The real story of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan has not been reported
By Dr Daniel Mealey
Dear Australia, You haven’t been told the truth. You could be forgiven for believing the war in Afghanistan is over. Since the early days post- 9/11, the world world’s media has simply not reported the Taliban’s worsening crimes against humanity. This has not only prevented international help for the women and children suffering.
It’s also had a major impact on coalition soldiers coming home to civilians without the the requisite information to mount compassion in response to unthinkable trauma we endured over there. “Let there be no doubt: this is a war against women – banned from public life; prevented from accessing education; prohibited from working; barred from moving freely; imprisoned, disappeared and tortured including for speaking against these policies and resisting the repression.” said Agnes Callamard, Secretary General at Amnesty International, May 2023.
The soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan were separated from their commanding officers by a highly fortified wall that kept the former in constant danger, and the latter in relative safety and ignorance. Missing from both sides of that wall were journalists like Nick McKenzie, and sociologists like Samantha Crompvoets. Yet these mischievous beatniks have driven the entire narrative of what happened in twenty years’ warring in that hell-hole, with the full support of those dangerously uninformed commanding officers whose continued failed leadership has driven 1,600 of their soldiers to suicide.
The problem with journalists who commandeer international media toward a contextually absent analysis of “war crimes,” is that the real war criminals get away with blue murder (and with no media to tell the story). Blue murder. Green-on-blue murder. All of the colours of murder in Afghanistan have remained unreported, with the real war criminals remaining at large. For the record, the “real war criminals” aren’t our soldiers.
And if you don’t know who the real war criminals are, who could blame you? There have been no journalists to inform you. Two major sentinel events occurred in the twenty year history of the Afghanistan war. The first of these events entailed the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre. The second involved planes taking off from Kabul International Airport twenty years later when we withdrew our allied forces for the last time.
Who could forget the citizens falling from those buildings on fire. And who could forget the citizens falling from the wings of those planes. All of these people desperately trying to escape the savagery of our Taliban enemy. Both of these events made international headlines with an international outpouring of grief. Similarly, this emotive response followed numerous Western terrorist events notwithstanding the Christchurch mosque massacres, and the 7/7 London Bombings.
It’s tempting to conclude that the stories of major Taliban war crimes taking place in Afghanistan over twenty years didn’t hit our media consequent to a national indifference to events that took place there. But apathy only occurs on an international level, in the absence of information. In the absence of information provided to the world about what was really happening in Afghanistan, the world was not indifferent to those events – they just didn’t know about them.
These events in the West resulted in comparatively greater media attention than events taking place in Afghanistan – not because we felt more empathy toward them, but because civilians were present there to react to them. Those citizens had mobile phones. They had cameras. And they had social media accounts to disseminate those stories around the globe with a speed, and an impact that checkmated international media to react in equal measure.
Between the two events of 9/11 and withdrawal of allied forces, there is a compelling twenty year absence of information in the annals of history about what was actually taking place in Afghanistan. Arguably, this is due to the fact that those present weren’t taking to the World Wide Web with their eye-witnessed experiences there. Those present were largely coalition and Taliban forces. In the context of an enormous Taliban regime that disguised themselves as civilians, the actual civilians feared death were they to show the world what was really happening.
They were censored. They were tortured. They were murdered. And it wasn’t our soldiers who were murdering them. I was in Afghanistan 2014 and 2015 as an Australian medical officer and I can assure you that no coalition soldier was using their Facebook accounts, and especially not discussing stories with journalists. I can assure you that daily, horrific events took place that nobody in the West was reporting. Those of us attached to the coalition effort were all conforming to the “bigger picture,” a picture that left no room for internet / media cowboys to wield the internet space with their egos. But in the absence of intelligent journalists to push beyond the limitations and confinement of the information presented to civilians of the world, the stories that our journalists have been telling the world have been fundamentally wrong.
This absence of any kind of military context in Australian journalistic commentary about our soldiers, is only part of the problem however. Again, the greater problem is that ADF leaders often have no military context either. They have collected an embarrassing swag of medals and post-nominals, yet ask any combat soldier where those leaders were postured during this war. (Answer: they were postured in the safety of a heavily fortified HQ, while the soldiers they now condemn and betray were exposed to unthinkable war trauma, and real war crimes- Taliban war crimes).
Needed here, are war-experienced ADF officers to step up to protect their soldiers from poorly-contextualised journalistic, and politicised vitriol about them. But those war-experienced leaders don’t exist. Or if they do, they are cowardly bowing to a toxic status quo; fatally confusing “protecting the green,” with “protecting themselves“ from a glaringly absent national criticism.” They have failed meet the basic expectation of their roles: to tell the truth. In the absence of that truth, compassion toward the plight of our soldiers has been non-existent.
Suicide only happens in a vacuum of compassion. And compassion only exists in the response to information.