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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 180

Mr NEUMANN (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the minister update the House on Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for his question. Our efforts in Afghanistan are of course centred upon the 1,550-troop commitment we have in Oruzgan province, as well as the substantial diplomatic, civilian and development assistance effort that we make both in Kabul and in Oruzgan province. I know—and this was reflected by the condolence motion we had yesterday, when the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Fadden spoke—that those individual, personal contributions and sacrifices are very much appreciated by the House. We will, we hope in the course of this year, provide the opportunity through a parliamentary debate for all members of the House to comment upon the strategic commitment that we are making to Afghanistan. I have been in discussions with the Leader of the House about the nature and timing of that debate. The Leader of the House will consult interested parties in due course. At this stage we want to hold the debate and provide that opportunity in the course of this year.

Last week I was in Kabul and Oruzgan province with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department of Defence. In Kabul I met with two Afghan ministers—the Minister for Defence, Minister Wardak, and the Minister for the Interior, Minister Mohammadi. What struck me was their very strong commitment to the transition to Afghan authorities of security arrangements and their strong and deep commitment to the training process now in place. Our mission in Oruzgan province, of course, is to train the Afghan National Army and to assist in the training of Afghan police to enable the Afghan authorities to take care of security matters themselves.

In Kabul I also met with General Petraeus at International Security Assistance Force headquarters and discussed a number of points of interest to the House. Firstly, ISAF and General Petraeus, and our United States ally, very much appreciate the work we do in Afghanistan, not just those personnel in Oruzgan but also the embedded Australian defence personnel in ISAF headquarters. They are very much appreciated by ISAF, which is a United Nations mandated force. I also met with Ambassador Sedwill, NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative, and indicated to both General Petraeus and Ambassador Sedwill that we were looking favourably at the prospect of providing more police trainers and that we would ensure that within the allocation of 1,550 we would provide the 20 additional artillery trainers which have been requested by NATO.

In Tarin Kowt, in Oruzgan province, I met with our officers and our troops. They have been doing it tough, as the condolence motion yesterday reflected, but are making good progress on the training of the Afghan National Army. We started that task in December 2008 and it has only been very recently that we have been training all of the kandaks of the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade. This is making a substantial contribution to the effort.

I spoke with the CDF, the Secretary and with our officers and troops on the ground about force protection measures. Over the last 12 months the government has increased force protection measures by over $1.1 billion and these are in the course of being implemented in Afghanistan. The Secretary, the CDF and I came away from Afghanistan wanting to see whether it was possible for us to do more, so far as force protection is concerned, in the IED area, which has been very problematic as far as our troops are concerned. We are also very pleased that the transition to the Combined Team Oruzgan—now with the United States presence, following the withdrawal of the Dutch—has gone very well. We will have the opportunity to discuss all of these matters and more in the course of the parliamentary debate, and the government is very much looking forward to that.