|Mark Dodd From: The Australian September 18, 2010 12:00AM
A GUN battle last month between a joint Australian-Afghan patrol fighting Taliban ended in a tactical withdrawal by the Australians.
The three-hour stoush on August 24 in a river valley near Deh Rawood in western Oruzgan cost the life of Lance Corporal Jared McKinney, a soldier from Brisbane-based 6th Battalion serving with the Mentoring and Reconstruction Taskforce. Military experts say details of the hard-fought contact leave more questions than answers, the most worrying being the decision not to annihilate the Taliban attackers.
Former Iraq war commander Jim Molan, a respected commentator on counter-insurgency, says aspects of the firefight are cause for serious concern.
In an opinion piece in today's The Weekend Australian, the retired major general calls for the use of more aggressive tactics to prosecute the war -- tactics he says will save lives in the long term and force the Taliban to negotiate.
"Combat commanders must be under no illusion that when they make contact with an enemy force . . . they must do their utmost to destroy that force," General Molan says.
"Our troops found themselves facing (some say) up to 100 Taliban. This is one of the few times when we actually know exactly where our armed enemy is, and we must always capitalise on it.
"In this battle, the few Australian soldiers accompanying the Afghans once again fought brilliantly and, along with supporting fire, may have killed up to a third of this force.
"As the Australians withdrew, the other two thirds of the enemy went somewhere, certainly with the capacity to kill more Australian and Afghan soldiers . . . and still able to intimidate the population."
Defence imagery of the battle released last night shows Australian and Afghan soldiers crouching as they advance past mud-walled compounds amid the sound of a heavy gunfire.
Its understood at least one Excalibur round of precision-guided munitions was fired from a US 155mm gun battery to help break up the Taliban attack.
General Molan called for the immediate deployment of Abrams tanks and Tiger attack helicopters to support Australian troops in central Afghanistan.
Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, has defended current counter-insurgency tactics but warned of an upsurge in violence as Australian mentors accompany newly trained Afghan troops into areas previously held by the Taliban