Veteran group disgusted by politicians' rhetoric about soldiers' deaths

June has been the deadliest month ever for Australian troops occupying Afghanistan. On June 7, Sapper Jacob Moerland, 21, and Sapper Darren Smith, 25, from Brisbane-based 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, were killed by an improvised explosive device and another soldier was shot and wounded in the arm on June 16. On June 21, Private Benjamin Chuck, 27, Private Timothy Aplin, 38, and Private Scott Palmer, 27, from the 2nd Commando Regiment (formerly known as 4RAR Commando Battalion) were killed and seven others injured in a helicopter crash in Kandahar province.

In a contrived display of bipartisan warmongering the federal Labor government and the Liberal-National Coalition MPs closed ranks to reaffirm their bipartisan support for the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. On June 22, the Australian-based veterans group Stand Fast released a statement rejecting statements made by defence minister John Faulkner regarding the recent tragic deaths in Afghanistan of Australian soldiers.

Stand Fast spokesperson Hamish Chitts said the group, comprised of veterans and former military personnel who oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, regards the rhetorical remarks of Faulkner and others as a vile attempt to turn public opinion to support the war in Afghanistan: “This war is primarily about having easier access to the oilfields in Turkmenistan to the North of Afghanistan, including a possible pipeline from these oilfields through Western Afghanistan to lucrative markets in Pakistan and India. It is about strategic real estate for the US military in a resource rich part of the world. Soldiers are sacrificing their lives so that others can earn a profit from it.”

Resource profits on offer

On June 21, Reuters reported that Afghanistan will begin an oil tender process in July or August. Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani estimated the country has 1.6 billion barrels of oil reserves which, if proven, would be more than Colombia’s reserves. “We are going to tender the Kashkari oil block in the north-west either in July or August,” he said at an industry workshop. “After that, next year we will tender a large oil block in the Afghan Tajik basin, which is much bigger.”

“Afghanistan is entering onto the world stage with regards to hydrocarbon extraction, and the major players are taking notice”, Shahrani said, adding the country had about 500 billion cubic metres of gas reserves and 600 million barrels of condensate (a low-density mixture of hydrocarbon liquids that are present as gaseous components in raw natural gas). To accommodate these “major players” (i.e., the big Western oil corporations), Shahrani is proposing reforms to the 2009 hydrocarbon law under the guise of making it more transparent and accessible to foreign companies. Oil and gas fields will later be offered to investors through tenders and used to make liquefied petroleum. News of the new licensing rounds follows estimates from a 2007 US Geological Survey that the country’s mineral wealth is between US$1 trillion and $3 trillion and comes ahead of a promotional roadshow aimed at offering foreign capitalists Afghanistan’s major iron ore and other minerals desposits.

“To bury this war under the cloak of democracy and a war on terror is ridiculous”, said Chitts. “As veterans and ex-service personnel, we reject this attempt to say that anyone in Afghanistan has died for Australia’s security or for ‘international stability’. We think Faulkner is looking after the interests of big business and dressing it up to look like the people of Afghanistan have the capability and desire to invade Australia.” The veteran’s comments came after Faulkner was quoted as saying, “While our mission in Afghanistan is difficult, it is vital for international stability and for the security of Australia.”

Chitts continued: “Stand Fast would like to ask Faulkner and the ALP how is international stability and security achieved supporting US-funded Afghan government departments whose sole job is to offer bribes and government positions to the worst terrorist leaders of the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami? Under this Faulkner ‘security’ cover, the very ‘terrorists’ we were supposed to be afraid of are being offered rewards while between 8768 to 28,360 innocent peasant farmers and their families have been slaughtered.”

A US Congressional report titled Warlord, Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan was released on June 21. It found that the US military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country. The report describes a Pentagon that is well aware that some of the money paid to contractors, worth $2.16 billion, winds up in the hands of warlords and insurgents. Military logisticians on the ground are focused on getting supplies where they are needed and have “virtually no understanding of how security is actually provided” for the local truck convoys that transport more than 70% of all goods and materials used by US troops. Alarms raised by prime trucking contractors were met by the military “with indifference and inaction”, the report said.

More and more unpopular

While an increasing majority of people in Afghanistan oppose their occupation, the war is becoming even more unpopular among the populations of the occupying nations. In May, after the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan reached 1000, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 52% of Americans said the war is not worth the cost. In the UK, after the 300th British soldier died in Afghanistan on June 20, a poll by the Angus Reid Public Opinion company released on June 26 found that 55% of British respondents were opposed to their country’s troops being involved in the Afghan war. In Australia, a poll by Essential Research released on June 22 showed that 61% of respondents wanted Australia to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

“These Members of Parliament, both Labor and Coalition, vie with each other to be seen as ‘the diggers friend’. Most have never served in the Defence Force nor left the comforts of their parliamentary offices”, said Chitts. “The fact that politicians use these deaths to sell their unpopular and unjustifiable war in Afghanistan is disgusting. As veterans, our thoughts are with the friends and families of the dead and all those still in harm’s way in Afghanistan. No more blood should be shed for the profiteers. Six out of 10 Australians oppose the war. The government should bring the troops home now”.