Time to start asking the tough questions

During the torrent of #qantas tweets on Satuday night an obscure message emerged about an Afghan National Army officer opening fire on foreign troops. The details were scant but something about it seemed more strange than usual.

By the morning it emerged that the foreign troops were ten Australian soldiers. Three were killed, seven wounded, one with life threatening injuries. Troops returned fire and the assailant was killed.

For years the Defence Force has been telling us we need to stay the distance in Afghanistan. We are there until 2014 with the focus on training Afghan troops to allow the country self-government.

In response to Saturday’s assault, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “This attack does not change our mission in Afghanistan.”

However the shooting of Lance Corporal Andrew Jones by an Afghan soldier when he was on guard duty should have started a rethink. That happened back in May this year and was the first sign that the enemy was within.

That event alone demonstrated there was a larger problem at hand yet getting to the truth has been a challenge. Journalists that have had the opportunity to be embedded with the Australian Defence Force have found their movements restricted. Leaving them to do so with US troops, whose mission has been quite different to ours.

(NB: When I say embedded I mean living with soldiers in the field and back at base. No vetting of interviews and full access to their everyday experience.)

Chief of Defence Force David Hurly has asked us to “show restraint and reserve our judgment” on this latest tragedy. He wants us to wait for a full investigation. However I am struggling to find the outcome of LC Andrew Jones investigation, and am not holding my breath that we will know the results of this one either.

This has been our largest deployment of troops since Vietnam and the Defence Force has been working overtime controlling what information we receive about it.

The media has an extraordinary amount of power to sway public discourse on subjects such as this. I wonder how many more diggers will die by those they train before they start this conversation.

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