No plan for Aust to ‘re-enter’ Afghanistan

In the wake of a deadly attack in Kabul that has left at least 64 people dead and scores more wounded, Australia’s most senior commander in the Middle East says there is no active plan to alter our mission in Afghanistan.

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As the death toll from the suicide bombing and gun assault on a government security building on Tuesday continues to rise, Air Vice Marshal Tim Innes on Wednesday said Australian forces in Afghanistan would remain “alert and ready” for future attacks.

The assault – the deadliest single attack in the Afghan capital since 2011 – comes after the Taliban announced earlier this month that it was launching its spring offensive, pledging large-scale attacks against government strongholds.

Speaking at Camp Baird, Air Vice Marshal Innes said attacks like that which occurred in central Kabul on Tuesday, during the morning rush hour, were unfortunately becoming almost a routine occurrence in Afghanistan and in particular Kabul.

“But we train our people, we’re well rehearsed and we are ready for it when it happens,” he said.

“We’ve tracked it over a number of years and it’s a recurring pattern.

“Absolutely we’re concerned about it … anything that affects the security of Afghanistan. Whether we should re-enter and change the nature of the operation, that’s a question for the government. It’s not something we’re actively considering at the moment.”

Tuesday’s bombing was the worst strike in Kabul since 2011, when about 60 people died in a suicide blast outside a mosque, and will reinforce concerns in Afghanistan and the West that the country is being dragged into a worsening spiral of violence.

The Taliban said on their Pashto-language website that they had carried out the suicide bombing on “Department 10”, a unit responsible for protecting government ministers and VIPs, according to a report from Reuters.

The attack began at around 9.00am local time, in the middle of the morning rush hour, when a suicide bomber in a vehicle packed with explosives blew himself up in front of an office of a department of the National Security Directorate.

Australia has between 270 and 280 troops based in Afghanistan, and is also contributing to efforts to counter Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Air Vice Marshal Innes said that while Islamic State, also known as Daesh, had been losing territory, the extremist group should not be underestimated.

“It’s also quite common and open knowledge that there are incremental gains right across the theatre with Daesh feeling pressure and losing territory.

“Be under no illusion: they are a very smart and agile and adaptive enemy and that’s well known and that takes a concerted, planned, resourced and patient campaign to defeat and that’s the way it’s unfolding at the moment.”