Oz was `pessimistic` about involvement in Afghan: Leaked papers

Oz was "very pessimistic" about its involvement in Afghanistan, with it then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd saying the outlook in the war-torn country "scares the hell out of me".

Melbourne: Australia was "very pessimistic"
about its involvement in Afghanistan, with it then prime
minister Kevin Rudd saying the outlook in the war-torn country
"scares the hell out of me" while his top officials describing
as hopeless the task to train Afghan police, according to
leaked US cables.

Even though there were public assurances made on progress
in Afghanistan, secret cables from the US embassy here,
released by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, showed that
some of the Australian top diplomats and officials had serious
concerns about the success, `The Age` reported.

The cables also disclosed further embarrassing
revelations about the conduct of Rudd, who is now the Foreign
Minister, the report said.

According to one of the cables, Rudd derides the
contribution of France and Germany to the fight against the
Taliban as "organising folk-dancing festivals" and confides
that the outlook in Afghanistan "scares the hell out of me."

Another cable sent to Washington in November last year by
the US embassy in Canberra records the Australian special
representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ric Smith, a
former secretary of the Defence Department, delivering a
bleak assessment of the international community`s Afghan
strategy.

"Smith had just returned from a visit to Oruzgan and
described the mission in Afghanistan and Afghan government
presence as a `wobbly three-legged stool`," the cable said.

On increasing funds to train Afghan police by Australia,
Smith warned it might involve "putting good money into a bad
situation."

Another cable, issued in December last year, said that
"Smith questioned what the agency would be able to accomplish given the `train wreck` that they
had to be given to work with in the Afghan National Police."

A cable from October 2008, which records what Rudd, then
the prime minister, told a group of visiting US Congressmen,
said that he "concluded by noting that the national security
establishment in Australia was very pessimistic about the
long-term prognosis for Afghanistan." Rudd also told US politicians that "he supported the
Afghan war `from day one` but confided that `Afghanistan
scares the hell out of me`."

He was also critical of Australia`s European allies,
accusing them of having "no common strategy for winning the
war or winning the peace."

In the south-east, the US, Canada, British, Australia
and Dutch were doing the "hard stuff," while in the relatively
peaceful north-west, the Germans and French were "organising
folk-dancing festivals," a cable reported on Rudd`s comments.

Other cables detail repeated criticism from officials of
Australia`s plan to boost its non-military contribution by
sending federal police to train Afghan police and providing
greater aid assistance.

The civilian boost was announced by Rudd late last year,
about the time when US President Barack Obama released his
nation`s revised Afghanistan strategy.

A cable from last December said Rudd had "hoped to offer
the increased civilian effort to the US as a substitute."

The Australians began preparing for the President`s
announcement months in advance and the lack of progress is
surprising, it said.

"Coupled with (Ric) Smith`s increasingly pessimistic
attitude, this may be a sign of friction within the government
over the proper role for civilians in Afghanistan."

Another cable describes how the internal government
debate over the civilian strategy had "dragged on much longer
than anyone predicted."

The US cables also revealed that the head of the agency’s International Deployment Group, Assistant Commissioner Frank
Prendergast, had also raised concerns about what federal
police officers could achieve in Afghanistan.

"Even Prendergast, who was generally optimistic about agency’s efforts in Afghanistan, noted that the odds were stacked
against success. Current training programmes are hampered by
illiteracy, corruption, drug addiction and insurgent
penetration within the pool of trainees," the cable said.

"He believes that a successful police training programme
will take 20 years to be effective in Afghanistan."

PTI