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Speech: Parliamentary statement on Afghanistan, Canberra

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Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP


Parliamentary Statement on Afghanistan

21 OCTOBER 2010



Last Friday I met with 15 foreign ministers from around the world to discuss and to make

decisions on our future support for Pakistan.

A few days later, Special Envoys from around the world, including Australia, gathered in

Rome to deliberate on future policy towards both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

From these and other nations we now have a combined coalition force in the field of some

120,000 troops from 47 nations.

 Some 80,000 Americans

 Nearly 10,000 Brits

 4,500 from Germany

 4,000 from France

 3,500 from Italy

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 2,500 from both Canada and Poland

 1,500 or so from, Turkey, Spain and Australia

And of the troops from these nations, more than 2,000 now lie dead, 21 of them Australian.

Many more brave Afghan soldiers and police have also died serving alongside their coalition


I say this at the outset because the debate we are having today in this parliament is a

debate being held in democracies around the world, asking:

- Why are our troops, police and civilians in Afghanistan?

- Is the current international strategy in Afghanistan effective?

- Are our national contributions to that strategy capable of measurable success?

It is right that democracies have this debate.

But my starting point is that in doing so we are by no means alone - for we are all in this


And how we resolve our debate affects other contributing nations - many of whom are

watching our deliberations very closely.

Already in the course of the debate this week, a number of questions have been raised by

members about our effort in Afghanistan and the rationale for it.

I intend to make a real effort to provide candid and measured answers to these questions.

Nine years into this hard war, and six years of continuous Australian military engagement,

what is our national mission in Afghanistan today?

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Put simply, it is to help protect innocent people, including innocent Australians, from being

murdered by terrorists.

Put simply, it is to support our friends and our allies in achieving this mission.

Put simply, it is to work with them to defend, maintain and strengthen an international

order that does not tolerate terrorism.

All other purposes, associated with our mission in Afghanistan (including, for example,

helping the Afghan people to develop a viable Afghan state) flow from these three primary


These primary purposes are also alive in the international legal instruments which underpin

our presence there.

Following terrorist attacks in Washington and New York on September 11, UN Security

Council Resolution 1386 of December 2001 authorises the establishment of an international

security force in Afghanistan.

In the Australian Parliament, a unanimous resolution of this House formally invoked articles

4 and 5 of the ANZUS Treaty and the commitment of Australian forces in support of United

States-led action against those responsible for the terrorist attacks.

Australia’s actions in Afghanistan since then have been anchored in these two resolutions -

bringing together the full moral legitimacy of the UN system with the enduring commitment

Australia has under the US alliance.

Some have argued that there has been mission creep in Afghanistan since those earliest

days, or at least that the mission has become confused in relation to its original purpose.

If that were so, then it is difficult to explain why such a fractious international community

would have so consistently renewed the mandate for our continued military operations in

that country.

At a more practical rather than legal level, others have argued that with the defeat of the

Taliban regime in Kabul in early 2002 (and subsequently in the major centres in the south

and in the west) that the mission was complete.

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Again we would disagree, because the Taliban insurgency, while repressed for a period,

returned with a vengeance following the flawed decision of 2003-2004 to provide an

insufficient troop presence in Afghanistan, while the United States, the United Kingdom and

Australia undertook the invasion of Iraq.

In other words, a violent Taliban insurgency rebounded, the same Taliban that had given

succour and support to the terrorists who had launched their murderous attacks on

innocent civilians in 2001.

A further argument which is now advanced by some is that our continued and collective

military presence in Afghanistan in fact incites the insurgency, rather than effectively

combating it.

But this argument fails to deal with the counter-factual that if coalition military operations

in Afghanistan were to now cease, the Afghan Government’s authority and reach would be

undermined - and were that to occur, the ability of a successful Taliban insurgency to again

offer support for global terrorist organisations would increase. The costs to the Afghan

people themselves - who have already endured 30 years of conflict - would also be


Still another argument is that all that has been achieved has been a “bubbling out” of al-Qaeda and related terrorist organisations to new operational bases in other countries.

But once again, that argument does not deal with the counterfactual of what would happen

in the event of a premature international departure.

This would most likely precipitate the erosion of the Afghan Government’s authority and

reach, and add, once again, Afghanistan to the list of other states around the world where

terrorist organisations have a high level of freedom of operation.

There is, however, a more important point to make about the argument and its assumption

that no effort is being made by allied governments to monitor, contain and wherever

possible, interdict terrorist operations in other centres around the world.

The truth is that massive intelligence and security assets are being invested on a daily basis

in multiple centres round the world across the Horn of Africa, the wider Middle East, South

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and South-East Asia as well as within the domestic populations of target countries -

including Australia.

This in turn leads to a further question raised in this debate which, put simply, is as follows

“is the world a safer or more dangerous place from terrorist threat than was the case nine

years ago?”.

Again it is important to engage in an analysis of the counter-factual.

Had we not toppled the Taliban regime and had we failed to then prevent it from returning

to power, what would have then occurred across the border as terrorists sought to

perpetrate more 9/11s, more Madrid and London train bombings and more Bali bombings?

The truth is that our continued operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban, to deny the

return of al-Qaeda and its allies to Afghanistan, combined with coordinated counter-terrorism operations around the world, have helped in preventing the repetition of a series

of large-scale September 11 type attacks.

Of course there have been many near misses - in fact many more than the general public is

ever likely to know.

The problem is, the success of an effective counter terrorism strategy is much harder to

recognise than its failure.

In summary, we argue that the counter-terrorism argument underpinning the continuing

mission in Afghanistan remains valid.

Afghanistan does not represent the totality of the international coalition’s global counter

terrorism strategy.

It does however represent an important part.

And if Afghanistan was to fall, the global counter-terrorism challenge would be rendered

much more difficult than is currently the case.

A further reason for our continued military engagement in Afghanistan is our alliance with

the United States.

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Some have argued that this represents an invalid basis for our engagement.

The Government disagrees.

The Government has never regarded the alliance as a blank cheque in our dealings with the


That is why, when in Opposition, we opposed the Iraq war and committed to the withdrawal

of combat forces should we succeed in being elected to office.

And that is precisely what we did.

The Government ’s policy towards Afghanistan was different, and for two reasons:

 first, the UN Security Council authorised the creation of an international security

force (which it did not do in the case of Iraq);

 and second, the ANZUS alliance was formally invoked (which was not the case in


These arguments aside, however, the Government has stated both in the 2009 Defence

White Paper and the Government ’s National Security Statement to the Australian

Parliament that the US Alliance is fundamental to Australia’s overall national security.

The dense fabric of defence, diplomatic and intelligence cooperation which occurs within

the framework of the alliance is of great strategic importance to Australia.

It cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Therefore, the Government does not apologise for a single moment for invoking the alliance

as a relevant consideration in our continued engagement in Afghanistan.

Further, Australia has broader international obligations to support an international order

which confronts terrorism head-on, rather than ignoring it.

As noted above, UNSC resolution 1386 authorises ISAF’s mission under Chapter VII of the

Charter, the chapter which governs “the use of force in defence of international peace and


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In fact, article 2 of resolution 1386 actually calls upon member states to, and I quote,

“contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to ISAF”, un-quote, as well as

explicitly authorising member states to take, and I quote, “all necessary measures”,

unquote, to fulfil its mandate.

Once again it should be noted that this resolution has been renewed on ten occasions since


The point here is that, if we are serious about our obligations to maintain a stable

international political order, it follows that responsible states are in fact obliged to act under

the UN Charter, rather than this simply being a matter of discretionary choice.

It is for this reason that 47 states are now members of ISAF, including 19 non-NATO


It is also the reason why more than 70 countries and international organisations attended

the London Conference on Afghanistan in January this year, and around 70 attended the

Kabul Conference in July - including Islamic countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey Saudi

Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

In short, we are not in this alone.

We are part of a collective international effort aimed at defending the at times fragile

international order.

Of course, it is a matter for each state to determine what resources they dedicate to the

collective security task assigned to the international community by the Security Council.

Some are doing much more than others.

Just as others have varied their commitments over time.

But the core principle at stake is one of defending an international system based on

collective security - the same system which, for example, provides the international legal

authority for the outlawing of terrorist organisations worldwide and the authorisation of

national actions against such organisations.

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As a middle power, which has long-exercised global responsibilities, it is appropriate that

Australia also play its part rather than freeloading on the international system.

Freeloading is not in our nature.

The next question to consider is a practical one - namely the content of the current

international strategy in Afghanistan and Australia’s role within that strategy.

There are four key elements to the current international strategy in Afghanistan:

 first, counter-insurgency operations to degrade the capability and will of insurgents;

 second, a transition to the Afghan Government taking lead responsibility for its own


 third, negotiation and, where possible, reconciliation with insurgents within the

country to bring about not just a military solution for the country’s future, but more

importantly, a political settlement as well; and

 fourth, effective engagement with Pakistan in order to give genuine effect to the

political and military goals outlined above.

As noted by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, transition is core to the coalition’s strategy -

both nationally and in Uruzgan province.

This entails training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to, in time,

take on lead responsibility for the maintenance of national and local security.

It also requires assistance to the Afghan Government to enable it to deliver basic health,

education and infrastructure for the benefit of ordinary Afghans and, as a consequence, to

foster support for the Afghan Government.

A number of contributors to the debate have argued that whatever is done to enhance the

capacity of the Afghan Government, its weaknesses are such that it cannot deliver real


They argue that the Afghan government is so flawed on a number of fronts (from corruption

through to the treatment of women) that it is no longer a Government worthy of

international support.

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Certainly the Government in Afghanistan has a number of failings.

And in the course of this parliamentary debate some have raised examples.

Nonetheless, it is important once again to apply the counter-factual test.

Were the withdrawal of international support now to result in the loss of authority of the

Afghan Government, a return to anything approaching the previous Taliban regime would,

from the perspective of the Afghan people, be infinitely worse against practically all

measures compared with the imperfect situation they now have.

At the same time we are not resting there, as we seek to support continued reform by the

Afghan Government through our aid program.

Negotiation and reconciliation represent another arm to the international strategy in


Australia recognises that reconciliation and reintegration is a matter for the Afghan people.

It must be led and owned by the Afghan Government and needs to be consistent with

conditions set by the Afghan Government - namely: acceptance of the Afghan constitution;

renouncing of violence and the severance of links to international terrorist groups.

It will be critical to ensure that these undertakings are met and observed in practice.

Negotiation and reconciliation are complex processes that can only succeed if the necessary

military and political environment is in place.

In practice that means applying military force against the Taliban leadership as part of a

hard headed strategy, which reinforces the political negotiation and reconciliation processes

with clear military resolve - in other words, to talk from a position of strength rather than


The international community, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, has a role in supporting

such efforts.

There have been some preliminary signs that some senior Taliban leaders may be beginning

to consider taking the path towards negotiation.

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President Karzai said earlier this month that the Afghan Government had been holding

unofficial talks with the Taliban for some time.

In recent days, General Petraeus has confirmed that the US and NATO have facilitated some

contact between the two.

This is encouraging, but we must recognise that the negotiation and reconciliation process is

likely to be long, complex and inevitably the subject of setbacks.

A further arm of the international strategy on Afghanistan concerns Pakistan. The truth is

that Pakistan has a highly permeable border with Afghanistan.

This has meant that hostile Taliban forces have been able to move freely between Pakistan

and Afghanistan to conduct attacks against ISAF, Afghanistan and Pakistan forces.

The Government of Pakistan has cooperated with ISAF to take action against elements of

both the Taliban in Pakistan and al-Qaeda.

However, there is still scope for Pakistan to do more, particularly against the Afghanistan

Taliban and al-Qaeda. Closer cooperation between ISAF and Pakistan is essential if this vital

element of the international strategy is to succeed.

As both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have outlined in their statements to

the parliament, Australia is deploying a coherent strategy in Afghanistan in concert with the

international strategy outlined above.

I don’t propose to repeat the detailed contents of our own strategy here.

Our special forces are applying pressure to Taliban insurgents with telling effect.

Our military and police training programs in Uruzgan are substantial.

Our development assistance engagement of some $120 million in 2010-11 through AusAID,

both nationally and provincially, is also making a measureable difference to education,

health, infrastructure and governance, which has been detailed by others.

Our diplomatic engagement in Kabul where we seek to inject an Australian view in the

central deliberations in both ISAF and the Afghan government through our highly capable

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Ambassador Paul Foley and his team of diplomats and aid officials. Australia is well served

by these first class officers.

For those who have argued in this debate that our military forces be withdrawn now, and

our development assistance program be enhanced instead, it must be borne in mind that all

our aid workers require significant force protection in order to do their job, force protection

currently provided by the ADF and our US allies.

On reintegration, we have committed $25 million to the Afghan Government’s nationwide

Peace and Reintegration program that focuses on creating the conditions among

communities for the reintegration of insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms and

return to their communities.

And as for Pakistan, Australia is a founding member of Friends of Democratic Pakistan.

We run a significant development assistance program, worth $120 million over two years (in

addition to the $75 million the Government is providing in flood relief). Australia is also the

second largest trainer abroad of Pakistani military officers including in counter insurgency


Taken together, the Government believes this is a credible, integrated, political, military,

economic and diplomatic strategy for Australia which reinforces the overall ISAF strategy.

Of course, any such strategy and the financial resources committed to it must be the subject

of continuing review (as will occur at an international level at the upcoming Lisbon Summit).

Mr Speaker, my contribution to this debate has not sought to replicate those of the Prime

Minister or the Defence Minister.

Instead it seeks to complement those statements - particularly in relation to the

international dimensions of the Afghanistan conflict.

It also seeks to add to the debate by responding to various concerns raised by other

contributors to the debate - and in a manner which seeks to be constructive.

The Australian Government is fully seized to the difficulty of our mission in Afghanistan.

This is a hard war, not an easy one.

Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


A fact underlined by those who have lost their lives in their country’s service, those who

have been wounded and those families who have suffered terribly as a consequence.

Australia continues to be well served by our men and women in uniform.

More casualties will occur, including the real possibility of civilian casualties.

Our responsibility as a Government is to maintain bipartisan support for our troops in the

field and to maximise the wider support of the Australian and international community.

Once again this will not be easy.

But our mission is clear.

As is our strategy.

And the resources we have committed to it are significant.

At a personal level, I am also very mindful of General Cantwell’s recent remarks that now is

not the time to lose faith.

For the reasons I have outlined in this statement to the parliament today, I agree with the


Australia will stay the course in Afghanistan.