Australia

Australia must consider returning to Afghanistan to monitor Taliban resurgence, analysts say

Security analysts say Australia should move quickly to re-establish a presence in Afghanistan amid reports the government is looking at a potential return to monitor the resurgence of the Taliban.

The ABC has reported Australia is considering a staged return to the country in the next few months.

The final Australian diplomats, military, and intelligence officers only left the country on 18 June.

The resurgent Taliban now claims to have secured nearly 200 of Afghanistan’s 421 districts, mostly in the north and northwest of the country.

Concerns have been raised about the threat posed by Taliban militants advancing towards Kabul, as well as the country once again becoming a hotspot for terrorism.

There are also fears about what a return to Taliban rule could mean for the degradation of human rights, particularly for women and education in Afghanistan.

Deakin University security expert Greg Barton said Australia “absolutely” should return to the war-torn nation.

“There absolutely is a need – whatever happens in Afghanistan is going to play a big role in our intelligence and planning work around global terrorism,” he told SBS News.

“We need to understand that what happens in Afghanistan has consequences for the region and for the world.” 

Mr Barton said returning intelligence officers to Kabul would help both Australia’s own understanding of the situation on the ground as well as providing important support for the Afghan government.

“It’s as much about us giving psychological and practical support to the government of Afghanistan and its intelligence community as it is our own intelligence,” he said.

“If everyone goes home within weeks, morale collapses to the point where it does become impossible to resist the Taliban.” 

A re-engaged Australian presence could involve stationing intelligence officers, potentially within the CIA’s Kabul headquarters.

Diplomats could also return, but be housed in American or British compounds until the Australian embassy in Kabul is reopened. 

John Blaxland, a professor of international security at the Australian National University, said it would be difficult for Australia to clear up the “murky and contradictory” information around the Taliban’s resurgence without a presence in Afghanistan.

“Reconciling [that information] is very difficult from afar without having a footprint there to do some ground-truthing,” he told SBS News.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday said Australia’s re-entry would take place as soon as it was safe to do so.

“We always have made it clear that were we in a position to safely have Australians in Afghanistan providing a support to our efforts there then we would,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Morrison said he had discussed Australia’s absence and potential plans to return with other world leaders, including at the recent G7 summit.

“I hope we will be able to do that at an early opportunity, but only when it is safe,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia’s “interim diplomatic arrangements were always expected to be temporary, with the intention of resuming a permanent presence once circumstances permit.”

“That remains our position.”

It comes as hundreds of Afghans who worked for Australia during its mission in Afghanistan urgently apply for protection visas to escape reprisal attacks from the Taliban.

Mr Blaxland said re-engaging Australia’s presence in the country could play an important role in helping the extraction of those Afghans who remain in “precarious positions”.

At least 252 Afghan nationals and their families have been brought to Australia as part of repatriation efforts.

“We are making real steady progress through the many others,” Mr Morrison said on Wednesday.

Australia lost 41 soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.

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