AS ONE OF LESS THAN A HANDFULL of Australians who have actually waded through the Department of Defence’s quietly released Afghanistan Inquiry Reform Plan: Delivering Response to the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Version 1.0 (yep it really is called version 1.0) I can’t say that I have much to tell you, even after closely reading it line by line. Twice!
Thirty-six pages, two of which are marked ‘Intentionally Blank’ and one of which is just blank, and another which is a sort of dappled fetid grey, I don’t quite now whether to laugh or cry.
Strangely, after reading through Afghanistan Inquiry Reform Plan: Delivering Response to the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Version 1.0, twice, I keep having a metaphorical vision of those multi tube 76mm launchers you see on armoured vehicles and some small warships, engineered specifically to throw out what ordinary people would call smoke but which the military has christened ‘multi spectral obscurant munitions’ that are fired when crews want to hide their movements from hostile observation, stuck in my head.
What I can say is that Afghanistan Inquiry Reform Plan: Delivering Response to the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Version 1.0 is a triumph of public service artful linguistic avoidance that would have made Sir Humphrey Appleby proud.
Defence supremos General Angus Campbell and his equally dislikeable partner Department of Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty have, it appears, ducked for cover and run for the extra-deep command bunker after throwing their warfighters to the rabid soldier haters in the media and the Greens.
Desperate to extricate themselves from the greatest own goal in Australian history and with the shit still dripping from their own faces after the attempted white wash of the Inspector General Australian Defence Force’s Afghanistan’s 2020 Rumours of Possible Breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict in Afghanistan failed to pass the ‘pub test’ for the average Aussie which saw the ADF’s absurdly over decorated headshed subject to a sustained backlash from the general public and political censure from the Prime Minister, Campbell and Moriarty have done the only thing that blokes like them (blokes who send other men into battle to face the bullets but happily tie the hangman’s noose for any infractions of their rules while cringing in the safety of their airconditioned Canberra suites) tend to do.
Like the biblical Pontius Pilate they have ‘washed their hands’ of any personal complicity and have kicked the can down the road. Even better, they’ve made some of their minions responsible for hanging a few unfortunate veterans to conceal their own pathetic and desperate attempts to avoid acceptance of any personal responsibility for any of our Diggers’ supposed sins in the brutal madhouse that was Afghanistan.
Very few facts emerge from Afghanistan Inquiry Reform Plan: Delivering Response to the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Version 1.0, beyond what we already know. Namely that the Meritorious Unit Citation for all Special Operations Task Group (Afghanistan)/Task Force 66 veterans was restored by the current Minister of Defence Peter Dutton and that 2 Squadron Special Air Service Regiment remains ‘disestablished’ - an ancient word usually associated with papal or crown revocation of recognition of religious orders but bizarrely used in reference to the October 19, 2020 disbanding of the hard fighting 2 Squadron.
I have no doubt our Special Operations personnel will still cop stabs in the back. The intensity and scope of these institutional level punishments obscured by the vague language employed.
Service in Special Operations Command Australia will change with the former way of doing business now out the window and all personnel expected to rotate through SOCAust units and locations (specifically SASR to 2 Commando and even 1 Commando and back, and vice versa) and even out of SOCAust back into Forces Command conventional manoeuvre units throughout their service. A change that may not be happily accepted by the men who wear the berets.
While the SOTG Afghanistan’s MUC is safe, the awards of six former TF66 operators remain under question. You don’t need to be Einstein to guess whose gongs are up for snatching, nor do you need to be Nostradamus to deduce whose ribbons are beyond reproach.
Beyond that, few additional specifics are aired beyond the definition of the four bureaucratic divisions/phases and ‘terms of reference’ of reform efforts and the explicit threat of punishment to the ‘senior officers’ (not Campbell and Moriarty of course) appointed to implement them.
Predictably, absolutely nothing, not a single sentence, in Campbell and Moriarty’s 36 page Afghanistan Inquiry Reform Plan: Delivering Response to the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Version 1.0 addresses the thousand-pound gorilla in the room: How did all of those almost battalions of brigadiers and full colonels who crowded out the MNB Tarin Kowt coffee shops at all hours manage to ‘know nothing’ about hundreds if not thousands of resource intensive Special Operations with multiple layers of constant surveillance video feeds and transmission captures all beamed directly back to the headshed and eagerly watched by all with the appropriate and sometime not so appropriate clearances?
Or how CDF Angus Campbell himself, when Task Force commander in 2011, manage to walk directly past (within metres) of the blatantly positioned ‘Fat Ladies Arms’ dozens if not scores of times without ever noticing it? Nor, it appears any fine details of the war raging around him in those stinking valleys of Uruzgan, Daykundi, Kandahar, Helmand and Zabol!
As Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame so eloquently put it, “I know nothing!”
The farce continues. Let’s wait and see what Version 1.1 or maybe even Version 1.2 reveals. Either way, according to Version 1.0 the hammer will drop on our modern day Breaker Morants in the next four months.
John Hunter Farrell
5 August 2021