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Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Page: 6222


Mr STEPHEN SMITH (PerthMinister for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House) (09:23): by leave—I thank the House.

Introduction

The government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the parliament.

This is my third report to the parliament this year.

On 7 February this year I presented an update on transition in Afghanistan. As this process gains pace and we look towards the very substantial drawdown of the ADF in Uruzgan at the end of this year, it is appropriate to again update parliament and the Australian people on progress towards transition.

This update follows on from my visit to Afghanistan on 2 June.

Afghan-wide T ransition

Progress continues to be made on transition across Afghanistan. Australia welcomes the announcement yesterday of the fifth and final tranche of transition, which will see Afghanistan's final provinces and districts enter transition. With the inclusion of these final districts into the transition process, Australia welcomes the achievement of the so-called 'Chicago Milestone', where the Afghan National Security Force officially takes the national lead for security responsibility for all the districts in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, all of which have now entered transition.

Throughout Afghanistan, the Afghan National Security Force is growing more competent and capable. The Afghan National Security Force participate in all operations and are in the lead in 95 per cent of these—from routine tasks, including combat service support missions, medical evacuations and route clearance operations to high-level tasks such as special operations. The ANSF indigenous training capability is increasingly developing with the ANSF delivering up to 90 per cent of their own training.

In keeping with this trend, on 11 April this year, the Australian-led Artillery Training and Advisory Team (ATAT) officially completed its mission to establish a fully autonomous Afghan National Army School of Artillery and the ADF personnel relevant to that training mission have returned home.

Australia ' s 2014 Role

In 2014, the Australian commitment to Afghanistan will include a commitment of around 75 personnel, including instructors and advisers, support staff and force protection at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul, together with our British and New Zealand colleagues.

In Kandahar, the ADF will continue to provide advisory support to the 205 Corps of the ANA through an adviser and force protection complement of over 50. The ADF will also maintain its commitment of 10 advisers to the Logistics Training Advisory Team in Kabul.

Australia currently has over 100 staff embedded within a range of ISAF headquarters. The embed commitment in 2014 is expected to evolve as ISAF prepares for the post-2014 train, advise and assist mission. A possible Special Forces role remains contingent on government consideration and consultation with the United States and ISAF over Australia's possible post-2014 Special Forces role.

Post-2014 NATO-led Mission

At the Chicago summit in May 2012, ISAF nations and the Afghan government agreed to work together to establish a new NATO-led post-2014 mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF. We are well down that path. At the recent NATO/ISAF defence ministers' meeting in Brussels on 4 June, the concept of operations for the post-2014 train, advise and assist mission was endorsed by defence ministers. Operational planning for the post-2014 mission will continue to develop through the remainder of 2013.

Australia ' s post-2014 role

Australia is prepared to maintain an ADF presence in Afghanistan to support stability and security after the completion of nationwide transition at the end of 2014. Australia will continue to provide training and advisory support to the ANSF through the NATO-led train, advise and assist mission to Afghanistan. Under an appropriate mandate, Australia is prepared to make a Special Forces contribution, either for training or for counter-terrorism purposes, or both. The actual size and scope of Australia's post-2014 ADF contributed is yet to be determined.

As well, Australia will contribute $US100 million annually for three years from January 2015 as part of international efforts to sustain and support the ANSF beyond transition, a continuation of the $US200 million Australia committed in 2009 to help sustain the ANA in Uruzgan Province over the five years from 2009 until the end of 2014.

The National Security Interest

In my first statement on Afghanistan to the parliament as Minister for Defence on 20 October 2010, I said, 'Therecan be no more serious endeavour for any country or government than to send its military forces into conflict.' To send its men and women in uniform into harm's way, a country or government must have a clear national security interest reason to do so.

Lessons from Afghanistan

Australia's national security interest in our commitment to Afghanistan—past, present and future—is clear: to prevent Afghanistan from again being used by terrorists to plan and train for attacks abroad on innocent civilians, including Australians in our own region and beyond.

The Use of Military Force

Our experience over the last 10 years in Afghanistan has highlighted some important general lessons for the use of military force. It has reinforced the well-known point that it is the easiest thing in the world to get involved in major commitments, but it is substantially more difficult to get out. That is why, when a government makes a decision about a military intervention, it must very, very carefully consider whether that intervention is required in a country's national security and national interests.

In the case of Afghanistan, there was strong international community and bipartisan domestic support for the intervention in Afghanistan, mandated by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001. If there had not been a continually renewed United Nations mandate for Afghanistan, the international community, in my view, would have withdrawn years ago.

Progress in Afghanistan was substantially undermined as a result of Iraq, which was not the subject of a United Nations mandate and which did not have bipartisan domestic support either here or internationally.

International community focus shifted from Afghanistan in the latter half of 2002, in the lead-up to the Iraq War. This allowed the Taliban to regroup in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and reassert and rebuild its influence in southern Afghanistan from 2003 through 2005. As a result, from 2006 onwards, ISAF forces faced fierce opposition from a resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Focus shifted back to Afghanistan in 2008.

The subsequent surge of international troops and resources into Afghanistan and the sharper international focus led to the transition process and where we are today, but the regrettable fact is that valuable years, a half dozen years, were lost to the Afghanistan mission as a result of Iraq.

International decision making

From the earliest days, the government was forthright in demanding a place at the international table when key decisions were made on Afghanistan. My ministerial predecessors Ministers Nelson, Fitzgibbon and Faulkner did very valuable work on that front. Australia insisted that strategic level decisions on Afghanistan were taken by the International Security Assistance Force, not just by NATO.

While the government was prepared to put our men and women in uniform into harm's way to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism, we were equally determined to ensure that from 2008 Australia was part of the decision-making process for the international community's strategy on Afghanistan.

Strategy and Mission

In Lisbon in November 2010, leaders from Afghanistan and ISAF countries agreed that a conditions based transition to Afghan led security begin in 2011, with the aim of completing transition by the end of 2014. The international community agreed at the Chicago summit in May 2012 to continue to fund, train and support the Afghan National Security Force post transition, and to consolidate and build on the security gains of the transition strategy.

The international community also committed to supporting Afghanistan's development in the long term, including through the signature of long-term strategic partnership agreements. Long term support to Afghanistan, its institutions and its security forces are an important signal to the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the region that the international community will not walk away from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

This long-term support is an important safeguard against the inevitable pressure the Taliban will seek to bear on Afghan institutions of state and the Afghan National Security Forces with transition to Afghan led security responsibility. Similarly, a continued special forces contingent will be important to maintain an active deterrent against the re-emergence of international terrorists.

These two elements—long-term international support and continued special forces assistance—will be important both to sustain the transition to Afghan security responsibility and to ensure the viability of what the international community has achieved in Afghanistan.

If, following the transition to Afghan security responsibility, Afghan institutions and the Afghan security forces were to collapse, or Afghanistan was again to re-emerge as a base for international terrorism, the Australian public would rightly question whether stabilisation operations and humanitarian interventions were worth the cost in lives and resources.

That is why Australia has committed to the long-term support of Afghanistan and is prepared to maintain an Australian Defence Force presence in Afghanistan to support stability and security after the completion of nationwide transition at the end of 2014. That is why I have stressed that under an appropriate mandate, Australia is prepared to make a special forces contribution, either for training or for counterterrorism purposes, or both.

The requirements of Australia's adherence to the rule of law in Afghanistan, our approach to civilian casualties and our detainee management framework, are exacting. They have however stood the ADF and their well-deserved reputation in good stead and allowed the ADF to retain the pride and support of the Australian people in the job they are doing.

Our international reputation, our credibility and our reliability as a partner as a result of our experience in Afghanistan have been enhanced consistent with the finest traditions of Australia and the ADF in combat or warlike operations: first class fighters, and respectful of international law and highly conscious of the rights of civilians and locals.

Afghan-led Peace and Reconciliation Process

I said to the House in my 7 February 2013 statement that Australia has long supported an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process, recognising that conflict in Afghanistan will not be ended by military force alone.

Australia welcomes the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan as part of an Afghan-led peace process.

Australia also welcomes the fact that United States representatives will meet the Taliban in Doha for talks aimed at achieving peace in Afghanistan.

These talks will necessarily be long, complex and inevitably subject to setbacks, but efforts at peace and reconciliation must continue.

Awards from Operations in Afghanistan

Australia's contribution to Afghanistan has seen great acts of bravery. Australia's highest military honour, the Victoria Cross for Australia, has been awarded to three outstanding individuals for their acts of exceptional courage: Trooper Mark Donaldson, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, and Corporal Daniel Keighran.

Operations in Afghanistan have also seen the award of the Battle Honour Eastern Shah Wali Kot to the Special Air Service Regiment and to the 2nd Commando Regiment for their outstanding performance during the Shah Wali Kot offensive in Afghanistan from May to June 2010. Eastern Shah Wali Kot is the first Army Battle Honour awarded since the end of the Vietnam War.

On 10 May this year it was my privilege to attend the presentation of the Eastern Shah Wali Kot Battle Honour to the Special Air Service Regiment at Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne, Perth. Today I will have the privilege of attending the presentation of the Eastern Shah Wali Kot Battle Honour to the 2nd Commando Regiment in Holsworthy, Sydney.

Australian Battle Casualties

Australia ' s mission in Afghanistan has come at a substantial price. We have lost 39 ADF members and 254 personnel have been wounded in action to date.

We have achieved much in Afghanistan. We still have much to contribute.

Today in this p arliament, we pay tribute to our wounded warriors and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We will not forget them.

I take this opportunity to table a paper in conjunction with my ministerial statement and I seek leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Fadden to speak for 13 minutes.

Leave granted.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH: I move:

That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Robert speaking for a period not exceeding 13 minutes.

Question agreed to.