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The terrible cost of our longest conflict

Date

Dylan Welch, Tim Lester

Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Boeing National Security Luncheon, outlining details of the troop pull-out from Afghanistan, at the Hyatt Hotel, Canberra yesterday.?

Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Boeing National Security Luncheon, outlining details of the troop pull-out from Afghanistan, at the Hyatt Hotel, Canberra yesterday.? Photo: Penny Bradfield

While the expense of war is often measured in dollars, Chris Lambert has a far simpler and more profound way to measure the cost of Australian's commitment in Afghanistan.

His son Matthew, 26, was killed last August 22 when his patrol triggered an improvised explosive device in Oruzgan.

And after Prime Minister Julia Gillard's announced yesterday that Australia would end major combat operations by the middle of next year, Mr Lambert questioned the high cost in blood paid.

''I can't see the value of it,'' the Queenslander said. ''I think the motivation for being there is questionable. I think the outcome is unlikely … The magnitude of my loss is incalculable; my first-born; my only son.''

Mr Lambert is the parent of one of the 32 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. There have also been 217 soldiers and two sailors wounded.

Melbourne mother Alison Jones, however, reacted warmly to Ms Gillard's speech, as it brought closer the day when Australian troops leave Afghanistan.

''There won't be the loss of life for other families, like myself,'' she said. Her son Brett Wood was killed last May.

''[He] felt they were making a difference over there,'' she said.

A decorated commando on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, Sergeant Wood was killed by a roadside bomb. Two other soldiers were seriously wounded in the blast.

''My son loved what he was doing,'' Ms Jones said. She remembers Sergeant Wood putting his arms around her before he said goodbye on his last trip to Afghanistan. ''Remember Mum,'' he told her. ''I'm doing what I love.''

The financial cost, too, has been great. Since the first day of the war, October 7, 2001, the United States, Australia and their allies have spent trillions of dollars and lost almost 3000 soldiers - a similar number to those killed during the September 11 attacks that sparked the war.

Australia alone has spent about $6.1 billion since 2001 - an estimated $1.6 billion this financial year - and is estimated to spend another $1 billion every subsequent year.

In comparison, the US spent $120 billion on the war in 2011 - every soldier it sends is estimated to cost about $1 million a year - and has spent more than $500 billion since 2001 fighting the Taliban.

But as a new figure out yesterday reveals, the financial dedication of the international community is beginning to waver.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military spending flatlined in 2011, breaking a 13-year run of increases.

Another figure suggests the war in Afghanistan is not going well. In her speech lauding security improvements in Afghanistan yesterday, Ms Gillard omitted one of the most disheartening statistics of the war: that 3021 Afghan civilians were killed last year.

It is the fifth straight year in which civilian casualties rose and represents more than the entire 11-year death toll for soldiers from all 50 participating nations.

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