Dutch and Afghan forces reportedly did most of the fighting in last week’s battle for Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan. So where were the Aussies? That’s a question I’ve been asked a dozen times by desperate Australian reporters, soldiers and members of the public.
700 Australian troops are based alongside the Dutch at Kamp Holland, but most of them appear to have played only a minor role in the fighting. One Aussie was part of the mostly Dutch patrol that was targeted by a suicide bomber in the opening salvo of the battle, according to Tom Hyland at the Australian Sunday Age newspaper. I myself accompanied Aussie forces patrolling Tarin Kowt in the aftermath of the bombing, by which point the fighting had moved to nearby Chura. Aussie special forces were involved in the Chura fighting, Hyland writes:
In fierce fighting, Dutch, Afghan and Australian forces, backed by air strikes and artillery, foiled an attempt by 500 Taliban fighters to overrun the isolated town of Chora, north of Tarin Kowt, Dutch armed forces chief General Dick Berlijn told reporters. A small Dutch force based in the town held out despite being outnumbered by the Taliban, who killed civilians, including women, who refused to join them, General Berlijn said. Coalition forces then counter-attacked, with Dutch troops and Australian special forces fighting “close and intense street combat” before the Taliban retreated.
Interesting that a Dutch official is the source here. Canberra has released very little information about Australian participation in the battle. The Hague pulled this stunt too, early in the battle, but yours truly and other reporters embedded at Kamp Holland pushed to get the news out. Both the Dutch and Aussie governments seem to want to downplay the violence in Afghanistan in order to preserve shaky public support for missions that they sold strictly as peaceful reconstruction exercises.