What were you doing 20 years ago?

20 years ago, the Al Qaeda terrorist operation being harboured in Afghanistan was putting the finishing touches on its 9/11 hijacking massacre operations. 2,977 people died on that fateful day from nearly 100 different countries of whom 10 were Australians. More than 6,000 were injured – many scarred for life.

This barbaric shedding of innocent civilian blood was as brutal as it was brazen. Any self-respecting nation could not allow such a travesty to pass without a strong definite response. Given the attack’s Al Qaeda antecedents, the US Government demanded the Afghani Taliban regime deal with the Al Qaeda in their midst. It refused.

To root out this network of terrorists, military action was regrettably required.

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With the removal of the Taliban regime came the dismantling of the Al Qaeda network and the introduction of liberties. Girls were not only allowed, but indeed encouraged, to pursue an education and be involved in society.

So as Afghanistan regrettably returns to its oppressive Taliban rulers, some ask, was it worth it?

It clearly was worth it. In answering such a question, heed must be had to the circumstances together with the intelligence available at the time (some 20 years ago). Who isn’t smarter with hindsight? How many things would we have done differently if we knew 20 years ago what we know today?

The removal of Al Qaeda’s safe haven within Afghanistan and the disruption and dismemberment of this horrific terrorist organisation was much needed. A question to which we will never know the answer is, how many other attacks and resultant thousands of deaths and injuries would have occurred but for the blotting out of this truly horrid organisation by military action?

As we reflect on the 10 Australians cruelly killed on 11 September 2001, we can be thankful that we had Australians willing to serve (about 39,000) and sacrifice (41 of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice) to protect us and other freedom-loving peoples from similar attacks.

While all of us would prefer diplomatic solutions, how do you negotiate with a mindset which glorifies willing martyrdom on the promise of not only riches for the family left behind but also “pleasures” in the afterlife, in which the women (yet again) don’t seem to have a say?

As an aside, it is a matter of regret that certain elements find it difficult to unconditionally condemn such a brutal ideology with its consequent gross human rights abuses (especially for women) yet salivate at the opportunity to throw stones at our society and culture. Imperfect though ours may be, we all know where we would rather be living.

To date, 1,800 Afghans and their families have been granted visas for Australia. And those Afghans in Australia with a visa will be allowed to stay. An initial 3,000 humanitarian places have been allocated for family members of Australians, persecuted minorities and other vulnerable groups.

The thousands seeking to flee highlights how despised the Taliban is by their own people.

Those who served in Afghanistan should be the beneficiaries of our universal admiration and appreciation for blotting out Al Qaeda and giving the Afghans the opportunity to live in a more open and free society. The fact that the latter has not been embraced does not in any way diminish their efforts and contribution.

Our prayers must surely be with the Afghani people, especially the minority Christians and Hazara who are so ruthlessly persecuted by the Taliban. And we have their relatives and friends right here in our midst. As Hosein Mohseni so rightly observed in The Examiner last Wednesday, the 20 years of rebuilding Afghanistan after the Taliban appears to have been erased in a matter of days:

“All of those achievements – freedom of expression, women’s rights, freedom of speech – all that is gone.”

Hopefully, a young generation will have been given a sufficient taste of these freedoms to drive change from within.

While the social benefits enjoyed over the last 20 years may have been lost in the short-term (freedom always ultimately wins), let’s remember the operation was about defeating Al Qaeda and protecting us from further terrorist attacks rather than an attempt at nation-building and social reconstruction.

In our understandable disappointment at the collapse of Afghanistan into the hands of the terrible Taliban, let’s never lose sight of the fact we are all the beneficiaries of a more secure world and future because of Al Qaeda’s defeat.

For those who gave so much in the cause for freedom and are battling to come to grips with the events in Afghanistan, remember Open Arms Veterans and Families Counselling is available 24-hours a day on 1800 011 046. We thank you for a job well done.

The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

Senator Eric Abetz is one of the longest serving federal parliamentarians in Australia, representing Tasmania in the Liberal Party since early 1994. He emigrated to Australia from Germany with his family at a very young age, and his father worked alongside many other immigrants on the Tasmanian Hydro Schemes. He worked as a part-time taxi driver and farm hand while studying Arts and Law at the University of Tasmania, and has been a member of the Liberal Party since 1976.

His Parliamentary career is long and distinguished, and the full details can be read here.

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