons for speaking out are telling:
“It appalls me that whinging frauds are able to gain the bulk of the media access and press their bogus claims… I can’t change the course of a cultural tsunami of myth making and superficial story telling, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it.”
Hungry Beast spoke to ‘Tom*’ at length. In this recreation, we have edited and restructured that interview for the sake of length and comprehensibility, but all the words you hear are entirely his own. To protect his identity, ‘Tom’ has been played by actors Aden Young, Dan Wyllie, Lewis Fitz-Gerald and Rodger Corser.
*not his real name.
21 March 2011
Hungry Beast reports on claims from inside the Australian Army that the Department of Defence, under Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, is routinely using ‘operational security concerns’ to delay or withhold from public release information, images and footage relating to operations in Afghanistan that have been cleared for public release by ADF commanders on the ground.
There is a growing sense of frustration among soldiers that this skews public perception of the conflict and our soldiers’ role in it, by focusing on the ‘bad news’ stories of injuries, deaths, civilian casualties or alleged misconduct by Australian troops and not providing material that could help contextualise the environment soldiers are operating in.
We interviewed former Chief of Army (2002-2008) Lt Gen Peter Leahy, and former Army Officer James Brown, who both assert that this problem stems from over-centralisation and control of information by Defence Public Affairs and the Minister’s office.
Both men say the responsibility for release of information should be ‘devolved down’ to lower-level commanders on the ground, in line with the practices of other coalition forces, to ensure timely and effective release of information.
The Defence Minister declined our requests for an interview for this story. But a spokesperson for the Minister did provide written answers to questions submitted to the Department of Defence by Hungry Beast.
A careful war
5 and 12 July 2010
View the two-part episode here
Chris Masters delivers two ground level reports giving a soldier’s-eye view of the bloody war being waged against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Part one offers a rare and powerful insight into the perspectives of the soldiers fighting in conflict-torn Afghanistan.
In the second part of the report, Australian troops head into unchartered territory, trying to win the faith and trust of a brutalised people.
Cameraman Neale Maude wins Walkley Award for Best Camera Work.
The Broadband Edition includes extended interviews with members of Alpha Company who talk candidly about the impact of the war on their lives. Plus a reporters’ diary, and a behind-the-scenes interview with the Four Corners team.
In their sights
6 September 2011
Video available here
A Four Corners team investigates both the merits and the risks of the “kill-capture” campaign. Its proponents claim that the strategy has been successful in killing enemy commanders, but several missions involving elite Australian soldiers have gone horribly wrong, killing “friendly” local leaders and civilians.
Ask most Australians what the “strategy” in Afghanistan is and they would tell you it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the population. The Government talks about the need to improve security, protect the population, build schools and hospitals and a lasting stable government. But running parallel with this “hearts and minds” approach is another far more contentious and highly secretive strategy – it’s called “kill-capture”. Using mostly Special Forces, the Coalition has been hunting down Taliban commanders one by one.
The program is massive and increasing. In the last year an estimated 11,000 insurgents and their leaders have been killed or captured. The strategy is to disrupt, dismantle and demoralise the insurgents, forcing them to the negotiating table.
Their leaders are taken out night after night after night, their caches of equipment supplies, their money supplies are cut off, so the idea is you start to grind down the enemy’s will and its capability to fight and an important part of that is going after those leaders. ISAF General
But for all its perceived success, some are questioning the strategy and the unintended consequences it’s delivering. First, experts say, killing the established leadership has led to a new generation of younger even more radical insurgents. The second problem comes when the raids go wrong.
Each raid is only as good as the intelligence it’s based on. Evidence shows that in a number of cases the intelligence is not reliable and in others it appears Coalition forces have been manipulated by their Afghan allies into settling old scores and killing tribal rivals. As a result, families are divided and devastated, local populations become alienated and angry, leading some into the arms of the Taliban.
A Four Corners team reports on how the “kill-capture” strategy developed, how it’s being implemented and expanded and finally examines the fall-out when things go wrong. The program gets access to the families and eye witnesses who were present when elite Australian troops undertook “kill-capture” missions. The program investigates three incidents, revealing why, in two cases, it appears the wrong people were killed and in another a suspect already detained was shot dead at close range.
After a decade of war in Afghanistan, is the “kill-capture” strategy doing more harm than good?