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The Maintenance of Madness: How Australia Funded a Warlord in Afghanistan

The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.

The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.

Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.

“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.

Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:

“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”

ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.

The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.

Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”

It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.

Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”

Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.

In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.

Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.

Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.

From the Pakistani Daily Times:

“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.

The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.

WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.

Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”

From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:

“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.

The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The remaining 75 were knifed to death.

Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””

In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.

From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:

“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”

These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.

Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.

Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.

In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.

One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.

The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.

We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.


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  1. David

    I no longer believe one word this physco nutter of a PM says. His weasel words are so often proven to be lies, he withdraws promises at will, contradicts and push/shoves. Too much is plenty for mine Abbott is dead cremated and buried. Long may he stay there.

  2. @RosemaryJ36

    To be fair, reluctantly, Abbott is following in the footsteps of previous government leaders.
    Trouble in the Middle East dates back to British colonisation – and to a lesser extent other national leaders – who changed borders, tried to impose alien governance processes on cultures dominated by warlords, and left later generations to cope with the mess.
    At least at the time of the Crusades there was some semblance of honour between East and West – now not in evidence.
    Western nations behave as if they know all the answers and other people’s cultures can be ignored.
    The present turmoil in Australia is clear evidence that we do NOT know all the answers to ensure harmonious coexistence.
    The wise course is to butt right out in my opinion.

  3. Colin

    I’ve got an idea. Let the government of the day send our troops wherever they like, whether in a combat or advisory role, provided that at least one adult offspring of every member of the cabinet that makes the decision (or a nominated family member if they had no adult offspring), must sign up for the armed forces and must be on the first plane to wherever it is they are going. No exceptions. Let them experience firsthand the glory of war.

    I suspect the hunger for battle might be somewhat reduced if that was the law. We might even come up with peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.

  4. staffordhallstuffme

    Reluctantly? He couldnt wait. You know, shit happens. Idiots!

  5. Gilly

    More troop overseas deployments, more military spending, that’s why the new C17s.. Then cut the foreign aid budget. I know which is the more cost effective and efficient way of ensuring national security and reducing spending. Win more flies with honey etc.

  6. Terry2

    Our personnel are going to ** Train the Trainers ** – why can’t we bring them here and do the training on Australian soil ?

  7. Loz

    The Americans have been in Iraq for over ten years and nothing has changed, if anything it has got worse. There is no way in the world that these forces will win any war in Iraq – history can tell us that. Not one leader in Australia has the guts to say no to the Americans.

  8. David

    Nail on the head comment Loz, agree. Where are the Labor leaders with some spine and principals the Party used to be known for? Shorten would be the weakest of the weak. Insipid little man

  9. BJWard

    The predicted escalation proceeds …

  10. Blanik

    This is exactly the same as we became involved in the American war in Vietnam. Why do all LNP prime ministers have to have a war. Is it because they don’t have to lead from the front? Arseholes, all of them. And I don’t remember the ALP man Shorten speaking out against it either.

    Who to vote for at the next election Thank christ for independents!

  11. stephentardrew

    We kill em we train em. We kill em we train em. We train em and we kill the other mob. Then we train the other mob and kill the original mob that trained the other mob that we trained to kill the first mob that we gave weapons too just to kill our mob or the mob that is the flavour of the month. Sunni and Shia tomorrow Shia and Sunni today. Sunni and Sunni tomorrow Shia and Shia today then we purchase our big yachts and sexy private planes, buying off the next election while ripping off the punters then telling them to save the banks.

    Then we go to war again.

    Good hey?

    Democracy works a treat.

    Make a fortune sucking up taxpayers money then build weapons to kill the vermin just to given them old redundant shit just to buy new stuff then blow the shit out of them again.

    Nothing to see here

    Does anyone see something a wee bit unbalanced about this approach?

  12. Blanik

    No, not really. The balance seems to be quite normal after nigh on two years of fascist government led buy *the Captain*.

  13. eli nes

    what a depressing read!!!! Shattering my avoidance of iraq since the terrible lies of WoMD and Abu Ghraib.
    The rabbott is proving himself to his voters and, at the same time, squashing labor and adding guffaws to the laughing stock greens.
    He has surely made a mobius strip and the only cure is with scissors. Who has a pair and the guts to use them?????

  14. Peter Moloney

    Any Government who sees an opportunity for anything in the middle east has no brains at all. We have been misled with bullshit!

  15. Matters Not

    BJWard said:

    The predicted escalation proceeds …

    Yep! It was ‘predictable’ and ‘predicted’. And the ‘opposition’ has been silenced by a ‘reign of terror’.

    More so in Australia than in New Zealand where the opposition to their troop involvement is growing.

    It would appear that New Zealanders are much more politically sophisticated than their counterparts across the ‘ditch’

    Peter Moloney said:

    Any Government who sees an opportunity for anything in the middle east has no brains at all

    Really? Try access to ‘oil’ as a possibility.

  16. gangey1959

    “We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

    The stupid prick forgot to say “Honest” at the end of his speech.
    In six months time our lads and the Kiwis will be fighting against some of the guys they have been “training”.
    Yeah. Right,
    Shit Happens

  17. gangey1959

    I forgot to add.
    Shit doesn’t happen, It’s caused by arseholes.

  18. Disillusioned

    Blanik …..”.how we became involved in Vietnam ” ……you are so right !
    Ted Serong and “The Dirty Thirty” !
    Sent to train the South Vietnamese Army and werent there long before they were leading them into battle to show how it’s done and because the SVA had no leaders !
    Incidently Ted Serong was a follower and influenced by the nutter Bob Santamaria and I think I’ve read somewhere that Abbott was also a follower and inspired by Santamaria…..
    All devout Catholics and claiming to be Christians ……. I just don’t understand religion and Christianity if all they ever want to do is kill people …….. Thank the Devil I’m an Athiest !

  19. SkepticAl

    ISIS is manufactured, trained, armed and funded by USA and assorted allies.

    The endless illegal warmongering of the war of terror, brought to us on the back of the lies of 911, , have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men women and children, who were never a threat to anyone. AND IT CONTINUES.

    We are being taken for mugs.

  20. Kaye Lee

    ISIL won’t be resolved by foreign non-Islamic states or their forces and in the mean time we are creating resentment at our interference.

    Cut off the cash flow, cut off the arms flow, cut off their internet recruiting. Work with local communities to help- protect our children from seduction. Show disgruntled youth how they are being used as cannon fodder. Listen to them about why they feel alienated in our society and address the problem here.

    Do something serious about addressing global poverty and inequality. Rather than wasting money on wars, spend it on humanitarian aid.

    ISIL are a scourge but any group who tries to wield power by beheading people, kidnapping and raping women, and shooting little boys for watching a soccer game is never going to last. Counter their propaganda campaign in the west with the truth about their barbarity. Military intervention by the West is fraught with danger as many of these people have justifiable grievances with the political situation in their own countries.

  21. SkepticAl

    “Counter their propaganda campaign in the west with the truth about their barbarity.”

    They are a creation of the west ffs. A manufactured bogeyman. Their barbarity, is OUR barbarity! That is the truth that needs to be told.

  22. crypt0

    Indeed … and those who created , financed and armed ISIS can hardly be expected to rectify this unholy frickin’ mess.
    It just aint gonna happen.

  23. Steve

    And don’t forget the industries that supply weaponry, logistics and supplies. War can be such a lovely little earner. The trouble for pollies and military personnel is that it only takes you to be compromised once, and you are forever in somebodies debt. And any party politico has sold out at some point along the way to get to where they are.

  24. Kaye Lee

    “They are a creation of the west ffs. A manufactured bogeyman.”

    There is much truth in that but I don’t find Ayatollah Khamenei or Bashar al-Assad or many others blameless. Poverty, corruption, the subjugation of women, political disenfranchisement of certain groups, ethnic discrimination, extremist religious leaders – a myriad of things combined to make the rise of ISIS possible.

    Not only has our interference been part of the cause, bombing the crap out of them AGAIN is hardly going to help, but it is up to the nations involved to decide what they want to do about it, not us. You can’t tell me that Turkey and Egypt couldn’t obliterate them if they wanted to. Why are we there?

  25. Andreas Bimba

    I say this site in regard to ISIS is 90% bull shit. The lefts conspiracy theories that Israel and the US are behind all evil is only half right at most. Yes the Americans supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union but does that really mean the US is responsible for the current Taliban, only partly at most. I agree that the recent US and Western intervention in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban was mostly pointless and counterproductive. It did help G.W. Bush’s supporters a lot and most US Republicans don’t appear to give a rat’s poop about all the dead and injured on both sides. The US under Barack Obama has however been much better behaved. The Americans have also helped the Kurds a great deal despite Turkish opposition, many of the Kurds also call themselves communists, maybe the Americans are closet communists as well?

    George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq was wrong at all levels and the toppling of Saddam has done no good for Iraq. Similarly the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya has also gone bad. Syria is also a big crock of shyt for everyone. The US and Israel have continuosly antagonised the Islamic world with all of their ill conceived interventions and the failure to deal successfully with the Palestinian injustice, this has greatly strengthened extremists in the Islamic world. The US and to a smaller extent Israel supported and trained all sorts of rebels, some have ended up in ISIS.

    But do we really want all the current governments in the Middle East to be toppled by extremists like ISIS? Most of these governments are autocratic and the map of the Middle East was drawn mostly by the French and the British so is that sufficient reason to deny all these nation’s governments any legitimacy? The will of the people is most important but against a determined violent minority the people’s views can rapidly become irrelevant.

    Democracy just can’t spring into being in anarchic areas of the world, raw economic, political and military power is what works. We also have to play that game unfortunately as otherwise in many cases even worse players will exploit that power vacuum. The worlds democracies can’t be the world’s policemen everywhere and every time but often it is better to meddle while hostile powers are forming rather than wait until they start massing along your borders.

    The approach to foreign military intervention of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard are however examples to be avoided apart from John Howards East Timor intervention which many would regard as an example of fair and reasonable approach.

    The half blind anti Americanism I read here reminds of those that blamed the Americans for Pol Pot coming to power in Cambodia, yes the Americans bombed the Ho Chi Minh trail that went well within Cambodia, they may even have destabilised Sihanouk and assisted General Lon Nol take control but it was the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong fighting with the Khmer Rouge that defeated the Khmer Republic and put the Khmer Rouge in power. Communist tyrants put another communist tyrant in power.

    Now that all the lefties are fuming I will add that I believe French, US and Australian intervention in Vietnam and Indochina was a mistake. The Communists may not have ever had enough popular support to win a truly free election in a unified Vietnam but they were extremely nationalistic and as proved to be, extremely difficult to defeat militarily. I bet most of the lefties here would also have opposed the British led fight against communist rebels in Malaya in the 1950’s but I think the better side won here. Vietnam is now going down the Chinese path of a capitalist economy run by a communist political elite, looks a bit more like Fascism to me rather than the much dreamed of Socialist ideal.

    That being said, I think stephentardrew’s comment “We kill em we train em. We kill ……….” above is particularly relevant.

  26. SkepticAl

    Kaye Lee,
    “a myriad of things combined to make the rise of ISIS possible.” – Well a myriad is not required, It is simply the way the west wants it to go down, manufactured bogeymen for their proxy wars.

    “You can’t tell me that Turkey and Egypt couldn’t obliterate them if they wanted to.” – Exactly, ISIS – or whatever you want to call them, could be wiped out easily, but that would defeat the purpose of setting them up in the first place.

    “Why are we there?” – Because it makes it look like the government is protecting us from evil, and the majority are stupid enough to believe it.

    The biggest threat to world peace?
    The USA, and our nose is firmly wedged up their stinky anal orrifice.

    @ Andreas Bimba – you dont like that site? perhaps you could cite an example of something they have wrong, with relevant links to credible facts, instead of treating us all to your unqualified opinionated verbosity,

  27. crypt0

    I have read the above link, and yes …
    The biggest threat to world peace and has been for a very long time.
    And so abbott presumably thinks this is a vote winner …
    A little test for the Australian voter methinks.

  28. saklaing

    The fact that Andrews doesn’t even know the leader of ISIS may I think reveal a lot more than it was possibly meant to. It may reveal that in reality, they don’t actually give much of a stuff about this issue, and unlike the attack on Bin Laden, there is no plan to remove the highly symbolic leader of this movement. Its all about lip service to make it look like they are doing something, so they can court the flag waving vote, and play the anti-terrorism card. The fact it is costing us a small fortune, is neither here nor there. Its one of their few vote winners, and having people on the ground gives them the quick opportunity to ramp up the invective when election time approaches. So it will go on as long as they can stretch it out for, so long as nobody, sorry no Australians, get killed.

  29. stephentardrew

    If I was Labor and the independents I would wait my time, ignore the war mongers, and immediately upon re-election bring the troops home.

  30. crypt0

    What did Australia learn from the Vietnam experience ?

    Absolutely nothing.

  31. Annie B

    “Why are we there ?” …. ….. OIL …. simple as that. … At least that is why the U.S. keeps bibbing in to the Middle East, while keeping onside its ‘friends’ – the Saudis, and why other western ‘allies’ follow them like bloody lemmings. …. And all the while America sits on oil reserves in it’s own country and ocean areas, that would fuel them for an eon, but apparently the cost of producing it for use, is far higher and presents emission problems there. …. so they want to control it elsewhere in the world – for their own benefit, while, in the meantime, they work out how to economically barrel what they’ve got themselves !!

    ” With potential to rival the reserves and production of Saudi Arabia, Iraq presents the greatest opportunity available today to the world’s oil and gas industry. Whether you are an oil company, service company or investor Iraq has the potential to deliver significant opportunity and influence your strategic decision making no matter where you operate.”


    Not that the West would take the slightest bit of notice, but I agree with a couple of commenters here – let the Middle East have at it – by themselves, let them sort it out – and yes sadly, thousands will die – but they will anyway, under the current ‘war’ against ISIS, that is steadily building with the help of the West. …. Death over there, in a myriad of ways, is unavoidable, quite simply because of their merciless and savage ways of living. ……. Barbaric. …. There is a slim chance it might improve if the West stuck its’ long greedy nose out of it all.

    Our own combat troops – today, are ‘only there for training’ ( more training to fall on dud deaf ears ) ……… but tomorrow ?

    Anyone want a bet on the answer to that query ?

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