Fiddling While It Burns

Ninth Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan | 17/03/2009

What a day to start a blog about Australian national security.

Special Operations personnel train in Afghanistan. Photo: Department of Defence.

Special Operations personnel train in Afghanistan. Photo: Department of Defence.

Today the Defence Department announced that another Australian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan, this time a member of the forces training the Afghan Army. From the Sydney Morning Herald article:

The insurgents attacked a foot patrol of Australian and Afghan soldiers near Karakak, about 12 kilometres north of Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan province, yesterday afternoon AEST time, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said.

The insurgents used small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, and drew the patrol into a long battle. Coalition forces were then called in as back-up, he said.

The Australian soldier, a member of the Mentoring and Reconstruction Taskforce, was shot and killed, Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

These stories are central to the way the Australian news media cover Australia’s foreign deployments. As tends to be the case with democracies in the absence of immediate threats to the homeland, the question of war becomes one of value, value for treasure and value for blood. In the minds of many Australians, including a large number who should know better, the ongoing battle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the invasion of Iraq and ongoing bloody occupation of that nation. That link shapes the way Afghanistan is reported and debated, as Australians watch grimly in expectation of an ever-escalating death toll, grieving mothers, and human rights violations.

The Australian has played to this tendency, publishing a timeline of ADF personnel killed in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2002. However, the fact that Australian soldiers have been involved in significant combat operations since 2005 with only eight deaths prevents any significant narrative developing along these lines.

There is more potential in the annual “spring in Oruzgan province” narrative, as The Australian has used here. It’s tried and tested, and has the advantage of being true to an extent, although the death of Gregory Sher in the depths of the Afghani winter is proof that it ain’t necessarily so. An extract:

Warmer weather brings hard fighting season in Afghanistan

AUSTRALIAN commanders are bracing for a hard fighting season in Oruzgan province as Taliban insurgents fan out across southern Afghanistan.

The latest Australian combat death in Afghanistan comes as intelligence assessments point to heightened risks for coalition forces as insurgents regroup for the spring and summer fighting season.

The article meandres from that point, however, indicating the recurring point that the Australian news media doesn’t really know how to report Afghanistan. As is too often the case, the narrative is what gets reported, and in the absence of one the coverage seems confused and directionless.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] I noted when I posted about the death of the ninth Australian soldier in Afghanistan, since named as […]

    Pingback by Tenth casualty awakens the media narrative « Fiddling While It Burns: terrorism and national security at the end of history — 21/03/2009 @ 4:23 pm


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