The Satchel Review - Saturday 21st April (farewell war in Afghanistan?)

The men and women we sent to war in far-off Afghanistan in 2001 are coming home early, said the Gillard government this week, flagging the withdrawal of 1,550 Australian troops.

Australia's combat and training operations, known as "Operation Slipper", will wrap up by the end of 2013, a year earlier than anticipated, with defence Minister Stephen Smith confirming that some Australian soldiers will remain in Afghanistan to assist in the stabilisation of the country.

But the Australian government has assured that the Afghans will be able to combat their own war against the insurgent Taliban thereafter as well as establishing law and order, building on the foundations for democracy and education that have been laid thus far.

Still, no one's dreaming of an American revisioning of Afghanistan.

"I don’t think we’ve ever created any false expectations about the Afghan government or the government we’ll be leaving behind," said Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Senator David Feeney on ABC radio.

"I certainly believe that there has been enormous progress in Afghanistan; I note the education figures that people often talk about. Over the last 10 years the average life expectancy of Afghans has gone from 43 to 48 years of age. But obviously there’s enormous work to do, and we are not going to be leaving behind us a pristine Jeffersonian democracy and we’re not going to pretend for a moment that we are."

In March it was reported that Australian troops, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) had killed an insurgent leader and captured four. "These are key leaders within the insurgent network that operates throughout Oruzgan," said Major General Stuart Smith in a statement.

Australia's total loss of life since 2001 is estimated to be 32 Australian Defence Force soldiers (and one Australian, Rifleman Stuart Nash, serving with the British Army in 2008) with 217 wounded. In October, three Australian soldiers (Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin Birt) were killed.

"Unfortunately we've made this world into such a place that sometimes it takes a life to save a number of lives," Felix Shir, whose son Private Greg Sher was killed in Afghanistan in January 2009, told the ABC. "And I can only just pray that my son's life, like those of all other soldiers that have been sacrificed, will save multiples of their lives."

Australia has played a key roll in the War on Terror since then Prime Minister John Howard invoked the ANZUS treaty to offer assistance to the Americans following the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, in which 22 Australians were killed amongst the 2997 people who lost their lives.

The ANZUS treaty signed in 1951, which formalised Australia and New Zealand's status as a diplomatic, trade, investment, intelligence and military ally of the United States of America, has most recently seen the commitment of American marines to the north of Australia.

Even before our troops are safe on home soil, the futility or fecundity of the war, together with the dignity behind the withdrawal of the diggers, is being fervently debated (the Opposition has, of course, called it a "domestic political convenience" ahead of next year's elections).

"There won't be the loss of life for other families, like myself," said Alison Jones in The Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the loss of her son Brett Wood last May. "He felt they were making a difference over there."

And, yet, on home soil all is not quiet or well.

In Sydney, drive-by shootings have increased by 41 per cent. "I share the public's concern that even though these are clearly targeted shootings, only one stray bullet is needed to seriously injure or kill someone who is innocent," said NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell.

What would the ANZACs say? Perhaps the Foreign Minister's erudite diplomatic skills are required back at home in NSW to talk some sense across the fence (it's Bob Carr's Backyard?) in this baffling and senseless suburban warfare.

And while the IMF has given its latest report on the global economy, one the one hand saying the situation has improved but on the other it could go pear-shaped at any point, giving Julia Gillard reason to say Australia is a "world beater" on the economic front, to use a Joe Hockeyian phrase, right now we need to keep our pencils sharpened.

Girl With a Satchel