Sunday, October 28, 2007

Afghanistan : Australian Troops Refused To Join Fight Against Taliban That Left Some 70 Civilians Dead

According to this story, Australian troops refused to take part in one of the biggest battles against the Taliban in the history of the current Afghanistan war.

Australian troops were involved in the planning of the June battle in the Chora Valley, which saw NATO forces taking on an estimated 500 Taliban fighters, but reportedly pulled out when they realized their rules of engagement would restrict their ability to defend themselves.

More on this here :

Most of the 60 to 70 civilians killed when Dutch forces repelled a 500-strong Taliban assault in the Chora Valley, 30 kilometres from the Australian and Dutch base at Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan province, died as a result of bombing and artillery fire, human rights investigators have found.

In the days after the battle, the Australian Defence Force issued two statements stressing Australian troops were not involved in the fighting. In the carefully worded statements, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and senior military officers expressed concern about civilian casualties in the battle.

The chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy, last week reiterated Australia's commitment to avoiding civilian deaths wherever possible. "Nothing undermines the credibility of our efforts more than the unintended killing of civilians," he said.

Particularly controversial is the use of Dutch artillery, which fired high explosive shells into the Chora Valley from Tarin Kowt, 30 kilometres away.

In the case of the fighting in the Chora Valley from June 16 to 19, The Sunday Age believes a key issue for the Australians was the inability to discriminate between civilians and the Taliban, who had occupied local houses.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the Dutch decision to fire from such a distance was bound to claim civilian lives.

In his speech last Wednesday, General Leahy said: "In complex urban terrain there is a constant risk of striking innocent civilians." But the army had learnt that "unless we can provide pervasive security without inflicting collateral damage on the … population, our supposed strengths can be turned into glaring weaknesses".

An Australian SAS soldier, Sergeant Mathew Locke, was killed on Thursday by Taliban fighters, during the first day of a new offensive in the Chora Valley.

More than 1500 British, Dutch, Afghan and Australian troops are believed to now be fighting in this offensive.

Three Australian servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, with at least two dozen wounded or suffering crippling PTSD.

Military experts are downplaying Prime Minister Howard's claims that the Taliban are directly targeting Australian troops, particularly the SAS, as the Taliban rarely engage in direct confrontations, knowing they will be flogged by the superior firepower, experience and training.

The SAS Association is now urging the government to increase compensation for war casualties.

PM claims Australian Troops Are Being Targeted By Taliban