THE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA had a number of significant global flow-on effects, one of those being Australian military involvement in the Middle East which would last for two decades.
On July 11 this year the Minister of Defence, Peter Dutton, confirmed the last of our service personnel had left Afghanistan, bringing to an end a campaign that saw over 40,000 Australians serve in the region.
In Afghanistan 41 young Australians lost their lives and two soldiers died in Kuwait and Iraq respectively.
Alongside a large international coalition, the ultimate objective in Afghanistan was to deny terrorist organisations the ability to use the country as a safe haven. As is evident from the absence of large scale terrorist attacks around the world, this objective has been achieved, along with a number of other 'lower profile' goals such as improving the availability of education to women and girls in Afghanistan.
The Government has now proposed a dedicated annual day of commemoration to acknowledge the service of Australians in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO), those who supported at home, and to honour those who lost their lives.
Mr Dutton has stressed he wants Diggers to know their efforts have thwarted a large scale terrorist attack from occurring over the past 20 years and we are eternally grateful for that.
The initial date proposed is July 11. RSL NSW has stated it supports this date and says "commemorating the end of a conflict is consistent with the traditional way our community recognises the service and sacrifice of veterans and their families during that conflict".
Surveys have been commissioned by the Government and some ex-service organisations have been canvased on the feeling among veterans regarding the establishment of a day of commemoration.
Deliberation on what form commemorations would take is still ongoing however the likely outcome would be a national service in Canberra, with RSL sub branches or other ex-service groups able to hold commemoration services locally.
I spoke to Nambucca Heads man, Matt Campbell, a veteran of the campaign in the Middle East, seeking his perspective.
Matt said "I'm all for a day to commemorate Australia's longest war. I was on Mentoring Task Force 1 in Afghanistan. We lost six soldiers and Daniel Kerrigan was awarded the Victoria Cross.
"Just as the Vietnam Veterans have a day to come together and share experiences with their mates, I think it's important to recognise the thousands of Australians who served in the MEAO and the toll it is still taking on them now the war has ended.
"I also think it's an important chapter in our history that I personally would like my children to know about and reflect on."
As an ex-serviceman who served in Iraq and Afghanistan myself, I agree with Matt's sentiment. While I am slightly concerned this may lead to consideration for a separate day being put aside for every conflict this country has participated in, I see this day may be healing for those still confronting mental health issues from their service in the Middle East.
As Matt has pointed out and is evident by the upcoming Royal Commission into Veterans Suicide, the conflict still takes a toll on veterans.
Given the amount of blood and treasure we have shed in Afghanistan we will remain linked to the country's fate even with our troops now out. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blames the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops for the increasing level of violence from the Taliban as they seize back ground and attack major cities.
Mr Ghani is critical of the hasty US-instigated peace process that has failed to bring about peace as US, Australian and other forces leave. Although there are those who accuse Australia of a 'cut and run' departure, I would pose the question 'If 20 years has not been long enough to support Afghanistan toward a level of stability and governance that would not succumb to brutal Taliban rule then how many years would it take?'
What Australia and other countries of the developed world must now consider is just how much harsh treatment of the Afghan people at the hands of the Taliban we are willing to ignore before we consider wading back in. Lest we Forget.
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