/ 16 April 2021

The sun sets on one conflict as another threat rises

Australia’s remaining 80 troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn in line with America’s plans to have their 2,500 soldiers home later this year. US President Joe Biden yesterday confirmed the 11 September withdrawal deadline – the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks launched by al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. In total, 3,500 coalition troops have died during the war, including 41 Australians. It’s estimated more than 110,000 Afghans also died, including 31,000 civilians.

Those lives lost, most importantly. And PM Scott Morrison became emotional yesterday as he read the Aussie soldiers’ names who lost their lives during the conflict as he talked of the impact on their families. The son of one of the men, Sergeant Brett Till, was in the same class as one of his daughters, he said. For those who came home, “we’ll be dealing with the scars, both mental and physical, of their service, for many, many years,” he said. More than 39,000 Australians were deployed to support efforts to end Islamic terrorism emanating from Afghanistan – and that came at a cost to taxpayers of more than $10 billion. There are also investigations based on “credible information” that a small number of elite soldiers participated in war crimes while in Afghanistan that are ongoing. So, was it all worth it? “Freedom is always worth it,” Morrison said.

It’s China, American officials say. US intelligence agencies put out their annual threat assessment this week, and it’s not an armed conflict they’re worried about… It’s the so-called ‘gray-zone battles’ for power fought by Chinese state spies via cyber-attacks and political interference that are the biggest risk. That will give Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Biden plenty to talk about during their summit in Washington DC on Friday local time – the newish US President’s first face-to meeting with a world leader since his inauguration. Behind China, there’s Russia. It’s considered a diminishing power, but it’s got skillz in the hacking/political interference department – which is why Biden’s administration announced further sanctions against high-placed Russian officials overnight. Analysts said this all means non-state terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are down the list when it comes to threats to Western democracies.

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