Lieutenant Colonel Smith, Commanding Officer Australian Mentoring Taskforce 3 in Afghanistan in 2011, made a bit of a splash by writing a post-operation report critical of his soldiers’ performance. (That included the officers – up to field grade.)
It was a very little splash, because his report never saw much daylight. I remember hearing something about it through a UK think-tank…but absolute silence in Australia.
Today that’s changed. It’s all over the Fairfax press, because the report was cited by Lowy Institute military fellow James Brown in a parliamentary submission. (The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is examining Defences 2011-2012 annual report, which is a routine occurrence.)
Colonel Smith dared to note the slackness of some soldiers in forward positions. He also, if memory serves, suggested that his sub-unit commanders outside the wire were still subject to his orders. Hardly the harshest stuff I’ve heard from an infantry commander.
While this apparently disturbed the Chief of Army, and got some internal distribution, Defence was never going to allow such a story to be told publicly. At least until the parliamentary submission took it out of Defence’s hands.
What is really disturbing is the comment by Captain Brown in his submission that forward-area slackness may have contributed to combat deaths on at least one occasion. It’s not a good sign, and burying it under a pile of approved shiny happiness won’t help.