Kabul wants Australia’s military presence in Afghanistan to continue

After 14-and-a-half years of involvement in the war-torn country, Australia’s role is now chiefly one of advising and assisting the Afghan security forces.

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And while the Australian forces will remain in Afghanistan for at least three more years, the Commander of the Kabul Garrison Command, Major-General Salim Ibrahimi, says he would prefer that commitment extended, warning too that terrorism “doesn’t have a border”.

“They bring a lot of changes here,” Maj Gen Ibrahimi said, speaking at the grounds of the Kabul Garrison Command compound.

“We work on every single thing shoulder-to-shoulder and try to find a solution for whatever problem we have.”

“We want them here permanently, we want them to be working with us shoulder-to-shoulder.”

THE TALIBAN AND AFGHANISTAN

The comments come after a blast last week signalled the deadly beginning of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive, and amid further signs of a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

The attack last Tuesday in central Kabul during the morning rush hour – which killed at least 64 people and wounded scores more – came two days after the United Nations said that civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the first three months of 2016 were two per cent higher than in the same period of 2015.

There were more than 11,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year – the highest number since 2001. And the Taliban holds more territory than it has at any time since 2001.

Since February, the Kabul Central Command has been under the wing of a team of 11 Australian advisers, led by Colonel Andrew McBaron.

They are already proving effective. But “forever is a long time,” Colonel McBaron said.

“I don’t think that we’ll be here forever. I am very pleased with the way the Afghan security forces are progressing in their development. There’s always going to be setbacks, that’s just life.

“But every day we see improvements here.

The comments from both men come after Air Vice Marshal Tim Innes, Australia’s commander of operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, said last week that Australian forces would remain in  Afghanistan for at least three more years.

“At the moment I think we’ve committed for another three years – when we get to the end of that period we’ll reconsider it,” he told reporters at Camp Baird.

Still, Maj Gen Ibrahimi warns that terrorist groups like the Taliban are not just a threat to Afghanistan.

“They are threat for all the countries and I think we kind of lucky that we have all the security forces from all over the world (and) we try to keep them busy here and try to get rid of them before they get into other countries to do these type of bad activity,” he said.

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“Terrorism doesn’t have border. They go anywhere they can and they try to commit their coward acts.”

Islamic State has also gained a foothold in Afghanistan, while al-Qaeda has regrouped.

Earlier this month, Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the top spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, told the Washington Post that al-Qaeda had also forged close ties with the Taliban.

Colonel McBaron said he largely agreed with the sentiments expressed by Maj Gen Ibrahimi.

“I think the general’s comments are very true. If we can fight the terrorists here, then we don’t have to fight them elsewhere,” he said.

“In many ways I think that’s why Australia is here; helping the Afghans to prevent Afghanistan ever becoming that safe haven for terrorism and its global reach again.”

Australian soldiers mark Anzac Day in Afghanistan

Anzac Day will hold special significance for the 270 Australian ADF personnel far from home in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the oft-spoken Dari phrase “shona b shona” is ringing true for hundreds of Australian soldiers deployed to the war-torn country.

On the eve of Anzac Day, at Camp Qargah to the southwest of Kabul, Captain Robert Best says the words, which in English mean “shoulder to shoulder”, resonate beyond Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old, from Ipswich in Queensland, is one of a handful of Australian Defence Force mentors advising the Afghan National Army.

Capt Best is mentor to three Afghan platoon commanders. In turn, they will eventually train officer cadets.

“Shona b shona,” he says.

“It’s very important. And I think no matter what nationality you are, wherever you come from … when you choose to become a member of the profession of army, you feel a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood with your fellow members of that profession.”

On Anzac Day, the 270 ADF personnel in Afghanistan will mark what is always a special and solemn occasion, but which can take on extra meaning for the troops when far from home.

Capt Best maintains that his experience pales when compared to what the original Anzacs went through at Gallipoli, but nonetheless gives a sense of what it means.

“Although what we’re doing here on operations cannot even compare to what the original Anzacs went through at Gallipoli and on the western front and in the Middle East, that sense of being away from your family and that sense of serving your country … I think it is really as close as you can get in the modern army … in appreciating what those soldiers went through.”

It will be with “incredible pride” that he and others at Camp Qargah will on Monday mark Anzac Day with a traditional dawn service.

At Camp Qargah, the Australians will be joined by Turks and British soldiers as well as the members of the same Gurkha unit that landed at Gallipoli 101 years ago.

“I think that when we’re on Charandaz Mountain on Anzac Day and we’re having that minute’s silence, I think we’ll continue to reflect on how we can use this deployment to make the place better,” Capt Best said.

Sitting in front of a picture of fallen soldier Jacob Moerland, who was killed in a bomb blast on his first tour of Afghanistan in June 2010, Capt Best added: “I think no matter where you are on Anzac Day, you always reflect on those who didn’t come home.”

Southern Steel overrun Central Pulse

Southern Steel extended their unbeaten trans-Tasman netball league run to four matches with an emphatic 67-54 win over Central Pulse in Invercargill on Sunday.

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With their only hiccup a 58-58 round two draw with Mainland Tactix, the Steel are now four points clear of the second-placed Pulse at the top of the New Zealand conference.

Central Pulse could find no way to slow down the Steel’s steady supply of ball into towering goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, with the Jamaican international having no difficulty in dominating prime position under the post.

In contrast, the Pulse had to battle the Steel’s stifling midcourt defence and struggled to find shooters Maia Wilson and Ameliaranne Wells with any consistency.

Coming off a runaway 63-53 win over the Magic last week, the Steel looked confident on attack right from the outset.

Their midcourt found clean lines into Fowler-Reid, who shot 41 from 47 over four quarters, while goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit had possibly her best game of the season to date.

She sunk 25 of her 28 attempts, and played a key role further upcourt in combining with centre Shannon Francois and wing attack Gina Crampton.

Pulse shooters Wilson and Wells both shot well, Wilson sinking 33 from 35 and Wells 21 of 25.

But the accuracy and quality of ball into them was patchy at best, and they shot under huge pressure from Jane Watson and Storm Purvis, who generated a ready supply of turnover ball.

Watson in particular impressed, snaring seven intercepts and seven deflections which were then clinically converted by Fowler-Reid and Selby-Rickit.

Ahead 17-13 at the end of the first quarter and 30-27 at halftime, the Steel powered away to win the third quarter 18-12 and lead 48-39 with 15 minutes remaining.

The home team delivered more of the same in the final stanza, coach Noeline Taurua emptying her bench as the Steel opened out to take the spell 19-15 and shut out the win.

NRL’s Warriors to taste life without RTS

The Warriors will get their first taste of life without star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in their Anzac Day blockbuster against Melbourne.

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A staple fixture on the NRL calendar for six consecutive seasons, the two clubs went separate ways last year but resume hostilities at AAMI Park as one of three NRL games on Monday.

Utility Tuimoala Lolohea has been handed the difficult task of filling the dancing boots of Tuivasa-Sheck, who is out for the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL.

It is the third different position in as many weeks for the versatile Lolohea, with veteran Thomas Leuluai preferred over Jeff Robson to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves.

The return of winger Manu Vatuvei is the only other change from the side that upset Canterbury at home last week, a win by the Warriors potentially lifting them into the top eight.

For the Storm, rookie Suliasi Vunivalu could consider himself unlucky to be omitted following his dream two tries on debut in last week’s one-point win over the Wests Tigers.

The towering Fijian makes way for the return of Young Tonumaipea, who has recovered from the calf injury that kept him out for a week.

“They’re testy things, calves,” coach Craig Bellamy said.

“Sometimes they can get over them pretty quickly and other times it takes a couple more weeks than what you thought.”

While Bellamy admitted the Warriors would miss Tuivasa-Sheck, he predicted they would get better as the season progresses, particularly around the form of Issac Luke.

“Obviously they’re going to miss Sheck a fair bit, and they’re all obviously disappointed at that, as they would be,” he said.

“But the longer the season goes on, the better the combination the forwards and halves are going to have with Luke.”

The Storm have already beaten the Warriors this year, topping them 21-14 in Auckland in round three.

STATS THAT MATTER

* Six of Melbourne’s seven matches this year have been decided by eight points or less, including three by four points or less.

* Melbourne is the only team this season yet to concede 20 points. In contrast, the Warriors have conceded at least 18 points in all seven matches.

* Storm skipper Cameron Smith requires just six goals to pass Graham Eadie into sixth position on the all-time goalscorers list.