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Niche Wars

Australia in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2001-2014


John Blaxland, Marcus Fielding, Thea Gellerfy (Eds)

Canberra ACT: ANU Press, 2020

Paperback   409pp   RRP $70.00


Reviewer: Rob Ellis, November 2022


This book covers the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel to combat missions, peace-keeping and reconstruction missions in Iraq and Afghanistan between September 2001 and December 2014.  The 20 contributors included Ministers of Federal Parliament, diplomats and senior Public Servants and military advises to Ministers, senior academic staff - at least seven current professorial chairs, three senior officers of the Australian Federal Police, and numerous ADF personnel all with the rank of colonel or higher. Almost all have clear views on the deployments covered within the book, and the finished work includes a detailed chronology of events, and some excellent maps and photographs. There is also an excellent glossary of the many abbreviations used.

As a broad study of the ADF deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would not be easy to find a better coverage, as all the contributors have expertise and/or in-country experience of the two major campaigns covered in the times and places concerned.  Perhaps because of the subject of the narrative, there is a lack of fluidity in connecting the various contributions into a cohesive whole. Especially, much of it is written in the rather formalized style that would be used in a report to a senior officer.

The content deals with the problems associated with being part of a multi-national UN Force, under the overall command of senior officers who may be speaking a different language and who were trained within quite diverse military cultures and did not always have a comparable political background.  Also within the United Nations' command structure, there were frequent communication problems and misunderstandings.  Although these seldom if ever led to major issues, there were occasions when orders were misunderstood or mis-interpreted, so that desired mission outcomes were not achieved, or could only be achieved by units from one country being restricted in their ability to reach mission objectives because of conflict between their military orders from the UN Command and limitations of political constraints imposed by their own country's leaders.

There were also instances cited of senior commanders going beyond their brief - which was to set out strategic objectives, and then allow the tactical decisions on how to fulfill the mission's intentions, which were the prerogative of the more junior officer who actually had to lead the operation. In following conflicting directions from his own Higher Command or Government and those from a senior UN Command officer, regarding such issues as minimizing casualties or equipment wastage there were frequent instances when a senior ADF officer had to intervene to save his subordinate from censure by their High Command or the UN High Command. This was usually done tactfully, as the more senior ADF officers, not perfectly in the line of command in a particular situation had to be loyal to their subordinates and protect them from unjustifiable censure by senior officer from some other force.

That these possible causes of internal conflict were diffused, almost always, with limited damage to internal relationships, both with the UN Command and the soldier's own force, is to the credit of the ADF officers involved, and did much to maintain the good relationships that ADF personnel had with their comrades-in-arms within the overall deployed UN Forces.




The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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