Sunday, April 8, 2012

War analysis 'doctored'

AUSTRALIAN officials have rejected an expert report critical of conditions in Afghanistan, demanding that it be rewritten to match upbeat government claims of dramatic progress and improved security.

The independent consultants' report, commissioned by the government's aid and development agency AusAID, is at odds with optimistic official assertions about conditions in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province, where Australian troops operate.

The Sunday Age has learnt that AusAID pressed for changes in the report, with some sections relating to security toned down and others cut entirely. The pressure came as the government accelerated the phased withdrawal of Australian troops, citing greater security and the growing ability of the Afghan army.

While AusAID denied trying to dictate the content of the report, a spokeswoman said it was standard practice for the agency to seek corrections to ''factual inaccuracies'' and ''clarifications between fact, perception and analysis''.

She confirmed that AusAid ''suggested'' the consultants cut a chapter on Afghan views on Australian and US troops in Oruzgan, as this ''did not fit within the terms of reference''. Similar chapters were included in earlier reports by the consultants.

A Canberra source familiar with the draft report said pressure on the consultants appeared to be part of government efforts to ''accentuate the positive'' in Oruzgan where, despite improvements, security is fragile, the Taliban are resilient, and the Afghan army's performance is patchy at best.

The government and military chiefs insist Australian troops will begin handing responsibility for security to the Afghan army this year, with most of the Australians out by 2014.

Speaking at a community cabinet last week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said defence personnel could ''vividly'' outline progress in Oruzgan. Defence Minister Stephen Smith recently referred to ''substantial'' gains in security and the performance of Afghan forces.

The consultants' report has been prepared by a respected non-government organisation, The Liaison Office, which focuses on research, peace building and human rights. It has about 200 staff in Afghanistan.

AusAID's annual report reveals The Liaison Office is contracted to provide ''conflict analysis'' in a project jointly funded with the Dutch government. Australia budgeted $US3.6 million for the project.

Senior analysts with The Liaison Office declined to comment when contacted by The Sunday Age, citing the confidential nature of their relationship with AusAID.

The report assesses changes in Oruzgan in the 18 months since Dutch troops pulled out. It is believed to be guardedly optimistic, noting improved security and an increase in territory controlled by the government. But this was still not positive enough for Australian officials, the Canberra source said.

The source said the report, which drew on hundreds of interviews, found locals thought Australian and US troops had become more assertive since the Dutch left, a change welcomed by some and resented by others.

The report stated that the Taliban, while weakened, were far from defeated and were capable of launching major attacks.

Retired major-general John Cantwell, who commanded Australian troops in the Middle East in 2010 and retired from the army in February, said he feared the federal government would declare Afghan forces were ready to operate alone, regardless of their actual abilities, to meet a withdrawal timetable.

''It depends on what standards you expect,'' he told The Sunday Age. ''We've come up with the term 'operational viability', which is so flexible it can mean almost anything. The government must tell us what the Afghans can and can't do when we leave; anything else will be fudging it.''

As for the long-term outlook, Mr Cantwell said: ''It will be ugly. Afghanistan won't be a peaceful place. It will be violent and backward, riven by corruption and crime and tribal feuds.

''But our troops are doing the best they can do, given their mission and the resources they've been given by the government. The same is true of our aid effort … [But] it would be disingenuous to say it's all good in Oruzgan province. It's not and it probably never will be.'' 8 Apr 2012

Fraudulent reports are common eminating from government hands.

This is done to support a politicial / financial agenda rather than providing factual information.

Dishonesty, treachery and fraud are just a few of the positives of governance.

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