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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 4183


Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) (5:51 PM) —by leave—I indicate to the Senate that at the end of this brief statement in the chamber I will seek leave for the full ministerial statement on Afghanistan to be incorporated in Hansard. Today I present my fourth ministerial statement on Afghanistan. Australia remains committed to our mission in Afghanistan. We remain committed to denying sanctuary to terrorists, to working to stabilise the country and to our alliance with the United States.

The past fortnight has been an exceptionally tough one for our troops in Afghanistan. On Monday, Private Tim Aplin, Private Ben Chuck and Private Scott Palmer were killed and a further seven soldiers injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. This closely follows the loss of Sapper Darren Smith and Sapper Jacob Moerland earlier this month. As we struggle to come to terms with these losses, we acknowledge with profound gratitude the sacrifice these young soldiers have made and acknowledge too the willing commitment of their comrades at arms. On behalf of the Australian government, and again of all senators, I offer my condolences to the families, friends, colleagues and loved ones of our fallen soldiers. Our thoughts are with them all. Our thoughts are also with the soldiers injured on Monday and their families, and I wish them, as I know we all wish them, a speedy recovery.

The terrible loss of our soldiers has quite understandably heightened the debate around Australia’s mission in Afghanistan. It is important that Australians understand this conflict, understand why we are there and understand why it is important for us to continue to play our part. Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to combat a clear threat from international terrorism to both international security and our own national security. Australia cannot afford, and Australians cannot afford, to let Afghanistan again become a safe haven and training ground for terrorist organisations. Organisations such as Al Qaeda that receive Taliban support have a global reach and are a global threat. The Bali bombing on 12 October 2002, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, was carried out by terrorists with direct links to Afghanistan. These same individuals were involved in the 2004 attack against the Australian embassy in Indonesia and the Jakarta hotel bombings last year that killed more Australians. Left unchecked, the dangerous influence of such groups could again, as in the past, rapidly extend into our own region.

Progress is being made towards the goal of making sure Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists. It is steady, it is incremental, but it is progress nevertheless. Six months ago, in Marjah, provincial governance was in disarray, there were no children in school and health care was almost nonexistent. Today there are district governors, 81 schoolteachers and new clinics being built—small steps, perhaps, but important ones.

In Oruzgan, the ADF continues security operations throughout the province to provide safe, secure spaces for development work—contributing to our second fundamental goal of stabilising Afghanistan. Working with AusAID, ADF personnel have been building schools. Government infrastructure has been installed. Living standards are improving in one of the poorest regions of Afghanistan. The ADF in Oruzgan continue to play an important and invaluable role in stabilising the province.

Of course, there have been setbacks, and the fight is not yet over. A recent report by the United Nations states that the security situation has not improved. I acknowledge that there has been a recent increase in violence, but the Senate needs to understand that we will see more violence as ISAF begins to contest areas held by the Taliban. As we bring the fight to the Taliban in more parts of the country, this will lead to more incidents. But we are making headway. And the military build-up first announced by President Obama last year is not yet complete. So the full benefit of the additional forces is yet to play out. The United Nations’ report also acknowledges that there have been significant positive developments and underlines the need for the international community to continue to support Afghanistan.

Earlier today, I outlined the new arrangements for Oruzgan province after the Dutch forces begin to draw down in August. The Dutch elections have been held, but a coalition government is yet to be formed. In the interim, I have discussed the prospects for an ongoing Dutch commitment in Oruzgan with my counterpart from the Netherlands, Minister van Middelkoop. NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen has again called on the future Dutch government to consider an ongoing commitment in Afghanistan, a call that Australia strongly supports. As soon as the new government is formed, I will, as a priority, engage with my new counterpart on maintaining a Dutch contribution in Oruzgan.

After the Netherlands starts drawing down after August 1, a new multinational International Security Assistance Force structure will take command in Oruzgan. Under the new arrangements, the United States will lead a ‘Combined Team Uruzgan’ under an ISAF flag. More details will be released as these new arrangements are finalised, and I will leave any further comments about the US military contribution to our US allies. But given the commitments which have been made to contribute to the new combined team, we are satisfied that the new CTU will more than adequately replace the current capabilities of the Dutch in the province. Slovakia and Singapore will also continue to play valuable roles in this new multinational arrangement.

Australia will play a larger part in the Provincial Reconstruction Team. The PRT is vital to the entire coalition efforts in Oruzgan—in fact it is the heart of our counterinsurgency effort. PRTs are teams of civilians and military personnel working together to facilitate the delivery of tribal outreach, governance and development activities at the provincial and district level.

They are key to delivering the ‘build’ part of ISAF’s counterinsurgency strategy of ‘shape, clear, hold and build’. By mentoring and assisting local officials, and by supporting economic and infrastructure development, the PRT helps extend the reach of the Afghan government in Oruzgan, and win the hearts and minds of the people. The PRT is fundamental to the stabilisation efforts across the province and the eventual transition of responsibility to Afghan authorities.

Australia will provide a civilian leader for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), increasing our role in stabilisation and rebuilding efforts.

Working with our PRT leader will be around 30 other Australian civilians from the Department of Foreign Affairs, AusAID and the Australian Federal Police, contributing to governance and development, infrastructure reconstruction and police training.

Australia’s main focus in Afghanistan will continue to be training, with Australia taking over the training for the entire 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army. The ADF is in the process of assuming responsibility for mentoring the entire ANA 4th Brigade, including the kandak currently being mentored by the French. The ADF currently mentors the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Kandaks, and the brigade headquarters.

There is growing evidence that the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade is maturing towards its goal of independent operations. Afghan soldiers show great courage under fire and in facing the threat of IEDs. Recently, on Operation THOR CHAR, soldiers of the 4th Brigade planned and conducted their own resupply operation to Kandahar—a significant step forward for the Brigade. In resupply operations since late last year, the 4th Brigade has moved from observing and participating, to planning and leading these activities. Progress may seem slow, but the 4th Brigade is being well trained and that is reflected in its growing capability.

On the basis of solid progress in our training efforts to date, CDF has recently advised me that within two to four years we should be able to transition the main security responsibility for the province to the Afghan National Army. Following a successful transition of this responsibility, I expect consideration would be given for the ADF to move into an overwatch role. Our troops performed this role in Iraq for around 12 months.

While we are seeing some operational successes, building an army takes time and patience. It is measured in years, not in weeks or months. The Afghan National Army currently stands at 125,000 strong, and is on track to meet its November target of 134,000 troops, several months ahead of schedule. Overall the army will grow to around 172,000 by October 2011.

We are one of 46 countries contributing to the effort in Afghanistan. We are there under a United Nations mandate, and we are there at the invitation of the Afghan government. Our aims in Afghanistan are clear. For our own protection, we need to secure Afghanistan and ensure terrorist groups no longer find safe havens there. We need to support the Afghan people as they begin to take responsibility for the security and stability of their nation. And we need to stand with our friends and partners in this endeavour.

I am confident that our strategy in Afghanistan is right. It is in Australia’s interests that we play our part in this international effort. It has not been, and will not be, without challenges. And I am painfully aware that it has not been without loss. There could be more losses ahead, but we must stay the course in Oruzgan. We must deliver on our commitment to train the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army so they can take over responsibility for their own security. It will not be easy. We have already paid very, very painfully—16 Australian families have paid very, very painfully—a very heavy price. But I would say to all senators the cost of failure would be much higher.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

Statement by the Minister for Defence Senator the Hon John Faulkner

Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan 23 June 2010

Mr President, today I present my fourth Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan.

Australia remains committed to our mission in Afghanistan. We remain committed to denying sanctuary to terrorists; to working to stabilise the country; and to our alliance with the United States.

The past fortnight has been an exceptionally tough one for our troops in Afghanistan. On Monday, Private Tim Aplin, Private Ben Chuck, and Private Scott Palmer were killed, and a further seven soldiers injured, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. This closely follows the loss of Sapper Darren Smith and Sapper Jacob Moerland earlier this month.

As we struggle to come to terms with these losses, we acknowledge, with profound gratitude, the sacrifice these fine young soldiers have made and acknowledge, too, the willing commitment of their comrades at arms.

On behalf of the Australian Government, and of all senators, I offer my condolences to the families, friends, colleagues and loved ones of our fallen soldiers. Our thoughts are with them.

The terrible loss of our soldiers has quite understandably heightened the debate around Australia’s mission in Afghanistan. It is important that Australians understand this conflict, understand why we are there, and understand why it is important for us to continue to play our part.

Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to combat a clear threat from international terrorism to both international security and our own national security. Australia cannot afford, and Australians cannot afford, to let Afghanistan again become a safe haven and training ground for terrorist organisations. Organisations such as Al Qaeda, that receive Taliban support, have a global reach and are a global threat. The Bali bombing on 12 October 2002 which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, was carried out by terrorists with direct links to Afghanistan. These same individuals were involved in the 2004 attack against the Australian embassy in Indonesia, and the Jakarta hotel bombings last year that killed more Australians. Left unchecked, the dangerous influence of such groups could again, as in the past, rapidly extend into our own region.

Progress is being made towards the goal of making sure Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists. It is steady, it is incremental, but it is progress nevertheless. Six months ago, in Marjah, provincial governance was in disarray, there were no children in school and health care was almost non-existent. Today there are district governors, 81 school teachers and new clinics being built. Small steps, perhaps, but important ones.

In Uruzgan, the ADF continues security operations throughout the province to provide safe, secure spaces for development work - contributing to our second fundamental goal of stabilising Afghanistan. Working with AusAID, ADF personnel have been building schools. Government infrastructure has been installed. Living standards are improving in one of the poorest regions of Afghanistan. The ADF in Uruzgan continue to play an important and invaluable role in stabilising the province.

Of course, there have been setbacks, and the fight is not yet over. A recent report by the United Nations states that the security situation has not improved. I acknowledge that there has been a recent increase in violence, but the Senate needs to understand that we will see more violence as ISAF begins to contest areas held by the Taliban. As we bring the fight to the Taliban in more parts of the country, this will lead to more incidents. But we are making headway And the military build-up first announced by President Obama last year is not yet complete. So the full benefit of the additional forces is yet to play out. The United Nations’ report also acknowledges that there have been significant positive developments, and underlines the need for the international community to continue to support Afghanistan.

Earlier today, I outlined the new arrangements for Uruzgan province after the Dutch forces begin to drawdown in August. The Dutch elections have been held, but a coalition Government is yet to be formed. In the interim, I have discussed the prospects for an on-going Dutch commitment in Uruzgan with my counterpart from the Netherlands, Minister van Middelkoop. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen has again called on the future Dutch Government to consider an on-going commitment in Afghanistan, a call that Australia strongly supports. As soon as the new Government is formed, I will, as a priority, engage with my new counterpart on maintaining a Dutch contribution in Uruzgan.

After the Netherlands starts drawing down after August 1, a new multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) structure will take command in Uruzgan. Under the new arrangements, the United States will lead a multi-national “Combined Team Uruzgan” (CTU) under an ISAF flag. More details will be released as these new arrangements are finalised, and I will leave any further comments about the United States’ military contribution to our US allies. But given the commitments which have been made to contribute to the new Combined Team, we are satisfied that the new CTU will more than adequately replace the current capabilities of the Dutch in the province.

Slovakia and Singapore will also continue to play valuable roles in this new multinational arrangement.

Australia will play a larger part in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The PRT is vital to the entire Coalition’s efforts in Uruzgan—in fact it is the heart of our counter-insurgency effort.

PRTs are teams of civilians and military personnel working together to facilitate the delivery of tribal outreach, governance and development activities at the provincial and district level.

They are key to delivering the “build” part of ISAF’s counterinsurgency strategy of “shape, clear, hold and build”. By mentoring and assisting local officials, and by supporting economic and infrastructure development, the PRT helps extend the reach of the Afghan Government in Uruzgan, and win the hearts and minds of the people. The PRT is fundamental to the stabilisation efforts across the province and the eventual transition of responsibility to Afghan authorities.

- Australia will provide a civilian leader for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), increasing our role in stabilisation and rebuilding efforts.

- Working with our PRT leader will be around 30 other Australian civilians from the Department of Foreign Affairs, AusAID and the Australian Federal Police, contributing to governance and development, infrastructure reconstruction and police training.

Mr President, Australia’s main focus in Afghanistan will continue to be training, with Australia taking over the training for the entire 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army. The ADF is in the process of assuming responsibility for mentoring the entire Afghan National Army 4th Brigade, including the kandak currently mentored by the French. The ADF currently mentors the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Kandaks, and the Brigade headquarters.

There is growing evidence that the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade is maturing towards its goal of independent operations. Afghan soldiers show great courage under fire and in facing the threat of IEDs Recently, on Operation THOR CHAR, soldiers of the 4th Brigade planned and conducted their own resupply operation to Kandahar - a significant step forward for the Brigade. In re-supply operations since late last year, the 4th Brigade has moved from observing and participating, to planning and leading these activities. Progress may seem slow, but the 4th Brigade is being well trained and that is reflected in its growing capability.

On the basis of solid progress in our training efforts to date, CDF has recently advised me that within two to four years we should be able to transition the main security responsibility for the province to the Afghan National Army. Following a successful transition of this responsibility, I expect consideration would be given for the ADF to move into an overwatch role. Our troops performed this role in Iraq for around 12 months.

While we are seeing some operational successes, building an Army takes time and patience. It is measured in years, not weeks or months. The Afghan National Army currently stands at around 125,000 strong, and is on track to meet its November target of 134,000 troops, several months ahead of schedule. Overall the Army will grow to around 172,000 by October 2011.

Mr President, in addition to the changes to leadership arrangements in Oruzgan, there are also some other major developments in the command and control structures in southern Afghanistan. ISAF’s Regional Command (South) has been split into two areas, with the establishment of an additional Regional Command (South-West) (RC(SW)).

The new RC(SW) covers Helmand and Nimruz provinces. The new Regional Command (South) includes the provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Daikundi. These changes were made to optimise a Regional Command that has grown exponentially since its transfer to NATO’s command in 2006.

With more than 50,000 ISAF troops and eight Afghan National Army Brigades operating across six different provinces, the volume of activity was too much for just one command. The new structure will allow the two commands to better focus on the priority areas of operations in the south —in and around Marjah and Kandahar.

An Increased Civilian Effort

Mr President, the men and women of the Australian Defence Force have done, and continue to do, exceptionally good work in very difficult and dangerous conditions To add to our military efforts, the Prime Minister in April this year announced a significant increase in our civilian commitment to Afghanistan, reflecting our commitment to strengthening the legitimate political, legal, economic and security institutions of Afghanistan and providing greater

civilian assistance. Partnering on the civilian side is the way to do that, just as it is on the military side.

There is no doubt that there is a critical need for more civilian development in the province, and we are now increasing our work in the civilian sphere, with appropriate protection. Australia is sending additional civilians skilled in diplomacy, governance and development, reconstruction and police training, to complement the work of the ADF in Uruzgan. This emphasis on development and capacity building should ensure a brighter future for the people of Uruzgan and create a strong foundation for the eventual transition of the province to full Afghan responsibility. Specifically,

  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is boosting its personnel. This additional commitment will manage Australia’s political and economic relationships both in Uruzgan and in Kabul, and maintain our relationships with Afghanistan and our international partners;
  • AusAID has increased its staff in Afghanistan, to develop local service delivery, and
  • support the Afghan Government in building health and education services, infrastructure and agriculture;
  • The Australian Federal Police has increased its commitment. It will expand its training of the Afghan National Police to improve security for the people of Uruzgan;
  • The ADF will provide a dedicated Force Protection element to protect the increased civilian mission.
  • And this increased civilian effort from the Department of Foreign Affairs, AusAID and the AFP comes on top of a longstanding Defence and civilian reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

The Senate is well aware that the challenges and problems in Afghanistan are complex and interlaced. But we are responding to these challenges through an expanded commitment to the mission that addresses governance, security and development. This will help the Afghans to take charge of their own affairs across all the areas critical to stability—not just security.

Pakistan’s ability to address its internal security concerns is critical not only to the stability and long term development of Pakistan itself, but also the wider South Asia region. It is important that countries continue to engage with Pakistan to assist them in the fight against extremism within their borders.

Australia and Pakistan share a longstanding and broad-based friendship across security, development and economic fronts. We are committed to building on that friendship to assist Pakistan’s efforts to confront violent extremism. I appreciate the sacrifices that Pakistan is making in its struggle against extremism, and extend my condolences for Pakistan’s significant military and civilian casualties.

On my way to the recent meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, I visited Pakistan, the first ever Australian Defence Minister to do so, to discuss Australia’s support for Pakistan’s efforts to combat violent extremism. While there, I met with Pakistan’s President Zardari, my counterpart Minister for Defence, Chaudry Ahmed Mukhtar, and Joint Chief of the General Staff, General Tariq Majid .

Pakistan welcomes Australia’s support. Pakistan’s Government particularly appreciates the increased defence cooperation, which is focused on enhancing Pakistan’s counter-insurgency capability. Of particular note is the doubling over the next year of both Australia-based training positions offered —to over 140 —and postgraduate scholarships —to twelve.

I also welcome the establishment of a counter-insurgency focused exchange between the Australian Defence College and the Pakistan Army’s Command and Staff College at Quetta.

During my visit I signed the Defence Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding with Pakistan. This MOU establishes a framework for the management of a significantly increased Defence cooperation program between Australia and Pakistan, and further strengthens the already strong friendship between Pakistan and Australia. Following my discussion with Minister Mukhtar, Australia and Pakistan will consider further ways to develop our defence cooperation. Pakistan’s relationships with nations like Australia are crucial to providing it with the support and assistance it is seeking for its efforts to counter violent extremism. Those efforts, which will need to be determined and comprehensive, are critical to global and regional security.

Maritime Security

My visit to Pakistan also gave me the opportunity to visit one of our ANZAC frigates, HMAS Parramatta, which is conducting maritime engagement, counter-terrorism and counter-piracy activities in the Middle East Area of Operations.

I received detailed briefings from Commander Heath Robertson and his officers on their activities. I was pleased to see first-hand the work of the men and women of the Royal Australian Navy in contributing to maritime security in the Middle East —an integral part of OPERATION SLIPPER. HMAS Parramatta directly supports our mission in Afghanistan; deterring drugs, people, weapons and money trafficking activities that can support insurgent and international terrorist networks. Our maritime contribution helps lower the risk of terrorism and pirate attacks, which endanger the freedom and security of the area and key global trade routes.

Recent events

Mr President, at the recent NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels, I received briefings on the situation in Afghanistan from the military and civilian leaders responsible for ISAF’ s operations. The meetings I had with NATO’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral Stavridis and NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative in Kabul, Mark Sedwill, were informative and valuable. I also spoke with Afghan Minister for Defence Abdul Rahim Wardak, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and General McChrystal while at NATO.

I also met with the other nations actively engaged in the most difficult and dangerous part of Afghanistan —the southern area —at a Regional Command (South) meeting. These discussions between the countries operating in the south are very useful opportunities to exchange information and perspectives on progress in the fight across the south.

Discussions at the NATO/ISAF meeting focused not only on our military position, but also on the process of transition - returning responsibility for security to the Afghan Government. This requires further training, mentoring and capacity building for the Afghan security forces.

Some parts of the country are stable and likely to transition back to full Afghan control quite soon. In others areas, Afghanistan will require the international community’s support for some time. But by focussing on improving governance and development, and providing a secure environment for these things to occur, Afghanistan should keep moving away from violence and towards stability.

Transition will be a key focus of the NATO Summit that will be held in Lisbon in November this year. Australia supports the view expressed by other countries, that transition needs to be conditions-based. Both military and civilian improvements need to be in place before we can be confident that transition will be complete.

Looking Ahead

Mr President, as always, the coming months will be busy. In July, the international community will again meet, this time with Foreign Ministers in Kabul. The Kabul Conference is expected to reinforce the international community’s support for rebuilding Afghanistan. Importantly, this meeting will also include regional countries such as Pakistan, India and China. Australia remains actively engaged, and we will continue to ensure that our voice is heard in international discussions on the way ahead in Afghanistan.

In September, Afghanistan is scheduled to hold elections, this time for parliamentary representatives. Last year’s presidential elections encountered many difficulties, including widespread irregularities. This year’s election could also be challenging. It is important that the Afghan Government learns from the experience of the 2009 elections. I am confident that the Afghan National Security Forces will play an important role in providing the necessary security to enable the election to proceed. Despite these difficulties, we should not lose sight of the fact that Afghan citizens —both men and women —now have the right and the opportunity to have a say in who will represent them in government. This is a remarkable achievement, of which Afghanistan as a country can be proud.

Mr President, we are also making progress on the reconciliation and re-integration agenda. On 2 June 2010, President Karzai held a Peace Jirga in Kabul, a meeting aimed at moving Afghanistan as a nation closer to a political resolution of the insurgency. It advanced the important task of creating a pathway for insurgents to lay down their aims and move back into their society. This process will be Afghan-led and Afghan-driven. Although it has a long way to go, the recent Peace Jirga has taken the first steps along a path that will be difficult and challenging. We will watch its progress keenly.

Conclusion

Mr President, ISAF now has in place a clear strategy endorsed by the 46 nations that comprise the Coalition. That strategy is working. Some aspects of our progress are tangible and measurable: clinics are built, children are learning, elections are held. Other parts are not as visible: young men decide to leave the insurgency and return to their homes; communities’ faith in their local government improves.

Mr President, we must be patient. Real progress is being made. NATO recently reported that in 2002, 9% of Afghans had access to healthcare; today that figure is 65%. Afghan women hold almost a quarter of the seats in parliament, in contrast to being barely visible under the oppressive Taliban rule. The number of teachers has almost doubled since 2002. The Afghan National Army has expanded to almost 125,000, and continues to improve in capability and expand in size.

Mr President, we are one of 46 countries contributing to the effort in Afghanistan. We are there under a United Nations mandate, and at the invitation of the Afghan government. Our aims in Afghanistan are clear. For our own protection, we need to secure Afghanistan and ensure terrorist groups no longer find safe havens there. We need to support the Afghan people as they begin to take responsibility for the security and stability of their nation And we need to stand with our friends and partners in this endeavour.

I am confident that our strategy in Afghanistan is right. It is in Australia’s interests that we play our part in this international effort. It is has not been, and will not be, without challenges. And I am painfully aware that it has not been without loss. There could be more losses ahead. But we must stay the course in Uruzgan. We must deliver on our commitment to train the Afghan forces there to take over their own security. It will not be easy. We have already paid, more painfully, sixteen Australian families have already paid, a very heavy price. But the cost of failure would be much higher.

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1 Website: www.icasualty.or, 23 June 2010