In a very special episode of The WarriorU Podcast, hosts Trent Burnard and Bram Connolly share their views on the Afghan war and current events. Drawing on his extensive military experience – including two tours to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2010 – Bram details his memories of the country, its army and the Taliban. He reflects on the original mission of the western forces 20 years ago, and the mistakes made and goals kicked since the US and Australia entered the country. Zero topics were off-limits in this Instagram Live turned WarriorU Podcast – from veteran mental health concerns to the experiences of young Afghan women and girls under Taliban rule. But most of all, it’s an episode about positivity and hope – and one you won’t want to miss.
A Glimpse of the Guest
Name: Bram Connolly
What he does: Bram has over 20 years’ experience within the Australian Defence Force, fifteen years of which was spent in the Australian Special Forces. His roles have ranged from the Head of Selection for Special Forces right through to leading professional combat soldiers in war zones such as East Timor and Afghanistan. Bram was recognised for his ‘distinguished leadership in combat’ with the Australian Special Forces in the 2012 Australia Day Honours list, and he also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Advanced Diploma in Government.
Bram online: Hindsight Leadership and Resilience
Food for Thought
[25:42] “My personal position is that the army has given me so much more than I could ever give the army back. I came from not much and made something of myself because of the experiences that the army gave me – deployment experiences, education, leadership training, friendships. And so, for that, I am grateful.”
- The Taliban as ‘evil personified’ – Bram’s firsthand experiences: The Taliban of 20 years ago, is not the Taliban of today. At [13:29], Bram remembers his first experiences fighting the might of the Taliban army, and the slow shift over this generational war to fighting ‘farm boys’ and ‘old men’. [15:40] “Not all is as it seems, despite those chaotic images at the airport. A lot of the high-level fighters are gone and the others are old and past it.”
- Is the Afghan army weak?: Were the Afghan army scared little boys, who were to cowardly to fight for their country’s freedoms? Or were they simply not equipped to deal with the Taliban force once the western military pulled away? At [30:12], Bram takes you through the training and capabilities of the Afghan army, and the kinks in their leadership. While the army has seemingly been overrun by the Taliban at present, the idea and taste of freedom lives on, says Bram, and the war isn’t over yet. [43:23] “We gave them 20 years of a leg up and I wish the men had stayed the course and stood up for what they believed in, because I know they believe in a free Afghanistan.”
- Coalition mistakes made at war: From the US’s untimely withdrawal from Afghanistan in the middle of fighting season, to the removal of some of the best and brightest of the Afghan peoples through western visas, Bram and Trent discuss the mistakes made by the US and Australian forces at war. The largest misstep? Trying to impose western constructs on an ancient and nomadic people. [39:27] “That was a failure of strategic thought – instead of building battalions and regiments and police forces and the like, we should have reached out and created warlords and chieftains along tribal lines, as long as they were moderate.”
- Veterans – stand up, be positive: At [21:36], Bram and Trent discuss the groundswell of veterans attacking the Australian Defence Force and positioning themselves as victims in the face of the current events. While Bram agrees that the visions at Kabul airport and of the Taliban takeover were hard to watch, he asks that veterans remember their original mission and a job well done, and the positive experiences and education that the Australian army has provided them. [27:28] “If you are going to be the voice of a veteran, be the voice of positivity”.
[20:53] “We didn’t beat the Taliban with guns and you don’t beat insurgency with bombs and bullets. Sure, there was a lot of that going on – but you beat insurgency with an idea. An idea will continue.”
[39:51] “If people knew how women and girls were being treated before September 11, we would have been there under a United Nations charter. Western civilization wouldn’t have put up with it.”
[55:17] “We’ve lost the relationship and love between Afghanistan and ourselves. This is a very violent breakup.”