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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1198


Ms SAFFIN (PageGovernment Whip) (15:00): My question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the minister please update the House on the transition in Uruzgan province following President Obama's State of the Union address?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (PerthMinister for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House) (15:00): I thank the member for her question and acknowledge her interest in defence and national security matters. I also acknowledge her support of the Australian Defence Force.

We are making good progress in the transition in Uruzgan province, and we confidently expect the transition will be completed in Uruzgan by the end of this year, which is earlier than previously anticipated. As a consequence of that, this year in Uruzgan our focus will be threefold. Firstly, we are advising the kandaks of the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army to put them in a position by the end of the year to complete transition and take responsibility for security matters. Secondly, we are focusing on the complex task of redeploying our personnel and our equipment—in other words, the complex task of bringing our troops and our kit home. Finally, we have to concentrate and think very carefully about our post 2014—our post transition—contribution to Afghanistan.

In recent times we have seen the good progress on transition in Uruzgan reflected by the fact that the four infantry kandaks of the ANA are all now operating independently—that has been the case since November last year. We are no longer conducting joint patrols. We have handed over the forward operating bases and patrol bases to the ANA. We have consolidated our position at our base in Tarin Kot. All of these things point to lead security responsibility by the Afghans in Uruzgan by the end of the year. Consistent with the Chicago and Lisbon strategies and summits, we of course remain combat ready if required and our special forces continue to operate. As the transition occurs there will be changes in the composition and level of our deployment in Afghanistan, but we will not know the detail of that until the middle or the end of this year. The detail will become clearer.

As I have said, we also need to give careful thought to our post-2014 arrangement. Here, the contribution today of the United States President during his State of the Union address is particularly pertinent, underlining and reaffirming the United States's long-term, enduring commitment to Afghanistan. In recent days and weeks we have had careful consultation with our United States colleagues—whether it was the Prime Minister with the Secretary of Defense this morning, my conversation with him last week or the Chief of Defence Force's regular conversations with Comm ISAF, General Allen and now General Dunford, or with the commander of the United States Central Forces, General Mattis. These consultations will now focus on our post-2014 contribution. We have made it clear that that will include, potentially, training and special forces.

I finish on this point: as our troops and our kit come home there will of course be a special responsibility to focus on the troops when they return—the care of our wounded warriors, whether those wounds are physical or mental. (Time expired)