A casualty of Afghan war: being fair dinkum

"I'm always very careful" ... Senator Brown.

AUSTRALIA'S leaders have not been fair dinkum with the Australian people about the war in Afghanistan, to parrot a bit of slang loved by Kevin Rudd. That much is now plain.

The government will claim the war has moved on since the assessment details in these leaked cables. This is true. But why should we believe the conflict is moving in the right direction?

Afghanistan ''scares the hell'' out of him, Rudd told the Americans in private. To the Australian people he insisted that progress was being made.

He praised troops from France and Germany in public, but dismissed their efforts behind closed doors.

No wonder the Australian public was left confused over the long-term plan in the conflict. And remains so.

What emerges from these cables is a deep and enduring pessimism about the idea that a foreign force can impose peace in Afghanistan. Nothing has happened to change that assessment since.

Despite his misgivings, Rudd sent more Australian troops to Afghanistan in April last year.

But if the extra deployment was an effort to win brownie points from the US, whatever bonus was shortlived.

By December the US saw Rudd as ''loath to increase troop levels'' and engaged in an effort to head-off a further boost as Barack Obama prepared to announce a new Afghan strategy.

More US troops are now on the ground and the emphasis is on training the local army rather than police.

But the recently declared 2014 deadline for a ''transition'' to local forces is sharply at odds with views revealed in the cables that 20 years may not be long enough to train the police.