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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 8987

Afghanistan


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:06): My question without notice is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. What is the government's response to news in the Fairfax press today that the commander of the Afghan troops being trained by Australians, Brigadier General Mohammed Khan, has said that three years is too long for Australian troops to remain in Oruzgan province? Why did the Prime Minister—I cannot ask about the Leader of the Opposition—not refer to the headlines in today's Fairfax press in her statement to the House today?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:07): I thank Senator Brown for his question. To deal with the second bit first, I would not think it unusual for the Prime Minister not to refer to newspaper comĀ­mentary when making a major contribution about our commitment to Afghanistan in a parliamentary debate. Whether or not Fairfax had an article, which I have not seen, I am not sure it is incumbent upon the Prime Minister to refer to it in her remarks about our commitment to Afghanistan.

I am aware of the media reporting quoting the views of Brigadier Zafar Khan, who is the Afghan National Army's 4th Brigade commander in Oruzgan province. I think it is fair to say that the Australian government is of the view that his National Army 4th Brigade is increasingly capable of providing security in Oruzgan province and that the 4th Brigade may be ready to take over lead security responsibility for Oruzgan ahead of the end of 2014. Afghan forces in Oruzgan are progressively assuming control of checkpoints and operating bases. In line with this progress, the Australian Mentoring Task Force will be in a position to reduce its footprint to the main locations in Oruzgan by the first half of 2012.

I note that Brigadier General Zafar has requested specific types of military equipment for the 4th Brigade. Australia supports the international community's efforts to equip the ANA and is one of the largest donors to the ANA Trust Fund. Importantly, the equipment provided is consistent across the entire ANA and not particular to the 4th Brigade. For this reason, we are working closely with our partners to coordinate the types of equipment provided. But it is fair to say that we are encouraged by the increasing capability and that the 4th Brigade may well be ready to take over lead security responsibility for Oruzgan ahead of the end of 2014.


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:09): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of the brigadier general's statement that he has made repeated unsuccessful requests, including to the defence minister, Stephen Smith, for equipment—including equipment with night vision capability—and would, if he had that equipment, want to see the Australian troops leave Oruzgan, why have those requests not been met by the Australian government?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:10): The first point I make is that the Australian government deals directly with the Afghan government and, while the views of individual military commanders are important, we would not necessarily negotiate directly with the commanders. As I said, we know that the brigadier general has requested specific types of military equipment for the 4th Brigade. Despite the support that we provide, we also have a policy of making sure that equipment is consistent across the entire ANA and not particular to the 4th Brigade. There are arrangements in place for equipping the Afghan National Security Forces and we are very much, as I said, a major donor to that effort. We are continuing to work with the National Army's 4th Brigade to increase their capability so as to be able to hand over those security functions to them, and I think progress is pleasing.


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:11): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In view of the brigadier general's request for that equipment, what has the minister to say to the Australian people in light of the fact that, instead of having our troops withdrawn from Oruzgan, the governĀ­ment is denying the equipment to the Afghan forces who say they would be able to control that province given that equipment? How does the government explain that?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:11): As I said, there is a government-to-government relationship and there is an international force, ISAF, that is engaged in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate. We are operating within those parameters. Individual commanders have views about equipment, force levels et cetera that are obviously relevant, but they are not the sole consideration. We are, as I said, increasingly positive about the capability provided. We are providing assistance to make sure those local forces are properly equipped. It is not a question of us making individual decisions about individual pieces of equipment, certainly not at a political level. The capability of the Afghan troops under the brigadier general has improved and they are increasingly taking responsibility, but decisions about equipment will continue to be made at the national level. (Time expired)