AUSTRALIA should prepare to deploy up to 6000 troops to Afghanistan and lobby for greater commitment to a war that the US-led forces are on track to lose, says a retired Australian general, Jim Molan.
The call comes as Kevin Rudd, returning from the Middle East, told the Herald he had no plans to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan but was committed to the war and believed the Australians were making progress.
In an interview aboard his aircraft on the way back from Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates, he warned Australians should prepare for a long and protracted mission.
"I've always said we're in Afghanistan for the long haul, for a long time," he said. "We've got to be serious. It's tough, protracted work. We're of a mind to see it through in partnership with our friends and allies."
Molan, who spent 40 years in the military and is an expert on counter-insurgency, said the Federal Government had played down the need for a greater commitment and warned that the international forces were heading towards failure. In a paper that lays out a long-term blueprint for success in the seven-year-old war, he said the US-led forces needed to engage with the Taliban, work with Afghanistan's neighbours towards a Bosnia-style diplomatic agreement and further strengthen the Afghan police and army.
"Recent Australian deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are almost entirely political because they lack military logic," he said. "Australian troops are fighting well at the tactical level. If nothing changes, they will continue to perform brilliantly until we lose the war - like Vietnam."
Australia has about 1080 troops in Afghanistan.
Molan, a retired major general who served in Iraq as a commander of coalition forces, said Western governments had shown strong support for their troops but "seem ashamed of their commitment".
He said the Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, should pressure the military to prepare a force of 6000 troops by 2011, which would enhance its position to urge its coalition partners to bolster their commitments.
Mr Rudd yesterday appeared to lay down some markers on Afghanistan before a visit to Australia by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, in February, and expected pressure from the US for Australia to increase its troops.
"We have no plans to increase troops ," Mr Rudd said.
By 2011 Australia will have spent $600 million in aid for Afghanistan. In a gesture of intent, Mr Rudd will today announce $5 million to help Afghanistan hold presidential elections next year, including $3 million to help the Afghan Independent Election Commission try to sign up 2 million voters.
Following his visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday, Mr Rudd spent time in the United Arab Emirates, dining with the Crown Prince, Sheik Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and holding a separate meeting with the Vice- President, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Australia is reportedly consolidating its entire Middle-East command structure and aircraft crews in a single secret base in the UAE. About 40 personnel from Baghdad have moved there to join 160 flight and ground crew staff for the two Orion surveillance aircraft stationed in the region. Personnel in Kuwait and Qatar, where the C-130 Hercules aircraft are stationed, are also expected to be shifted.