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Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan.



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Senator the Hon. John Faulkner   Minister for Defence 

23 Jun 2010

Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan

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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.

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 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 GHAR,

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.

These efforts will not only assist the Afghans. They will also help speed our military

mission to a successful conclusion.

Operational Update

From Marjah to Kandahar

Mr President, the ADF continues to support broader ISAF and Afghan efforts to fight

the insurgency and strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). As

outlined in my previous statement to Parliament, the Afghan National Security Forces

and ISAF have pushed into Marjah in central Helmand to protect the population,

reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and create the space to develop Afghan security

and governance capacity. Militarily, the Commander of ISAF Forces in Afghanistan

(COMISAF) reports that operations in Marjah are proceeding well.

We should not be surprised that the biggest challenge in Marjah is strengthening

Afghan governance. ISAF continues to assist the Afghan Government to nurture

legitimate government structures, but we must be patient. It will take time.

Positive developments are happening on the ground; several key government

positions have been filled in both Marjah and Nad-e Ali districts. A series of election

shuras, or community meetings, in Nad-e Ali, and a newly elected 45-member district

community council, have established governance structures where none existed

before.

The next challenge for ISAF and the Afghan Government is the area around the

southern city of Kandahar in another province bordering Uruzgan. The Coalition is

approaching this region in a very careful and considered manner, with shuras bringing

government officials together with local leaders and representatives to find ways to

marginalise the insurgents and stabilise communities. President Karzai has advised

local leaders to prepare themselves for sustained operations to rid the area of the

Taliban. ISAF will create a “rising tide” of security to displace insurgent influence. By

year’s end approximately 20,000 Coalition and Afghan troops will be securing this

population centre from insurgent influence, up from just 7,500 now. ISAF is also

working hard to strengthen provincial government structures in Kandahar and assist

the Afghan National Security Forces.

Kandahar is crucial to stability in southern Afghanistan. It was the capital of

Afghanistan under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, and remains critically

important to the Taliban to this day. The province’s porous border with Pakistan

accentuates the difficulties Afghan and ISAF forces face in containing and reducing

the insurgency. The border region is difficult terrain and often serves as a temporary

sanctuary for the Taliban, despite increasing efforts by Pakistani authorities against

insurgents in this area.

As a neighbouring province, security in Kandahar is especially critical to security in

Uruzgan. The ADF has conducted, and will continue to conduct, operations in

northern Kandahar from time to time in support of our efforts in Uruzgan. We stand

ready to contribute further as Coalition efforts are boosted there over the coming

months.

ADF Achievements in Uruzgan

In Uruzgan, the tempo of ADF operations remains high. With the Afghan National

Army, the ADF is supporting ISAF’s strategy of securing the key population districts,

food producing areas and key transport corridors. That translates into safer villages, a

better food supply and more economic activity - all crucial aspects of defeating the

insurgency.

The Special Operations Task Group continues its dangerous work in and around

Uruzgan to disrupt insurgent networks; restrict insurgent mobility and supply routes;

and stem the flow of IEDs. These efforts, conducted alongside the Afghan Provincial

Police Reserve Company of Uruzgan, help protect the population and provide an

environment in which Afghan citizens can live and work safely. They also directly

contribute to the safety and security of other Australian, Afghan and coalition security

forces in the area.

In April, the Special Operations Task Group supported a community-led push to expel

Taliban insurgents from the town of Gizab, north of the Chora valley. This was a clear

indication that the insurgents are not welcome by the population at large. Fighting

side-by-side, the people of Gizab, the Afghan National Security Forces, and Australian

Special Forces troops pushed the insurgents out of the town.

And this month, Afghan security troops and Australian Special Forces have been

conducting offensive operations in an area in northern Kandahar that has served as a

staging point for insurgents’ entry into Uruzgan province. This was a large scale

disruption operation that successfully targeted Taliban networks in an insurgent

stronghold.

Similarly, the Mentoring Task Force (MTF) has conducted operations throughout

Uruzgan to counter the threat of insurgents and their use of weapons, such as IEDs.

Together with its partnered forces in the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade, the MTF

has helped conduct several shuras throughout the province; established and occupied

a new Patrol Base in the Mirabad Valley; continued to deny insurgents access to

weapons caches; and further prepared building sites for development works. In the

first weeks of May, 4th Brigade kandaks, partnered with Australian troops, found 55

caches of weapons - a great indicator of the increasing skill and capability of Afghan

soldiers.

We can be confident that progress is being made in Uruzgan and each day the ADF is

making a difference, making the province a safer, better place.

Since my last statement, there have been a number of notable achievements in the

development sector. For example, on 11 May, the Tarin Kowt Boys’ Primary School

was officially opened. It has 35 new classrooms able to accommodate hundreds of

students. This $1.2 million dollar project has been a culmination of hard work by

successive ADF contingents and AusAID, in coordination with the Uruzgan Provincial

Government.

Forty-two thousand children now attend school in Uruzgan Province. In addition,

suitable land has been identified and surveyed and a design brief has been conducted

for the Tarin Kowt Prosecutors’ Office, with construction expected to commence over

the coming months. This will assist capacity building in the law and justice area. And

in late May, a class of 11 young Afghan men graduated from a three week short

course in construction at the ADF-run Trade Training School in Tarin Kowt. More than

200 young men have now graduated since this school was established in 2006.

The ADF continues to achieve its mission within an annual average of around 1550

personnel deployed. Sometimes the number drops, as seasonal elements such as the

Chinook helicopter detachment are withdrawn. At other times, the number is slightly

higher, as major combat units hand over to their replacements. The Government and

the Defence leadership are careful to manage the size of the ADF presence to ensure

it is appropriately focussed and properly resourced to carry out its mission. For now,

this commitment is about right, enabling the ADF to achieve its mission and carry out

all of the tasks it has at hand.

Casualties

Mr President, I want to recognise the impact of this conflict on our serving men and

women. In addition to the tragic deaths of the past few days, this year 35 of our

soldiers have been wounded or injured - some very seriously. 135 have been

wounded or injured since OPERATION SLIPPER commenced in 2001. Again I

acknowledge the sacrifices of these brave soldiers and I wish them all the best for a

full and speedy recovery.

Each time I visit our servicemen and women in Afghanistan, or meet with a soldier who

has come back to Australia after being wounded, I am impressed by their resilience,

professionalism, determination and courage. Their commitment to the task at hand is

something that all Australians can be proud of.

These men and women understand the importance of their work. They know that it is

making a difference to the future of Afghanistan and its people. They deserve our

respect, and our very strong support.

Our coalition partners have also suffered losses in recent operations. Since the

beginning of the year, ISAF forces have lost 2811[1] personnel, and Afghan security

forces have suffered even greater losses. I extend my condolences to the families,

friends and colleagues of all the fallen. Australia stands by each and every one of the

nations in the ISAF coalition, as we work together to bring lasting peace and stability to

Afghanistan.

Mr President, of the 35 Australian soldiers so far wounded this year, 25 were wounded

in improvised explosive device attacks. IEDs remain the primary weapon of the

insurgents, who constantly change and vary the methods by which they are employed.

IEDs are a lethal and indiscriminate weapon, killing soldiers and civilians alike. Their

                                                              

use is deplorable, and serves to remind us of the callousness of the Taliban and their

disregard for innocent Afghans.

To help counter the IED threat, the Government recently announced an extra

$1.1 billion investment in force protection capabilities for Australian personnel. This

investment takes into account the evolving nature of the risk from IEDs and includes

measures for better intelligence on IED makers, greater protection and firepower for

ADF Vehicles, and upgraded body armour.

Our force protection initiatives also support the acquisition of an improved counter

rocket, artillery and mortar attack capability, to warn of incoming rocket attacks, so

personnel can seek protection. Tarin Kowt base suffered 4 rocket attacks during April

and May, and this system should give our troops valuable additional time to take

shelter.

As I have said previously, the Government wants to see all our troops complete their

mission and return home safely as soon as possible. While they remain in

Afghanistan, improving protection for our troops and our civilians is my highest priority.

Civilian casualties

Mr President, may I also stress that the ADF takes every possible precaution to avoid

harming civilians. Fundamental to our mission in Afghanistan is the protection of the

local Afghan communities where we operate. ISAF is making real progress in this

area. Regrettably though, civilian casualties are sometimes a tragic reality in conflict.

Where incidents do occur or allegations are made, both the Chief of the Defence

Force and I are committed to a thorough investigation and full transparency of the

outcomes.

Since July 2008, the Australian Defence Force has reviewed 16 incidents. Two

remain under consideration. The 12 February 2009 incident, in which six Afghans

were killed and four were injured, is still being considered by the Director of Military

Prosecutions. She is an independent statutory officer and until she has finalised her

consideration of this matter, I cannot comment further on it. A public announcement

will be made once a determination has been made.

The outcome of the investigation into the incident on 11 August 2009 resulting in the

death of one Afghan National Police officer and the injury to a second Afghan National

Police officer is expected to be made public in the near future.

I am also aware of some recent media reporting concerning an incident in Gizab

where there were claims made of civilian casualties. There was fighting in that area,

but the Australian Defence Force has conducted a detailed review of the allegations

and, based on the available information, has determined Australian forces had no

involvement in any incidents of civilian casualties. Those claims were found to be

baseless.

I can inform the Senate of the findings of a review I referred to in my Ministerial

Statement of March 2010 concerning the ADF’s involvement in an operation in the

village of Kakarak in April 2009. This review was undertaken at the request of ISAF

and concluded that there was no substance to allegations of breaches of international

humanitarian law by Australian forces. The ADF is now making sure it exhausts all

lines of enquiry before closing the matter.

Pakistan

Mr President, the challenges we face in Afghanistan extend beyond that country’s

borders. 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 arms 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.