Special forces bear the brunt

  • by: Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor
  • From:The Australian
  • July 04, 201212:00AM

THE death of the 33rd Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan – and the 16th member of the special forces – shows the inadequacy, poor structure and imbalance of the Defence Force.

The special forces are not just the tip of the spear of the Australian Defence Force – they are the whole spear.

They do too much of the work, and bear too much of the sacrifice.

Australia now does wars on the cheap, on the blood and suffering of a few hundred men, the same men, sent time and again into the hell of battle – the dead SAS trooper was on his seventh tour in Afghanistan.

Most of the ADF is not kept in anything remotely resembling combat-ready capability.

We can barely get a sub into the water – and if we could, the one thing it couldn’t do is fight.

We can barely get an amphibious ship to help in a storm clean-up.

Nobody knows how few active pilots we have in the air force.

Our army of 30,000 regular soldiers is one of the smallest in Asia, indeed in the world.

But there is one part of the military that is kept at world standard and always ready to go.

That is the SAS and their special forces partners, the commandos. Our special forces are among the best in the world, and widely acknowledged as such especially by the Americans, but they are a tiny force.

The Gillard government has the smallest defence spending, as a proportion of the economy, of any government since 1938.

Its fraudulent prestige as a committed military ally of the US, and of the nation as a defence power, rests on the magnificent performance and out-sized sacrifice of our special forces.

These men fight and die, not just for our strategic interests but to give us a reputation we don’t deserve as a nation that takes defence seriously.

Our army is far too small, yet the government keeps hinting that when the troops come home from Afghanistan it will be cut.

Yet we are reluctant even to use the army we have properly.

In Afghanistan, the special forces have carried out continuous offensive operations against the Taliban and their allies. There is no reason why regular army units could not carry out such operations.

Our infantry and cavalry are restricted to mentoring and training the Afghans, and see action as they help them.

But the hidden grammar of our strategic policy is clear. The SAS and the commandos are our only offensive military instrument. They perform heroically and never shirk duty. But we ask too much of them.

Their valour is used to cloak the neglect and indolence of a government that has no interest in providing an adequate defence force. It’s time the special forces came home.

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