The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.
The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.
Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.
“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”
A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.
Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:
“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”
ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.
The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.
Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”
It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.
Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”
Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.
In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.
We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.
Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.
Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.
From the Pakistani Daily Times:
“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.
The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.
WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.
Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”
From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:
“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.
The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.
The remaining 75 were knifed to death.
Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””
In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.
From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:
“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”
These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.
Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.
Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.
In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.
One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.
The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.
We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.