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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee—Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan—Interim report, dated January 2022


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January 2022

The Senate

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee

Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan: interim report

© Commonwealth of Australia 2022

ISBN 978-1-76093-335-7 (Printed Version)

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Committee Members

Chair Senator Kimberley Kitching ALP, VIC

Deputy Chair Senator the Hon Eric Abetz LP, TAS

Members Senator Tim Ayres ALP, NSW

Senator Jacqui Lambie JLN, TAS

Senator Tony Sheldon ALP, NSW

Senator David Van (from 2 December 2021) LP, VIC

Senator Alex Antic (from 2 July 2019 to 2 December 2021) LP, SA

Participating Senators Senator the Hon David Fawcett LP, SA

Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells LP, NSW

Senator Janet Rice AG, VIC

Senator Jordan Steele-John AG, WA

Senator the Hon Penny Wong ALP, SA

Secretariat Lyn Beverley, Committee Secretary Christopher Sautelle, Principal Research Officer Emma Wannell, Acting Senior Research Officer Margaret Cahill, Research Officer Shannon Ross, Administrative Officer

Committee webpage: http://www.aph.gov.au/senate_fadt

PO Box 6100 Phone: + 61 2 6277 3535

Parliament House Fax: + 61 2 6277 5818

Canberra ACT 2600 Email: fadt.sen@aph.gov.au

Australia

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Table of Contents

Committee Members ........................................................................................................................ iii

List of Recommendations ............................................................................................................... vii

Chapter 1—Introduction .................................................................................................................... 1

Referral of the inquiry ......................................................................................................................... 1

Conduct of the inquiry ........................................................................................................................ 2

Structure of this report ........................................................................................................................ 2

Chapter 2—Australia's objectives in Afghanistan ........................................................................ 5

Australia’s military footprint in Afghanistan .................................................................................. 5

Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan ................................................................................................ 6

Issues raised in relation to Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan .......................................... 17

Chapter 3—Costs of Australia's engagement in Afghanistan .................................................. 33

Costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan .......................................................................... 33

Costs for the Afghan people ............................................................................................................. 36

Chapter 4—The collapse of the Afghan government ................................................................. 43

Fragility of the Afghan government and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces ....... 43

Perspectives on the capability of the Taliban to govern ............................................................... 60

Resistance in Afghanistan ................................................................................................................. 63

Chapter 5—Australian withdrawal and evacuation operations ............................................... 67

Australia’s preparations to withdraw from Afghanistan ............................................................. 67

Evacuation of Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders ................................ 76

Chapter 6—Aftermath of Australia's withdrawal and issues with the LEE program ........ 103

Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders remaining in Afghanistan after the immediate evacuation efforts .............................................................................................. 103

Issues relating to the Locally Engaged Employee program ...................................................... 113

Chapter 7—Visa pathways and settlement arrangements for Afghan nationals in Australia ................................................................................................................................................. 141

Visa applications and grants to Afghan nationals....................................................................... 141

Chapter 8—Ongoing engagement with Afghanistan and support for veterans ................. 183

Ongoing engagement with Afghanistan ...................................................................................... 183

Australia’s key priorities ................................................................................................................. 186

Overseas development assistance to Afghanistan ...................................................................... 196

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Assisting Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans .................................................... 213

Chapter 9—Conclusions and recommendations ....................................................................... 223

Australia’s military, diplomatic and development engagement in Afghanistan .................. 223

Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan ................................................................................... 228

Australia’s ongoing response to recent developments in Afghanistan .................................... 237

Australian Greens additional comments .................................................................................... 245

Appendix 1—Submissions, tabled documents, answers to questions on notice and correspondence ..................................................................................................................... 249

Appendix 2—Public hearings and witnesses ............................................................................ 255

Appendix 3—Timeline of events ................................................................................................. 261

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List of Recommendations

Recommendation 1

9.13 The committee recommends that an assessment of Australia’s whole-of-government mission in Afghanistan be commissioned and conducted by an appropriate entity, which follows an initial report on the 2001-2014 period which was released in November 2016.

Recommendation 2

9.24 The committee recommends that the Australian Government publish, where there are no national security implications, a breakdown of the total cost of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan across each year of its engagement, as well as a breakdown of costs across departments. These figures should also include the costs incurred and estimated ongoing costs associated with services provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs supporting veterans who served in Afghanistan.

Recommendation 3

9.56 The committee recommends that the Australian Government commission an independent review into the operation of the Afghanistan evacuation effort to ensure that departmental practices and coordination are improved in future. This review should include consideration of:

 the operation of the Australian Government Plan for the Reception of Australian Citizens and Approved Foreign Nationals Evacuated from Overseas (AUSRECEPLAN) and other relevant crisis management tools during the Afghanistan crisis, and whether amendments to these frameworks are required;

 protocols for the issuance of short-term humanitarian visas during crisis situations;  the need for increased surge capacity staffing in relevant departments to assist in communications and visa processing during crisis situations; and  the development of formalised protocols for incorporating relevant

stakeholder groups into government planning and evacuation processes (for example, legal and advocacy groups working with affected groups and individuals in country).

Recommendation 4

9.63 The committee recommends that the Australian Government develop and implement more accurate measures and methodologies for assessing and keeping track of the number of Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and visa applicants at risk during crisis situations overseas.

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Recommendation 5

9.89 The committee recommends that the Australian Government extend all available effort to finalising certifications and visa applications for Afghan Locally Engaged Employees (LEE) and their families as quickly as possible, and extending assistance to those still eligible in Afghanistan to make their way to Australia.

9.90 The committee further recommends that the Australian Government commission a full and thorough review of the operation of the Afghan LEE program to analyse and appropriately address concerns raised in evidence to the committee and ensure that programs of this nature are improved.

Recommendation 6

9.102 The committee recommends that the Australian Government work with coalition partners and international organisations to support the resettlement of Afghan nationals globally, with Australia making a contribution of places within the humanitarian, family, skilled and other permanent visa categories to help resettle those Afghan nationals displaced by the crisis.

Recommendation 7

9.106 The committee recommends that, in light of the changed security circumstances in Afghanistan, the Australian Government review its policies for pathways to permanent protection visas for Afghan asylum seekers and refugees currently in Australia, and prioritise family reunification when processing humanitarian visa claims from Afghan nationals.

Recommendation 8

9.120 The committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other Australian agencies providing development assistance foster further engagement with local NGOs and diaspora groups which can assist with the provision of aid to the local level and most vulnerable.

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Chapter 1 Introduction

Referral of the inquiry 1.1 On 26 August 2021, the Senate referred the following matter to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry with an interim report by 29 November 2021 and final report by the first sitting week in

February 2022. The inquiry’s terms of references are as follows:

(a) Australia’s twenty-year military, diplomatic and development engagement in Afghanistan, with reference to:

(i) our success in achieving the Australian Governments’ stated objectives; (ii) the collapse of the Afghan government and Afghan National Army, and the Taliban’s resurgence and takeover of Kabul, following the

withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan; and (iii) the costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.

(b) The adequacy of Australia’s preparation for withdrawal from Afghanistan, including:

(i) closure of the embassy; (ii) the evacuation of Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders; and (iii) decisions relating to evacuation of at risk Afghan nationals and

partners and family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents.

(c) How the Australian Government should respond to recent developments in Afghanistan in order to:

(i) protect Australia’s national security; (ii) prevent or mitigate damage to Australia’s international reputation, if necessary; (iii) extend immediate mental health support to Australian Defence Force

(ADF) personnel and veterans while the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide remains ongoing; and (iv) protect Australian citizens, visa holders, and Afghan nationals who supported Australian forces, where they remain in Afghanistan.

(d) Any related matters.1

1 Journals of the Senate, No. 117—26 August 2021, pp. 4003-4004.

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1.2 On 29 November 2021, the Senate agreed to a reporting extension until 10 December in relation to the interim report.2 On 10 December 2021 the committee requested a reporting extension until 17 December 2021 in relation to the interim report. On 17 December 2021, the committee requested an extension until 14 January 2022 in relation to the interim report. On 14 January 2022, the committee requested a further extension until 21 January 2022 in relation to the interim report.

Conduct of the inquiry 1.3 Details of the inquiry were placed on the committee website at:

http://aph.gov.au/senate_fadt. The committee also contacted a number of relevant individuals and organisations to notify them of the inquiry and invite submissions by 8 October 2021. The committee continued to receive submissions after the closing date. Public submissions received are listed at Appendix 1.

1.4 The committee held three public hearings in Canberra and via videoconference on 11 October and 8 and 15 November 2021. A list of witnesses who gave evidence at the public hearings is available at Appendix 2. Submissions and the Hansard transcripts of evidence may be accessed through the committee website.

1.5 The committee thanks the individuals and organisations who provided submissions and participated in the committee's hearings.

1.6 The committee notes that the figures quoted in the report were received throughout October and November 2021 and are current to any specific dates specified.

Structure of this report 1.7 This report consists of nine chapters:

 Chapter 1 contains information on the referral and conduct of the inquiry;  Chapter 2 outlines Australia’s stated objectives in Afghanistan and considers various perspectives on the clarity and achievement of those objectives;

 Chapter 3 considers the costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan both to Australia and to the people of Afghanistan;  Chapter 4 analyses the collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and considers the factors that led to

the resurgence of the Taliban;  Chapter 5 details Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan during 2021, focusing on the closure of the Kabul embassy and evacuation operations in August 2021;

2 Journals of the Senate, No. 130—29 November 2021, p. 4340.

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 Chapter 6 outlines the aftermath of the evacuation efforts with a discussion on those left behind in Afghanistan, and also analyses issues with the Afghan Locally Engaged Employees (LEE) program;  Chapter 7 considers visa pathways for Afghan evacuees and other Afghans

in Australia, and settlement arrangements for recently arrived Afghans;  Chapter 8 covers ongoing engagement with Afghanistan, Australia’s aid program and support available for ADF personnel and veterans; and  Chapter 9 details the committee’s conclusions and recommendations.

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Chapter 2

Australia's objectives in Afghanistan

2.1 As of December 2021, Australia has had more than 52 years of diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, beginning in March 1969 and with the establishment of an embassy in Kabul in August 2006. Australia's development engagement in Afghanistan began in the 1960s and 1970s in various forms. Australia's first military engagement in Afghanistan lasted from January 1991 to December 1993. Following the 11 September (colloquially referred to as 9/11) terrorist attacks in the United States (US), Australia entered Afghanistan which would become its longest deployment to a conflict zone. By 18 June 2021, all Australian diplomats and military forces had left Afghanistan and by May 2021 the Australian embassy had closed.

2.2 A timeline of recent key events in Australia’s engagement and withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found at Appendix 3.

2.3 This chapter outlines key events and decisions which influenced the nature of Australia’s engagement over its twenty-years in Afghanistan. Evidence received by the committee demonstrated that Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan were influenced by the objectives and decisions of its allied partners including the US, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It was clear that Australia’s core objectives centred on fighting terrorism and supporting our alliance interests. From 2005, however, Australia’s objectives shifted towards reconstruction and development efforts, working alongside allies to support the Afghan government and security forces.

2.4 This chapter considers the issues raised in evidence in relation to Australia’s objectives. It covers perspectives on the clarity of Australia’s stated objectives, the achievement of those objectives, Australia’s relationship with the US, and the viability of democracy in Afghanistan.

Australia’s military footprint in Afghanistan 2.5 This section provides a high-level picture of Australia’s military footprint in Afghanistan. The Department of Defence (Defence) outlined Australia’s deployment to Afghanistan:

Over twenty years more than 39,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and Defence civilians deployed on Operations HIGHROAD and SLIPPER in support of operations in Afghanistan. ADF personnel fought

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alongside Coalition and Afghan partners to deny Afghanistan as a safe haven for international terrorism.1

2.6 General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, noted that out of the 50 or so countries that participated in the coalition campaign in Afghanistan, Australia was often described as the largest non-NATO contributor and about the 10th largest contributor overall. At the peak of Australia’s deployment, approximately 1,550 personnel were on the ground in Afghanistan.2

2.7 Defence added that:

Defence personnel worked alongside Australian diplomats, police officers and aid workers, and with Afghan and coalition partners, to improve the security and welfare of millions of Afghans.3

Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan

Australia’s objectives from 2001 2.8 The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) explained how the events of 11 September 2001 led to Australia’s initial involvement in Afghanistan:

On 11 September 2001, militants associated with the Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda carried out a series of significant terrorist attacks against the United States…The attacks resulted in almost 3,000 fatalities of citizens from 77 countries, including Australia. The event prompted the US Government to declare a war on terror, in which the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was a key target. Bin [L]aden was thought to be harboured by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

On 7 October 2001, the US-led International Coalition against Terrorism (the Coalition) launched attacks in Afghanistan, and by the first week of December 2001 the Taliban regime had collapsed.

Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan began on 11 October 2001 when Australia joined the Coalition, citing the terrorist attacks against the US as a basis for invoking the mutual-defence clauses of the ANZUS Treaty [Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty]. This

1 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2. See also: Defence, Supplementary to submission 20, p. 1. Note: Operation

Slipper was Australia’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan beginning in late 2001 and ending on 31 December 2014. See:

https://defence.gov.au/operations/PastOperations/Afghanistan/ (accessed 19 November 2021). Operation Highroad commenced in January 2015 and ended in August 2021 with the evacuation of forces. During this operation, the ADF supported NATO in assisting Afghanistan to build its own defence, security and counter-terrorism forces. See:

www.defence.gov.au/operations/highroad (accessed 19 November 2021).

2 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 45.

3 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2. See also: Defence, Supplementary to Submission 20, p. 1.

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was the first time the Treaty’s clauses on acting to meet a common danger had been invoked since it was enacted in 1952.4

2.9 On 22 October 2001, Australian troops departed Perth to join coalition forces.5 A few days later in an address to the Australian Defence Association on 25 October 2001, then Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP outlined Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan:

We should be clear about our aims in this operation. The immediate goal is to seek out and destroy al Qaeda and ensure that Afghanistan can never again serve as a base from which terrorists can operate.

The task they face is particularly suited to the temperament of Australian service personnel. In Afghanistan itself, the mission is likely to be pursued through precision, ground operations conducted by small teams of special forces. The hallmark of Australian soldiers has always been one of personal initiative and independent action. It remains so to this day, and the decision to include Australian SAS [Special Air Service] soldiers was recognition both of the highly targeted nature of the coming campaign and the important role our soldiers could play within it.6

2.10 However, in a media interview on 18 November 2001, then Foreign Minister the Hon Alexander Downer MP said Australia had told the United States that:

…we don’t want to get…bogged down in Afghanistan. We don’t want Australian troops to be part of managing and running Afghanistan for the next five or six years…we want to help with the war on terrorism, to destroy al-Qaeda and its network and so on. But we don’t really have a great desire…to get into the long-term management of Afghanistan.7

2.11 The Refugee Advice and Casework Service noted that ‘Australia became one of the first nations in the world to join the US-led war in Afghanistan known as “Operation Enduring Freedom”’.8

2.12 On 20 December 2001, ISAF was established via the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1386 in response to a request of Afghan authorities to create an international security and stabilisation force. ISAF was a multinational ad hoc operation with rotating command before NATO took over command in

4 Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), Submission 19, p. 6. Note: the Australia, New

Zealand and United States Security Treaty, or ANZUS Treaty, was an agreement signed in 1951 to ensure peace and safety in the Pacific region. The treaty requires signatories to consult on any perceived threats to the nations party to the treaty and to act to meet common dangers.

5 Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 2.

6 The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister, ‘Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John

Howard MP address to the Australian Defence Association, Melbourne’, 25 October 2001, https://pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12374 (accessed 2 November 2021).

7 The Hon Alexander Downer, Foreign Minister, ‘Meet the Press’, Interview Transcript, Network 10,

18 November 2001.

8 Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Submission 54, p. 4.

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2003.9 The Australian Defence Force (ADF) also supported ISAF alongside NATO allies.10

2.13 The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) stated that Australia’s core objectives in Afghanistan over the two decades since 2001 were ‘to fight terrorism and to support our alliance interests’, explaining:

In partnership with our allies and with Afghan forces, Australia worked to deny terrorist organisations safe havens in Afghanistan from which to plan and export terror. Our troops fought alongside Coalition and Afghan partners to degrade the capabilities of terrorist organisations, including

al-Qaeda.11

2.14 Similarly, General Campbell stated that Australia’s initial strategic objectives when Australia’s ADF personnel were first deployed to Afghanistan in 2001-02 were:

…to deny Afghanistan as a safe haven for the international terrorism, to attack areas or al-Qaeda and other international terrorist facilities and organisations as a member of a coalition to seek to capture Osama bin Laden as the leader of al-Qaeda and to see Afghanistan not able to be a base for international terrorism.12

2.15 Professor Theo Farrell, an academic at the University of Wollongong, explained that the ‘first objective [to fight terrorism] had been achieved by the end of March 2002’ when:

…the final concentration of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces were defeated in Operation Anaconda. By this stage, the Afghan Taliban had been decimated and were in utter disarray, and al-Qaeda had been chased out of the country. The US had facilitated the installation of an anti-Taliban

interim government led by Hamid Karzai.13

2.16 On 20 November 2002 in a media release, then Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Robert Hill announced: ‘Australian Special Forces will return from Afghanistan from the end of this month…As the focus of operations has

9 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), ‘ISAF's mission in Afghanistan (2001-2014)’, article

last updated 19 August 2021, www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_69366.htm (accessed 12 November 2021).

10 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 7.

11 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Submission 22, p. 1.

12 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 41.

13 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 47. Note: Operation Anaconda was a mission in 2002 from

March 2-18 aimed at destroying or capturing al-Qaeda and Taliban forces and took place took place in the Shahi-Kot Valley and Arma Mountains southeast of Zormat, Afghanistan. See: https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA463075.pdf (accessed 19 November 2021).

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moved towards supporting the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the particular skills of our Special Forces are in less demand’.14

NATO’s takeover of the ISAF mission 2.17 Professor Farrell explained that a key turning point in the evolution of the international mission occurred in 2003, when the US decided to invade Iraq, which led to a series of events resulting in Australia deciding to stay in

Afghanistan—a decision driven by ‘alliance politics’. Professor Farrell explained:

 NATO countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and a number of other countries strongly opposed US efforts to go to war in Iraq;  NATO indicated to the United Nations that they were prepared to take over the ISAF mission in Afghanistan; and  The US was happy for them to do so because it meant that the US could

further concentrate its efforts on the war in Iraq.15

2.18 On 11 August 2003, mandated by the United Nations (UN), NATO took over the ISAF mission where its ‘primary objective was to enable the Afghan government to provide effective security across the country and develop new Afghan security forces to ensure Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for terrorists’.16

2.19 Following this, Professor Farrell stated:

…there was a driving political reason for a strong coalition to coalesce around an expanded ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and that's what led to the expansion of ISAF and everything that followed. In that sense, Australia joined many other countries in wanting to be a good partner to the United States, but there weren't really driving national security reasons for why all of these countries were engaged in Afghanistan. There were humanitarian reasons and there was nation building and so forth, but we all got pulled into what were high-intensity insurgency operations in the south of Afghanistan—very costly. You have to ask yourself: if you have to do that level of fighting to bring stability to the country, are you ever going

14 Senator the Hon Robert Hill, Minister for Defence, ‘Australian Special Forces to return from

Afghanistan’, media release, 20 November 2002,

https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/9NX76/upload_binary/9nx761.pdf;f ileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/9NX76%22 (accessed 25 November 2021).

15 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 50.

16 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), ‘ISAF's mission in Afghanistan (2001-2014)’, article

last updated 19 August 2021, www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_69366.htm (accessed 12 November 2021).

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to bring stability? That question was never asked. So that's how the mission evolved. Driving this was actually alliance politics.17

Australia’s capacity to influence NATO and ISAF decision-making 2.20 The evidence indicated that as a non-NATO nation Australia had limited input into decision-making at the levels of NATO and ISAF.

2.21 However, Professor Craig Stockings, Official Historian of Australian Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor at the Australian War Memorial, emphasised that there was a distinction between the objectives of ISAF, the US and Australia:

…ISAF's objectives in [Afghanistan], American objectives in [Afghanistan], are not Australian objectives. They are different and they're nuanced. Yes, we have to work within those frameworks, but the ideal outcome for ISAF isn't necessarily the ideal outcome for Australia. It may well be, but we have our own specific set of objectives.

Certainly, the maintenance and the perception of being a credible and reliable ally is always a centre point and a touchpoint. But that doesn't mean we're simply directed to act in certain ways…Australia has its own policy and its own objectives. It has to operate with wider objectives in mind, but we don't do what we're told; we do what's in our national interest. We always have. Sometimes that aligns with what the Americans might want us to do, for very good reason.18

2.22 Nonetheless, Professor Stockings explained while Australia had some influence on ‘the framing and conduct of operations’ and ‘on the overall scheme of operational strategic decisions’, Australia did not ‘have the agency to shape those’ at ISAF. Professor Stockings noted that Australia was only ‘one small player in a large coalition’ and:

… the equivalent of two-and-a-bit squadrons in Afghanistan is not the same as 110,000 American troops. There's only so much bang for your buck you can get ... The smaller the commitment, the smaller the say, but we do have a say.19

2.23 Professor Farrell agreed that Australia had limited input into decision-making through ISAF, stating:

Did Australia's military contribution enable it to exercise any influence over the ISAF campaign? Probably not.

Formerly, ISAF was a NATO-led mission and the campaign was supposed to have been directed by the North Atlantic Council via Allied Joint Force Command in Brunssum to ISAF headquarters in Kabul. In reality, the US

17 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 51.

18 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 2.

19 Professor Craig Stockings, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 2.

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commander of ISAF had broad discretion to determine his campaign strategy. The main factors that shaped this determination were pressures from Washington DC, host nation dispositions and the enemy. With few exceptions, the preferences of NATO partners hardly figured in ISAF strategy, much less those of Canberra.20

2.24 On the other hand, Professor Stockings noted that under the leadership of Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, the government ‘sought—and achieved—a presence and a stronger voice in strategic planning fora, especially with NATO—precisely because decisions were being made without our input’.21 He explained:

In the end, it is fair to say Australia had a major hand in reform of NATO processes for involvement of non-member states in military operations, which allowed comment (and some involvement in drafting) policy and involvement in policy debate, but we ultimately did not have a vote. We had better visibility and a forum to raise our voice, but Australia's influence was still primarily around the edges of policy. Australia was notoriously frank in its criticism of NATO's approach, and the lack of cohesion in ISAF, but the reality is that Australia was only a relatively small player. Remember, until late in our Afghanistan commitment, Australia was not even the lead nation in its own province. Big decisions, therefore, were the purview of those doing the heavier lifting. Had Australia wished to have more influence, particularly in the early days of its commitment, it would have had to assume a more significant and leadership role.22

Australia’s objectives from 2005 2.25 From 2005 when Australian troops were re-deployed to Afghanistan, it was clear that the narrative surrounding Australia’s objectives began to evolve alongside those of allied forces. The mission evolved to include elements of

reconstruction, mentoring and development as a means of promoting the self-sufficiency of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).

2.26 General Campbell acknowledged that while Australia’s ‘principal and enduring objective’ in Afghanistan was to ‘deny Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism’, there were other aspects to Australia’s objectives that fed into the primary objective:

…at different times during the campaign, there was a greater or lesser focus across the coalition on undertaking a counterterrorism approach or a counterinsurgency approach, a nation-building approach—these are forms

20 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 47. Note: Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Brunssum, the Netherlands is one of three NATO operational level commands in NATO Allied Command Operations.

21 Professor Craig Stockings, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October

2021, Canberra (received 18 October 2021).

22 Professor Craig Stockings, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October

2021, Canberra (received 18 October 2021).

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driving towards the unifying objective of denying Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism.23

2.27 On 13 July 2005, at a press conference, then Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP announced the re-deployment of Australian troops to Afghanistan:

It’s fair to say that the progress that’s been made and the establishment of a legitimate Government in Afghanistan has come under increasing attack and pressure from the Taliban in particular and some elements of Al Qaeda. We have received, at a military level, requests from both the United States and others and also the Government of Afghanistan and we have therefore decided in order to support the efforts of others to support in turn the Government of Afghanistan to despatch a Special Forces Task Group which will comprise some 150 personnel, comprising SAS troops, Commandos and supporting elements. We would expect that group to be in place by September of this year. It will be deployed for a period of twelve months. It will have a security task which is very similar to the task that was undertaken by an SAS taskforce that went in 2001. It will operate in conjunction with forces of the United States. There will be a separate Australian national command, although the SAS Task Group will be under the operational control of United States forces.24

2.28 Defence confirmed the objectives of the Special Forces Task Group (TF 637) in 2005 were:

…to counter the threat posed by global terrorist groups using Afghanistan as a safe haven; support alliance partners’ operations in Afghanistan; and assist in preparing Afghan security forces to take responsibility for providing security in the country.25

2.29 On 21 February 2006, in a media release, Prime Minister Howard announced an additional deployment:

The Government has decided to deploy an Australian Defence Force (ADF) reconstruction task force to Afghanistan as part of a Netherlands-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). This deployment is further evidence of Australia’s commitment to supporting the Government and people of Afghanistan as they build their new democracy.

The ADF contribution will be a mixed security and reconstruction task force of approximately 200 personnel and will be deployed over a period of up to two years. The task force will work on reconstruction and

23 General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 37.

24 The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister, and Senator the Hon Robert Hill, ‘Press conference

with Prime Minister John Howard’, transcript, 13 July 2005,

https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/8QOG6/upload_binary/8qog65.pdf; fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/8QOG6%22 (accessed 29 November 2021).

25 Defence, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 22 November 2021), Question No. 3.

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community based projects. Australia is committed to assisting Afghanistan to achieve a stable and secure future. It is important that we continue to work with the Afghan people to prevent the return of the Taliban and to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists to plan, organise and train.26

2.30 After announcing an additional 150 personnel to reinforce the Reconstruction Task Force in August 2006,27 Prime Minister Howard announced additional troops on 10 April 2007:

We have a clear national interest in helping to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a safehaven for terrorists.

This decision is also based on the Government’s steadfast commitment to helping Afghanistan’s democratically elected government create a secure and stable environment in that country, and on Defence’s advice that the increasing threat posed by the insurgency requires the deployment of additional force protection and support elements…

Approximately 400 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are already contributing to a Reconstruction Task Force in Oruzgan Province, working closely with Dutch forces to deliver reconstruction and community-based projects…a Special Operations Task Group of about 300 personnel will shortly deploy to Oruzgan province for at least two years.28

2.31 Following a change of government at the November 2007 election, then Minister for Defence, the Hon Joel Fitzgibbon, announced on 19 February 2008 that Australia would ‘maintain our current level of military commitment to Afghanistan, but…increase the focus on training and mentoring of the Afghanistan national army’.29

2.32 On 29 April 2009, then Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd MP announced an additional deployment of troops which would, in total, bring Australia’s

26 The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister, ‘Australian contribution to a provincial reconstruction

team in Afghanistan’, media release, 21 February 2006,

https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/ALTI6/upload_binary/alti64.pdf;file Type=application%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/ALTI6%22 (accessed 29 November 2021).

27 The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister, ‘Ministerial statement to parliament on the Australian

Defence Force commitment to Afghanistan’, 9 August 2006,

https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/T6IK6/upload_binary/t6ik65.pdf;fil eType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/T6IK6%22 (accessed 29 November 2021).

28 The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister, ‘More troops for Afghanistan’, media release,

10 April 2007,

https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/YDQM6/upload_binary/ydqm61.p df;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/YDQM6%22 (accessed 29 November 2021). Note: Oruzgan is also spelled as Uruzgan or Urozgan.

29 The Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP, Minister for Defence, House of Representatives, Official Hansard,

19 February 2008, p. 693.

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deployment in Afghanistan to its peak since the beginning of its engagement with a total of approximately 1,500 troops. He stated:

President Obama has defined the new mission in Afghanistan as, and I quote him “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” Australia concurs with this mission.

It intersects with our own definition of our own mission within Afghanistan, which is as follows: Strategic denial of Afghanistan as a training ground and operating base for global terrorist organisations; second, stabilisation of the Afghan state through a combination of military, police and civilian effort to the extent necessary to consolidate this primary mission of strategic denial; and third, in Australia’s case, to make this contribution in Oruzgan Province in partnership with our allies, with the objective of training sufficient Afghan National Army and police forces and to enhance the capacity of the Oruzgan provincial administration in order to hand over responsibility for the province in a reasonable time-frame to the Afghans themselves…

Australia has therefore decided to increase its medium term contribution to Afghanistan, not as a blank cheque but with the explicit objective of training Afghan forces so that responsibility for Oruzgan province can in time be handed over to the Afghans themselves.30

2.33 In May 2012, then Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard MP confirmed the withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 when the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in the Urzugan province would be complete, but noted the signing of the Comprehensive Long-term Partnership Between Australia and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan which committed Australia to supporting Afghanistan's security after 2014 through development and aid support.31

2.34 Home Affairs acknowledged that the ‘level and type of commitment provided by Australia has varied since operations commenced in 2001, with the ADF focus on Operations Slipper [concluding in December 2014] and Highroad [commencing in January 2015] transitioning from security to reconstruction to training and mentoring’.32

30 The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister, ‘Troop deployment in Afghanistan’, press conference,

29 April 2009, https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/12GT6/upload_binary/12gt61.pdf;fi leType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/12GT6%22 (accessed 29 November 2021).

31 The Hon Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister, ‘Transcript of doorstop interview, Chicago’, 20 May

2012, https://pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au/release/transcript-18588 (accessed 29 November 2021).

32 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 7.

15

2.35 Major Heston Russell (Retd) also noted that ‘the Australian Government had committed to discontinuing combat operations as of 2014’ with the conclusion of Operation Slipper.33

2.36 In summarising Australia’s core objectives for the two decades since Australia went into Afghanistan, Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, stated the Australian Government's objectives were threefold: ‘to fight terrorism, to support our alliance interests and to coordinate our development assistance and our humanitarian activities’.34

Australian Federal Police deployment 2.37 It is important to note that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were also deployed to Afghanistan and had their own set of objectives. AFP members were deployed:

…to Operation Slipper, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) led operation for Australia’s joint contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) missions in Afghanistan and the Middle East, between 2007 and 2014. The AFP deployed 140 members across three operations— Synergy [2007-2010], Contego [2008-2010], and Illuminate [2010-2014]. Consistent with Australia’s broader drawdown strategy in Afghanistan, the AFP finalised in-country operations on 9 January 2014.35

2.38 The AFP provided further detail on the nature of its deployment:

The AFP deployed the first capacity development contingent of four members to Afghanistan in October 2007. The purpose of this mission was to provide assistance to the Afghan National Police to rebuild safety and security in Afghanistan through a functioning and successful police force. The role of the AFP quickly expanded into other critical areas including strategic planning, criminal intelligence, counter narcotics, and recruit selection and training.36

2.39 In evaluating the outcomes of the missions, the AFP reported:

An AFP review of capacity development missions in Afghanistan found that AFP’s support to the IPCB [International Police Coordination Board] and the NTM-A [NATO Training Mission Afghanistan] in coordinating and managing police development were successful. AFP members’ expertise played a significant role in achieving better police development outcomes at the national level, and directly contributed to the creation and endorsement of the Afghan National Police ten year plan.37

33 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Submission 26, p. 3.

34 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 19.

35 AFP, Submission 34, p. 3.

36 AFP, Submission 34, p. 4.

37 AFP, Submission 34, p. 5.

16

2.40 It was added:

Likewise, AFP support was instrumental in improving the quality of training packages at the Afghanistan Staff College and Central Training Centre which were led by the European Union police development mission. AFP members delivered training to large numbers of mid-ranked Afghan National Police throughout this process. More importantly the AFP worked to emphasise a train the trainer approach at the Staff College, which is designed to contribute to the sustainability of the training delivery.38

2.41 The AFP reported that the ‘mentoring component of the mission was less successful, especially because of the security challenges posed by an increase in attacks on coalition forces by Afghan security forces. In order to manage the risk to AFP personnel, mentoring was discontinued’.39

Australia’s decision to withdraw 2.42 For context, on 29 February 2020, the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan (known as the Doha Agreement) was signed by the US and the Taliban.40 This agreement committed US and allied forces to withdraw from

Afghanistan by May 2021. This is discussed further in Chapter 4.

2.43 Australia’s decision on 15 April 2021 to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan followed an announcement by US President Joe Biden on 14 April 2021 to withdraw its remaining forces from Afghanistan before 11 September 2021.41

2.44 Home Affairs outlined the series of decisions:

On 8 July 2021, President Biden revised the US final withdrawal date to 31 August 2021, noting that remaining in Afghanistan with a minimal Coalition presence would have resulted in the deaths of US armed forces personnel. He further acknowledged that the Taliban’s military is at its strongest since 2001.

On 14 April 2021, NATO Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan announced it would start the withdrawal of RSM force by 1 May 2021, reducing from approximately 9,500 personnel from 36 contributing countries to 2,500 of which 80 were Australian.

On 15 April 2021, following confirmation of a US withdrawal timeline, Australia announced the departure of its contribution to the NATO-led RSM in Afghanistan. On 25 May 2021, the Government confirmed that the

38 AFP, Submission 34, p. 5.

39 AFP, Submission 34, p. 5.

40 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 11.

41 President of the United States Joe Biden, ‘Remarks by President Biden on the way forward in

Afghanistan’, 14 April 2021, www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/04/14/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-way-forward-in-afghanistan/ (accessed 9 November 2021).

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closure of the Australian embassy in Kabul was to take place by 28 May 2021.42

2.45 The processes around Australia’s withdrawal and subsequent evacuation efforts are discussed in further detail in Chapter 5.

Issues raised in relation to Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan 2.46 A number of issues were raised in relation to Australia’s stated objectives. This section covers the main concerns put forward in the evidence, including: the clarity of the objectives; transparency of government decision-making;

Australia’s relationship with the US; perspectives on whether Australia’s objectives were achieved; and the viability of establishing democracy in Afghanistan.

Clarity and communication of Australia’s objectives 2.47 A number of submitters suggested that there was a lack of clarity around Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan and that, in such a conflict, objectives should be clearly communicated to the public.

2.48 The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) stated:

There is a dearth of documentation in which the Australian governments’ stated objectives have been made public or in the progressive evaluations of progress towards those objectives. One questions therefore whether, in fact, there were clear, stated objectives when Australia entered this Afghanistan war with the United States. John Blaxland in the SMH of 16th April, 2021 made a pertinent statement on this matter saying: “Most of the time Australia was comfortable allowing the United States to take the lead in strategy formulation, reckoning that by avoiding engaging too closely on such decision-making Australia could risk manage its contributions. As a result, Australians deployed with only woolly ideas about exactly what they were trying to do there.”

This lack of clarity and lack of publicly available documentation makes it difficult to judge whether these objectives have been achieved. Reasons for engagement in this war have been given but clear objectives for that involvement are hard to identify. The specific strategies adopted, which could then be evaluated for progress in their achievement, are lacking. Certainly this is lacking in the public domain…43

2.49 Similarly, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia) submitted:

Over the course of two decades, Australian political and military leaders have been unable to properly define Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan, and no agreed criteria exist by which to measure their achievement.44

42 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 12. See also: Defence, Submission 20, p. 3.

43 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, pp. 1-2.

44 Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia), Submission 40, p. 2.

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2.50 Australians for War Powers Reform concurred that ‘[i]t is impossible to evaluate what success the ADF had in achieving the Australian Government's stated objectives, because those were unclear, equivocal, and changeable’.45

2.51 Professor Clinton Fernandes, an academic from the University of New South Wales, added: ‘the government’s real objectives [to support the US-Australia alliance] were not meaningfully disclosed to the Australian public, nor to most members of parliament. Neither the public nor parliament could hold the government to account because they lacked the relevant information to do so’.46

2.52 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy Bose, in a joint-submission, noted that ‘it remains surprising that the strategic goals of the engagement were not more precisely delineated and defended by successive Australian governments’.47 The authors questioned the direction of the Australian Government’s stated objectives describing them as not only ‘an uninspiring strategic narrative, but one that provided little in the way of direct guidance as to exactly what military, developmental and democracy-promotion activities Australia should seek to pursue in Afghanistan’.48

2.53 Major David McBride (Retd), a former serving officer in the ADF who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013, agreed, stating that ‘[m]any of the problems and failings that [beset] Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan began, and were exacerbated by, the fact the “stated objectives” were unclear, unrealistic and subject to change according to domestic political considerations’.49

2.54 From another perspective, Major Russell (Retd) argued that the public’s confusion about the nature of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan was a government failure in clearly communicating Australia’s purpose and achievements in Afghanistan. He stated:

The simple fact that the Australian public and media were left to ask if our time in Afghanistan 'was worth it' is the most monumental failing of successive Australian governments, who otherwise excel at all forms of marketing spin and rhetoric—failing to educate and engage the Australian public throughout our longest conflict, failing to set the conditions to better support veterans once we returned from this conflict and failing to learn

45 Australians for War Powers Reform, Submission 23, p. 2.

46 Professor Clinton Fernandes, Submission 30, p. 2.

47 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy

Bose, Submission 15, p. 1.

48 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy

Bose, Submission 15, p. 2 (emphasis in original).

49 Major David McBride (Retd), Submission 31, p. 1.

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from the exact same mistakes that occurred during and after our commitment of Australian forces to the Vietnam War.50

2.55 However, using contemporaneous sources, such as then-Prime Minister John Howard's public address to the Australian Defence Association on 25 October 2001, Australia's independent national interest, sovereign decision-making, solidarity with the positions of the EU and NATO, and Australia's global collective security interests were set out. It is of note that in the same address Mr Howard predicted that misrepresentations of the reasons for involvement in Afghanistan may come with time.51

Decision-making in relation to committing Australia to war 2.56 Some submissions raised concerns about the decision-making processes that commit Australia to war and saw the need for greater transparency and debate in parliament.

2.57 IPAN questioned the legality of committing Australia to the war in Afghanistan stating:

The legality of the decision to invoke the ANZUS treaty is certainly questionable. The ANZUS treaty refers to an attack on a member signatory in the pacific area. New York was not in the pacific area. Afghanistan is not in the pacific area.

The decision to invade a sovereign country, Afghanistan, was not sanctioned by the United Nations. It was therefore in violation of the United Nations Charter.52

2.58 Therefore, IPAN proposed that before any decision is made by government to commit the ADF to war:

(a) It must clearly state its justification for such a commitment and demonstrate it is in compliance with the United Nations Charter and international law; (b) It must clearly demonstrate that such action is vital to the security of

the Australian people; (c) It must clearly state the objectives of such an engagement and the process for evaluating and reporting on progress towards those

objectives during the engagement; (d) It must clearly state the exit strategy from such an engagement; (e) Points (a) to (d) must be made public to facilitate community and parliamentary scrutiny and discussion before a decision to commit is

made; and

50 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 9.

51 The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister, ‘Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John

Howard MP address to the Australian Defence Association, Melbourne’, 25 October 2001, https://pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12374 (accessed 12 January 2022).

52 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, p. 2.

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(f) The decision to commit must be subject to parliamentary debate and vote.53

2.59 Mr Justin Tutty stated that the decision-making that committed Australia to war initially involved ‘one man’ and that ‘very few people were involved in various decisions along the way, to formally extend or re-engage military operations in Afghanistan’.54 Mr Tutty submitted:

This is not the way these decisions are made in other peer nations, where decisions to engage or prolong conflict are necessarily subject to debate and vote by broad representative bodies, like parliament or congress.

I strongly support the long standing calls for reform of so-called ‘war powers’, to ensure that future wars are subject to greater deliberate oversight. Any future decision to go to war should be made in the context of full debate and a public vote by our elected representatives. The entire parliament should share responsibility for a decision to [go to] war, and they should also share responsibility for any decision to prolong, expand or re-engage conflict.

I request this inquiry consider the value appropriate parliamentary oversight might have brought to bear upon the costs of Afghanistan and the circumstances of evacuation.55

2.60 Similarly, Australians for War Powers Reform noted ‘Australia lags behind our NATO coalition partners’ as it does not ‘analyse or account for the legal, military, and political decisions that were made’ in committing Australia to war.56

2.61 The Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia) submitted that:

Australia should guard against further costly and harmful participation in wars of choice, and protect our sovereignty, national interests, defence force personnel, and citizens, by amending the Defence Act 1903 to require parliamentary approval of overseas service by members of the Australian Defence Force.57

2.62 Mr Hugh Poate, whose son was one of three Australian soldiers killed by a Taliban-recruited Afghan soldier who committed an insider attack, Hekmatullah, in Uruzgan province in 2012, also suggested decisions to go to war should be made by the parliament rather than by the executive:

What transpired during the war and our involvement with America in particular indicates that it's inappropriate to have a decision of this magnitude made by one person—that being the Prime Minister. It should be made by parliament. It should be debated. One thing that I think the

53 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, p. 3.

54 Mr Justin Tutty, Submission 56, pp. 2-3.

55 Mr Justin Tutty, Submission 56, pp. 2-3.

56 Australians for War Powers Reform, Submission 23, p. 1.

57 Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia), Submission 40, p. 2.

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Australian public have noticed is that, within weeks or, at the most, months of a new Prime Minister—and there seemed to have been a myriad of them lately coming to power in Australia, we see photos of them next to the American President of the day as though this is a big deal. It was America who got us into this war. Don't get me wrong here: I believe that we should have gone to war—to fight al-Qaeda, not necessarily to fight the Taliban. But we should debate the reasons for going to war and the reasons for staying at war as conditions unfold and change. War is always a fluid environment.58

2.63 Mr Poate concluded:

The outcome was that we lost the war. The reasons we lost should be analysed to lead us towards lessons to be learnt by governments which commit our forces to war and the ADF which sends our ADF to war on behalf of this nation. Former Chief of Army Lieutenant General Morrison once stated that the Army has a contract with the nation. This is quite correct, but the nation has a very limited ability to participate in this contract.

…the decision for Australia to go to war and to stay at war must be bipartisan and fully articulated to the Australian public…[and] Defence must be more transparent in its contract with the nation.59

Australia’s relationship with the United States 2.64 A number of submitters raised concerns about Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan being intertwined with the US’s mission and national interest.

2.65 Mr Poate referred to an observation by the former Chief of Army Peter Leahy and explained that ‘the US took the policy lead in Afghanistan and Iraq at the beginning of both conflicts and Australia largely acquiesced to the US strategy and narrative for both conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq’.60

2.66 In this light, Major McBride (Retd) submitted:

While the promotion and maintenance of the ‘Strategic Alliance’ with the United States is an acceptable reason to go to war, it can never be simply a ‘blank cheque’. If an ‘alliance’ is to [be] more than simply a servile relationship, both partners need to be able to have input into strategic direction. This must change if Australia can feel confident that our next armed conflict in support of the United States is not to be as disastrous as the last. The lives of Australian servicemen should never be sacrificed merely to satisfy American domestic political agendas.61

58 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 3.

59 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 1-2.

60 Mr Hugh Poate, Submission 57, p. 3 referencing Peter Leahy, ‘Lessons and legacies of the use of

force’, Niche Wars: Australia in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2001-2014, 2020, pp. 300-301.

61 Major David McBride (Retd), Submission 31, p. 2.

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2.67 Professor Fernandes argued that the real objective for Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan was ‘to uphold the umbrella of US power and in doing so to show Australia’s relevance to the United States…at a critical moment’.62

2.68 IPAN questioned the value of the alliance to Australia and submitted that ‘the Australia-U.S. alliance is in urgent need of review’63 and explained:

The major political parties adopt defence policies in which dependence on the United States to protect Australia from (undefined) enemies is fundamental and this is despite the fact that no guarantee written or verbal has ever been given by the United States to that effect. So to ensure that Australia is always on the “radar” of the U.S., the political leaders are quick to follow the lead of the U.S. in foreign policy [and] are equally quick to commit Australian troops to expeditionary wars in which the U.S. is engaged. Critical commentators have likened this to paying “premiums on an insurance policy” …The issue is for Australia to be there with the United States so they don’t forget us and may feel some indebtedness to Australia and so come to our aid in time of need.

…We are a country of 25 million people now. We have abundant natural resources and the workforce and knowhow to become far more self-reliant and independent and are capable of defending our territory, our independence and our way of life with a re-structured military trained for that purpose.64

2.69 Mr Poate proposed that ‘[a] balance must be achieved between sustaining the ANZUS alliance for capability and security reasons, and meeting Australia’s sovereign national interests. Australia needs to recognise that it is a sovereign nation, not the 51st State of the United States of America’.65

2.70 Emeritus Professor Maley, Dr Ibrahimi, Dr Motwani and Dr Bose warned that a ‘state that does not sufficiently think for itself risks being taken for granted in other spheres’. They submitted that ‘[t]he emphasis on the alliance…arguably subordinated Australia’s own strategic thinking to that of its US ally, which recent events would suggest was not a wise step to take’ given that the US committed not only the withdrawal of US forces, but also the forces of its allies and coalition partners in the Doha agreement.66

2.71 Furthermore, Emeritus Professor Maley, Dr Ibrahimi, Dr Motwani and Dr Bose stated that, in relation to the Doha agreement:

We have seen nothing in the public domain to suggest that the Australian government had approved, in advance, the making of this commitment. If, indeed,

62 Professor Clinton Fernandes, Submission 30, p. 1.

63 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, p. 8.

64 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, pp. 8-9.

65 Mr Hugh Poate, Submission 57, p. 9.

66 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy

Bose, Submission 15, p. 2.

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the US negotiator made this promise to the Taliban with a view simply to presenting it to allies (including Australia) as a fait accompli, it does not suggest much sensitivity in Washington DC to the rights of allies as sovereign states. If, on the other hand, Australia had delegated the making of a commitment about the strategic deployment of the Australian Defence Force to an unelected US official (in this case Dr Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the 29 February 2020 agreement on behalf of the United States), major questions about who exactly controls Australian forces could obviously arise.67

2.72 Professor Fernandes also criticised the way in which the US negotiated with the Taliban during the Doha peace deal, given that the US agreed to the release of 5,000 prisoners, including Hekmatullah who killed three Australian soldiers, noting how this reflected on Australia’s alliance with the US:

Instead of receiving the death penalty, [Hekmatullah] recently joined the Taliban delegation in Qatar. The United States did not block his early release from prison. Last year, Hugh Poate, father of one of the murdered Australian soldiers, said the US practice of ‘pandering to the wishes of a terrorist group’ rather than respecting ‘the sacrifice of soldiers and families of its longstanding ally’ was ‘a damning indictment of the Australian- American “alliance”’.68

2.73 In answer to a question on notice, DFAT confirmed that ‘Australia was not a party to the [Doha] Agreement, nor did it participate in negotiations’:

However, Australia was consulted on the timeline for the likely withdrawal of US and NATO troops.

Australia was one of many nations in the US-led Coalition, and Australia participated in the NATO Resolute Support Mission (2015-2021) as a non-NATO member, after the conclusion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission (2001-2014). Australia recognised US and NATO leadership of these missions, and contributed senior members to the respective leadership teams. Australia’s contributions to military, stabilisation and other non-diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan were also appropriately at the request of, and with the consent of, the Afghan Government. Australia’s sovereign decisions were properly made within these contexts. Australia’s diplomatic mission to Afghanistan was always a sovereign enterprise, as are all our diplomatic missions around the world.69

67 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy

Bose, Submission 15, p. 2 (emphasis in original).

68 Professor Clinton Fernandes, Submission 30, p. 1. referencing Andrew Greene, ‘Afghan soldier

Hekmatullah, who killed three Australians, flown to Qatar ahead of peace talks with Taliban’, ABC News, 11 September 2020.

69 DFAT, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 026.

24

Perspectives on the achievement of Australia’s stated objectives 2.74 The evidence on whether the government’s stated objectives were met varied.

Fighting terrorism 2.75 According to Defence:

We were successful in disrupting the ability of extremist groups to plan, execute, or support terrorist attacks on our soil or that of our partners. Our people did so in numerous acts of valour and bravery. This helped to protect the safety and security of Australians at home and abroad.70

2.76 However, Defence acknowledged that:

Assessing the success and costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan necessarily includes consideration of the findings of the Inspector General of the ADF’s Afghanistan inquiry report. This important work takes place within the larger context of the activities and achievements of the ADF and partner agencies in Afghanistan over the last twenty years.71

2.77 When asked what he thought were the most important achievements in Afghanistan, General Campbell stated:

The most important, I think, was the purpose for which we went to Afghanistan—that is to work with our coalition nations to deny Afghanistan being a base or a safe haven for international terrorism.72

2.78 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi submitted that Australia’s:

…primary success can be drawn from their relentless effort and long-term commitment to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations to defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Over the past twenty years, Australia’s contribution to Afghanistan has been positive nonetheless, as it promoted the advancement of a democratic government, human rights, women’s rights, rule of law, health, education,

70 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2.

71 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2. Note: The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s

Afghanistan Inquiry Report, commonly known as the Brereton Report, investigated alleged war crimes committed by the ADF during the War in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. A redacted version of the report was released on 19 November 2020. See:

https://afghanistaninquiry.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/IGADF-Afghanistan-Inquiry-Public-Release-Version.pdf On 30 July 2021, Defence released a four-year reform plan to address the report’s allegations. See: https://afghanistaninquiry.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-07/Afghanistan_Inquiry_Reform_Plan_0.pdf A number of submissions raised the Brereton Report, see: Amnesty International Australia, Submission 33, pp. 7-8; Australian Centre for International Justice, Submission 49; Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44, pp. 6-7; Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, p. 5; and Save the Children, Submission 52, pp. 10-12.

72 General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 40.

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agriculture, and different sectors including improving stabilisation and community development for all…

Australia’s strong military presence in Afghanistan meant that they supported Afghan military forces by training and equipping them… Overall, Australia’s engagement was working towards the long neglected human rights in Afghanistan. For this, the Australian Afghan Diaspora is forever indebted.73

2.79 Major Russell (Retd), who served in Afghanistan, agreed that Australia’s objective to fight terrorism was successful:

My deployments to Afghanistan provided me with first-hand experience and exposure of success in the targeting and destruction of Taliban, Terrorists, Foreign Fighters, Lethal Aid (Weapons and Ammunition), as well as Narcotics used to fund global insurgent and terrorist activities. Our Australian Special Forces conducted operations that killed and captured over 11,000 insurgents, seized and destroyed millions of dollars (US) of lethal aid, and destroyed billions of dollars (US) of Narcotics.74

2.80 Major Russell (Retd) added:

A great outcome of our time in Afghanistan was the experience and expertise that our special operations in particular achieved. Within Australia now, we have some of the most combat experience[d] veterans. We are renowned around the world for our expertise on the ground but also for our ability to not only take life but to save life as well.75

2.81 However, Major Russell (Retd) expressed his disappointment in the reporting of Australia’s achievements:

Elements of the media here at home continue to hunt down, contact and threaten to publicly identify members of our special forces on the basis of allegations—which haven't yet been through our courts—of illegally killing 39 civilians. Let's quickly take a moment to pause on those statistics. There were over 11,000 insurgents and terrorists killed, yet our legacy has come down to accusations of illegally killing 39 civilians. That is less than 0.04 per cent of those killed during the conduct of our operations in Afghanistan, yet we hear nothing of the 99.96 per cent of those operations that saw our Australian special forces demonstrate everything it means to embody the Australian spirit and values we readily lack here today.

Unfortunately those facts and figures are not out there. When I engage with these reporters, asking when they're going to publicise both sides of

73 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi,

Submission 43, p. 2.

74 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Submission 26, p. 3.

75 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 13.

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the story—unfortunately, it's just not a popular narrative. In Australia we don't like to build up poppies…We like to cut them down.76

2.82 Defence took on notice to confirm the number of enemy combatants killed or captured during Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, and provided the following response:

Historically Defence has not published aggregated enemy casualty numbers, as this is not a measure of performance or effectiveness for the Australian Defence Force. Given the complexity of Australia’s mission in denying Afghanistan as a safe haven for international terrorism, and the nature of some air and land combat operations, accurate enemy casualty numbers are often difficult to obtain and are likely to be inaccurate.77

Suggestions of mission creep 2.83 Mr Poate saw the phenomenon of ‘mission creep’78 as an issue for Australia’s objectives and engagement in Afghanistan. He referred to the work of a journalist who was with Prime Minister Howard at the time of the 9/11

terrorist attacks and reported that the Prime Minister ‘wanted to commit sharp edged forces for a limited period during the hot part of the war but not get bogged down in a long-drawn-out peace keeping operation’.79 However, Mr Poate explained:

[This] stated objective…was overridden by successive Australian governments and it morphed into a policy of ‘nation building’ which was also ‘mission creep’ to replace the ruling Taliban regime with an American style democracy. This mission creep was not one of the original stated objectives for Australia to go to war in Afghanistan. It became a policy objective of the US, most likely for self-interest knowing that Afghanistan is resource-rich, and Australia merely went along with the American narrative.80

2.84 As such, Mr Poate concluded that Australia’s achievements ‘need to be balanced against the unintended consequences that followed from “mission

76 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

pp. 10-11 and 13.

77 Defence, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 1 December 2021), Question No. 5.

78 ‘Mission creep’ is a military phenomenon, denoting uncontrolled and unintended mission

development which occurs gradually over the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment. See: Kvernbekk, T., Bøe-Hansen, O. A, and Cohen, D. H., The Problem of Mission Creep: Argumentation Theory meets Military History, OSSA Conference, University of Windsor, 2002, p. 1, https://scholar.uwindsor.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2473&context=ossaarchive (accessed 24 November 2021).

79 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Submission 57, p. 2 referencing Karen Middleton, An Unwinnable

War: Australia in Afghanistan, Melbourne University Publishing: Melbourne, 2011. p. 38.

80 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Submission 57, pp. 2-3.

27

creep” or “nation building” of Afghanistan at the behest of the US’ whereby ‘[t]his unstated policy objective was largely responsible for the war continuing for twenty years, our longest war in history’ and resulted in the Taliban getting back in control of Afghanistan.81

2.85 Major Russell (Retd) agreed that Australia’s operational strategy ‘embark[ed] upon this line of what we call mission creep’82 and noted ‘the wayward nature of [the] nation building operations and the absolute reality of how this focus became such an ineffective, let alone inefficient development and deviation of our national strategy’.83 He explained:

When we first deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 and 200[2], we achieved everything we needed to achieve as far as al-Qaeda, and then we went back in there as part of the NATO contribution. What continues to happen…is that we deploy our special forces for this finite role, and you will hear our government always come back to talking about how we killed Osama Bin Laden and we destroyed al-Qaeda and all of that. That was our original mission. Then there was opportunity around then…to deploy more of our conventional forces and, indeed, achieve these humanitarian missions. But that doesn't hold up when we talk about and come to 2014, when NATO withdrew their mission and we maintained on there with our train, advise, assist and training the local Afghans up…

So, for myself as a military tactician and operational person, the whole lesson learned for me is to really define our mission. If we're going to target the terrorists and that's our key thing, then let's do that. But, if we're going to get in there and conduct this reconstruction and reinforce and support these Afghan women and children, that's a big effort and that has to be deliberately planned separately and long after any form of military action, because that takes a lot more than the military to achieve. But that's all we left it down to—the military to achieve those effects.84

2.86 Despite the success of Australia’s initial mission, General Campbell noted the coalition’s efforts to support the ANDSF was less successful, and explained:

The effort in seeking to develop the Afghan national security forces, and more generally the Afghan government, was the only path to see the possibility of a stabilised future Afghanistan under the government of Afghanistan as we knew it. Ultimately though it would have to be an Afghanistan that was governed and secured by Afghans. It was always their sovereign nation and, ultimately, their sovereign effort and contribution. I know there are a range of views as to whether or not they could do it on their own, but the coalition could never stay there permanently. When the coalition and in particular when US decision-

81 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Submission 57, p. 5.

82 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 12.

83 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Submission 26, p. 3.

84 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 12.

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makers determined that the principal coalition partner would be withdrawing Australia also had to withdraw….I would then politely say that while I respect all the views offered, I've found in things such as our defeat in Afghanistan everyone has perfect hindsight.85

Examining the current situation 2.87 The Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights submitted that looking at the current situation ‘[t]o what extent Australia and the US-led intervention in Afghanistan’s objectives has been achieved is debatable’:

The Afghanistan state and security forces have collapsed, with the former President and his cabinet fleeing the country, leaving the fate of the country’s 38 million population in the hands of the Taliban. Women and girls are barred from resuming their education and going back to work. Music is banned. In some parts of the country, summary executions are already taking place. Hazaras are being dispossessed of their ancestral land by the Taliban, who are then distributing the land to their supporters. The security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is continuously deteriorating, with more than half of the country’s population living in severe poverty.86

2.88 Similarly, Mr Benjamin Cronshaw also questioned the success of Australia’s objectives suggesting that much of what had been achieved has been undone by the rise again of the Taliban:

The intervention notably removed the Taliban from power, weakened the Al-Qaeda organisation and led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. This indicated some success in the counter-terrorism objectives. However, the return of the Taliban insurgency to power in Afghanistan, and their continued relationship with Al-Qaeda, is a sobering reflection on the outcome of the operation.

Following the initial incursion, the involvement of western forces (including Australia) also gained peacekeeping, human rights promotion and even nation-building roles. There were challenges and mistakes over the years, though we did see success with Afghanistan society becoming much freer and advancing human rights. However, again, the return of the Taliban has brought a shocking and traumatic shift in the lives of Afghanis -reversing much of what Australia was trying to support and build in Afghanistan.87

2.89 Mr Phil Gorman, a retired ship’s officer, also raised concerns about the Taliban’s resurgence:

Although [Australia’s objectives] intended to provide a generational buffer against extremism such advances are being savagely curtailed by a fundamentalist theocracy…

85 General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 41.

86 Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 3.

87 Mr Benjamin Cronshaw, Submission 32, p. 2.

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Afghanistan is now subject to different influences with seismic shifts of power and influence in Asia. It may once again become a haven for international terrorism, possibly in conjunction with a revived Al-Qaeda, Pakistan and other actors.

Many surrounding countries will have perceived interests in wresting power from ‘The West’. China and Russia seek to be the main beneficiaries. This will inevitably be at the expense of Western Powers, QUAD nations and other neighbours.88

2.90 Major Russell (Retd) noted that while the ADF played an important role in Afghanistan, he also questioned the longevity of its impact:

I want to say very quickly that the conventional forces that were deployed to Afghanistan were deployed in a great role that was that mentoring and reconstruction—building schools, supporting the local population. But the realities of this are that we are just a drop in the bucket as far as trying to achieve that. And what we've seen, particularly with the capitulation, is that, as soon as we are no longer there, particularly in a nation such as Afghanistan, all of those efforts go to waste, because you are actually trying to focus on these Western ideas within an ideology and a culture that is not skewed to support those at all. There are not those strategic levels of engagements going on with all sides of government, regardless of who takes over the place once we leave, to make sure that what we've done and the good work we've done sustains and maintains there.89

Other views 2.91 The Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) submitted the ‘impossibility of destroying an ideology by warfare was pointed out by many commentators at the time’ and that the ‘critical missing step at all stages was to

examine the root causes of terrorism. In addition, there seemed to be a false belief that a nation can be constructed by force of arms’.90

2.92 Mr Poate added that ‘[t]his war showed that religion was a force multiplier that could even defeat a superpower, as did the ten year war against the Soviet Union before it’.91

2.93 Mr Gorman described the war against terrorism and the conflict in Afghanistan as ‘unmitigated human disasters which will resonate for many decades. The unnecessary toll in blood and treasure is due to repeated failures of statesmanship, intelligence and diplomacy. Australia and her allies must learn from this or repeat it’.92

88 Mr Phil Gorman, Submission 5, p. 2.

89 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 12.

90 Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia), Submission 40, p. 3.

91 Mr Hugh Poate, Submission 57, p. 5.

92 Mr Phil Gorman, Submission 5, p. 1.

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2.94 The Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan (SAWA-Australia SA Inc) questioned whether Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan was worth it, and argued that there were potential alternative approaches:

In June 2010, the Australian Minister for Defence stated…Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to combat a clear threat from international terrorism to both international security and our own national security…

SAWA considers that this objective was met in part as no major terrorist attacks have occurred on US or Australian territory since that date. However, we question whether a twenty-year, largescale military operation, alongside US troops, was the only possible response by the Australian Government to achieve an outcome which resulted in a high loss of both Australian and Afghan lives. We respectfully suggest that pursuing diplomatic avenues more robustly, under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council and/or with the UN Peacekeepers, may well have achieved a more favourable outcome for both Australia and Afghanistan, with significantly lower financial and human costs.93

2.95 SAWA-Australia SA Inc also added:

It would seem that Australia’s “diplomatic and development engagement” with Afghanistan over two decades achieved minimal outcomes in terms of developing and supporting effective systems of governance or fledgling democracy. Instead, it would appear that this engagement did little more than prop up an ineffective government.94

Democracy in Afghanistan 2.96 Evidence heard by the committee spoke to the viability of democracy in Afghanistan. While some submitters questioned whether attempts to establish Western-style democracy in Afghanistan was futile, others had a much more

positive outlook on democracy’s place in Afghanistan’s future.

2.97 Mr Poate questioned the prospects of establishing democracy in Afghanistan:

[Australia] stayed on to try to stabilise an American style of democracy. Democracy was never going to work in a country where around 70 per cent of the population is illiterate and a country that is divided into so many districts and provinces. We've got enough trouble managing democracy in this country, where we've only got six states.95

2.98 On the other hand, Emeritus Professor William Maley, an academic at the Australian National University, warned that some assumptions about Afghanistan are out-dated:

One of the problems in the study of Afghanistan is that there's still the unfortunate influence of out-of-date imagery from the past of Afghanistan as a tribal society and as a realm of never-ending conflict—all those kinds

93 SAWA-Australia SA Inc, Submission 14, p. 1.

94 SAWA-Australia SA Inc, Submission 14, p. 2.

95 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 4.

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of tropes. They don't actually assist in making sense of the complexity of a country in which, for example, a 2019 survey showed that a majority of rural households had access to television. No country has been affected more by globalisation in the last two decades than Afghanistan.

That means a lot of images of Afghanistan which go back to the 19th century and the First and Second Anglo-Afghan wars are really unhelpful in trying to make sense of the current situation. We never try to understand modern Britain simply by going back to Queen Victoria, and yet the equivalent is what we often see with these kinds of orientalist ideas being trotted out. It's a very unfortunate development. In particular, the rich and highly intelligent new generation in Afghanistan, scattered though it may be at the moment, nonetheless is an important asset for the future and are the ones to try to nurture and sustain.96

2.99 Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative and Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre, reflected on his and his family’s experience with democracy in Afghanistan, stating:

What happened when Australian and international forces—Dutch forces— came to Oruzgan? The Hazara people were living in Taliban tyranny during the first time they came. They took my ancestral land from us in our village. Democracy was an opportunity for us to join the international community. We opened up our school. Our kids went to school. We joined the government. Some of our youth joined government forces and some of our youth were embedded with the Australian forces.97

2.100 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal argued that democracy was possible in Afghanistan, explaining:

I have been a prime witness of our people enjoying having a democratic government, if you look at the election of 2004 and the level of participation. Have a look at the election on 5 April 2014…the entire country was mobilised. Probably one of the most democratic days in the life of Afghanistan is 5 April 2014, where our men and women came out in large numbers and voted. Yes, there was fraud later on and they pushed us, as I said, because of those national factors. They pushed us to the second round, and then there was fraud again and eventually we had to put a national unity government together. But, definitely, the majority of our people have embraced democracy, and let's not forget that 63 per cent of our population are under 25. They have seen democracy, they have seen freedom of expression, they have seen civil and political rights, and this is why our women and men are brave enough to stand up in front of the Taliban on the streets of the cities of Afghanistan. If there is one gain we have made in the field of human resources, it's this: we have a more aware population inside Afghanistan, especially our youth, and they know their rights…We've done a lot of work in the past 20 years and we must protect those gains and consolidate those gains.98

96 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 55.

97 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 21-22.

98 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 64-65.

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2.101 Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, an academic at La Trobe University, concluded that the end of international intervention in Afghanistan is not necessarily an end to Afghanistan’s democratic future:

I think that one of the tragedies of Afghanistan over the past two decades has been that this local demand for democracy, human rights and women's rights in Afghanistan was mixed up with the international agenda, and the international agenda was often confused in terms of its goal and objective—whether counterterrorism or promotion of democracy. Now that the international intervention has come to an end, many people are likely to assume that this is also the end of democracy and human rights within Afghanistan. I think this is not the case. I think the country has a history, going back at least to the early 12th century, of people calling for some form of constitutional democracy…There is this thought of the long-term struggle of the country for some sort government where people are respected and included and their dignity is preserved…

I also completely agree that the Taliban's control in Afghanistan is far from guaranteed. They have established some form of control at gunpoint, but they have not secured any form of social or popular legitimacy. I think, from what we've seen over the past few years, there's no indication that the Taliban leadership is headed towards some form of democratic future in Afghanistan. I think the gap is really wide there, and I will just echo the point that the international community, particularly Australia, should be really open to the possibility of protecting human capital around the world, and it should also not place all faith in Taliban control of Afghanistan.99

99 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 56.

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Chapter 3

Costs of Australia's engagement in Afghanistan

3.1 This chapter provides an overview of the human, financial and other costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, including consideration of both the impact on Australians and Afghans.

Costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan 3.2 In discussing Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, submitters reported on a number of costs. While the information received regarding the human cost of those who served in Afghanistan was fairly consistent, the estimated financial

cost was less conclusive. Some submitters also raised the impact of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan on its international reputation. Others also considered the costs for the Afghan people, including lives lost as well as the humanitarian and economic crises they now face.

Human costs 3.3 The Department of Defence (Defence) advised the committee that:

Tragically, 41 Australians died on operations in Afghanistan, making the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. More returned home with lasting physical and mental injuries, and we have lost further Defence personnel since they returned home.1

3.4 Mr Hugh Poate, whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2012 by a Taliban-recruited Afghan soldier who committed an insider attack, highlighted the loss of life and impact on Australian soldiers post-war:

The costs to Australia were 41 lives lost in Afghanistan (40 killed in action and one from a non-combat related incident) and 261 wounded. Additionally, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare stated there were 419 suicides in serving, reserve and ex-serving ADF personnel between 2001 and 2017 who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. These figures have since been officially adjusted upwards. Anecdotally, this figure is now estimated to be in excess of 500 deaths. These deaths are part of the flotsam of war and, regrettably are still rising.2

3.5 The psychological cost of the war on the Australian soldiers, and the large number of suicides among veterans of the Afghanistan conflict, created public

1 Department of Defence (Defence), Submission 20, p. 2. See also: Department of Foreign Affairs and

Trade (DFAT), Submission 22, p. 1 and Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), Submission 19, p. 12.

2 Mr Hugh Poate, Submission 57, p. 10. See also: Independent and Peaceful Australia Network,

Submission 12, p. 4 and Mr Phil Gorman, Submission 5, p. 3.

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pressure for a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide which was established on 8 July 2021.3

3.6 The Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia) stated the ‘human costs of this 20-year long war in which Australia has been actively involved have been staggering and—like war-induced suffering everywhere— are likely to continue for generations’.4

3.7 Similarly, Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) submitted that this human cost:

…has left an indelible mark on the lives of members of the ADF and their families and the communities from which they come. In many cases these scars will continue for lifetimes.5

Financial costs 3.8 The committee received a range of evidence on the financial cost of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan since 2001, with estimates provided by submitters and witnesses ranging from $7.8 billion to $13.6 billion.6

3.9 Most estimates of the costs of Australia’s military engagement are derived from a combination of figures in Defence annual reports, portfolio budget statements as well as figures from NATO reports. Using these sources, the Parliamentary Library estimates that the total cost of Australian operations from November 2001 to mid-2020 equates to around $8.3 billion.7

3.10 The Australians for War Powers Reform stated that ‘Australia spent $7.8 billion on the war in Afghanistan to June 2021’.8

3.11 The committee also asked relevant government departments what work the Australian Government has done to calculate the costs of the various components of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, and what the best available estimates are. The committee received the following answers.

3 See: https://defenceveteransuicide.royalcommission.gov.au/ (accessed 10 December 2021).

4 Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia), Submission 40, p. 4.

5 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, p. 4.

6 Australians for War Powers Reform, Submission 23, p. 23;

7 Nicole Brangwin and Thea Gellerfy, ‘Background to the Afghanistan withdrawal: a quick guide’,

Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2021-22, 26 August 2021,

www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/ rp2122/Quick_Guides/BackgroundToAfghanistanWithdrawal (accessed 26 November 2021).

8 Australians for War Powers Reform, Submission 23, p. 23; Emeritus Professor William Maley,

Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy Bose, Submission 15, p. 1.

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3.12 In answer to a question on notice, Defence reported:

$8.4 billion was spent by the Department of Defence on Operations SLIPPER and HIGHROAD between 2001 and 2021. This does not include other costs incurred on other operations in the Middle East, including in Iraq and in supporting our presence in the region.9

3.13 DFAT also reported:

DFAT had a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2021. The total operating cost for DFAT’s operations during that time was approximately $566 million.10

Impact on Australia’s reputation in the international community 3.14 A number of submissions provided perspectives on the impact of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan on its international reputation.

3.15 SAWA-Australia submitted:

Australia has suffered international reputational damage through its military defeat in Afghanistan, the hasty closure of its Embassy in Kabul and the poorly-planned and executed evacuation of Afghan nationals seeking refuge, particularly for those people who worked with Australian troops and other Australian interests. This damaged reputation has been compounded by the government’s reluctance to date to provide a greater number of Humanitarian Visas to people at risk from the Taliban regime.11

3.16 Mr Phil Gorman, a retired ship’s officer, agreed that the ‘reputational costs [of our involvement in Afghanistan] are immense and far reaching…Our international reputation is severely damaged and all our diplomacy undermined’.12 To mitigate the damage to Australia’s reputation, Mr Gorman stated ‘[a]ctions rather than words are required to mitigate the harm. It will take decades of good governance, statesmanship, fair dealing, aid, skilled diplomacy and just outcomes’.13

3.17 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia (WILPF) also raised the missed opportunities for Australia to engage in its region whilst preoccupied with our involvement in Afghanistan in support of allies:

9 DFAT, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 3 December 2021), Question No. 21.

10 DFAT, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 3 December 2021), Question No. 21. Note: Additionally, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) indicated that it had not specifically calculated its past or projected future costs relating to Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan. See: DVA, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 26 November 2021), Question No. 4.

11 SAWA-Australia (SA), Submission 14, p. 4.

12 Mr Phil Gorman, Submission 5, pp. 3-4.

13 Mr Phil Gorman, Submission 5, p. 4.

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…our future national security is best assured by Australia becoming a respected and reliable international partner working closely with our Asian and Pacific neighbours.14

Costs for the Afghan people 3.18 Evidence received by the committee discussed a range of impacts of the twenty-year war on the people of Afghanistan and noted what it cost them.

3.19 Mr Gorman summarised the impact of twenty years of war on Afghans:

 Over 47,000 Afghan civilians killed with uncounted numbers wounded.  Unexploded ordnance continues to kill and maim.  Hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless or displaced.  An impoverished country on the brink of economic collapse; lacking

clean water, sanitation and healthcare, with half the population facing starvation due to drought.15

3.20 Amnesty International also submitted that:

The 20-year war is estimated to have taken the lives of at least 47,245 civilians with many more injured, in addition to over 66,000 Afghan national military and police, 51,191 Taliban and other fighters, 72 journalists, and 444 aid workers.16

3.21 In accordance with its United Nations Security Council mandate, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has compiled successive reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, using a consistent methodology since 2009.17 These annual reports have been prepared jointly with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. The reports attribute over 60 per cent of civilian casualties from 2009 to 2020, to Anti-Government Elements who were in armed opposition to the Government of Afghanistan and/or international military forces. For example, in 2012, 81 per cent of civilian casualties were attributed to Anti-Government Elements, such as the Taliban and other non-State armed groups taking a direct part in hostile acts in pursuit of political and ideological objectives. These casualties were often the result of deliberate and planned attacks, frequently with indiscriminate effects. In this timeframe, suicide and non-suicide improvised

14 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia, Submission 47, p. 3.

15 Mr Phil Gorman, Submission 5, p. 3. See also: Independent and Peaceful Australia Network,

Submission 12, p. 5.

16 Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 4 referencing Ms Ellen Knickmeyer, ‘Costs of the

Afghanistan war in lives and dollars’, AP News, 17 August 2021.

17 Note: whilst UNAMA reports began in 2007, the application of a consistent methodology has been

applied since 2009. Therefore, the earlier reports from 2007 and 2008 follow a previous reporting system and are included on the UNAMA’s website for reference purposes only. See: https://unama.unmissions.org/protection-of-civilians-reports (accessed 8 December 2021).

37

explosive devices (IEDs), targeted killings and ground engagements conducted by Anti-Government Elements were the dominant causes of civilian casualties.

3.22 Additionally, Mr Arif Hussein, Senior Solicitor at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, discussed the displacement of Afghans due to the war:

…we saw millions of Afghans being internally displaced and forced to flee Afghanistan and find their way to places like Australia. Thousands of people from Afghanistan fleeing the Taliban and the insecurity in Afghanistan have also made it to Australia.18

3.23 IPAN also raised the costs to the Afghan people in terms of lives lost and the number of people displaced, noting that ‘Afghanistan continues to be one of the deadliest places in the word to be a child’.19

3.24 Ms Sitarah Mohammadi from the Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network discussed the dangers now faced by Afghans following the resurgence of the Taliban:

As the Taliban and other armed groups, particularly the Islamic State Khorasan Province, are targeting and committing human rights violations against the people of Afghanistan—in particular ethnic and religious minorities such as the Hazara people—reports emerging from international organisations, including Amnesty International, have already reported the torture and massacre of Hazara civilians in captured villages throughout Afghanistan. Amnesty International have further reported extrajudicial killings of surrendered Hazara Afghan army soldiers, and they have reported civilians being targeted and killed in late August. Hazaras are also facing ethnic cleansing by the Taliban, who continue their policy of forcefully confiscating and dispossessing Hazara families of their ancestral lands and properties throughout the country.20

3.25 Voices of Influence Australia submitted that:

The real cost is reflected in the trauma, cultural disconnection, dehumanization and conflict experienced by Afghani peoples and communities and the Afghani-Australian community during Australia's twenty-year military engagement. In line with Australia's international law obligations of state responsibility and its duty therein to make full and complete reparations for any material or moral injury cause (International Law Commission, 2001), Voices of Influence Australia strongly urges that the Australian Government issue a formal apology to acknowledge wrongdoing and allow the process of community building and healing to begin.21

18 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 28.

19 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Submission 12, p. 5.

20 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 14.

21 Voices of Influence Australia, Submission 63, pp. 4-5.

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Concerns about the loss of development gains made in the last 20 years 3.26 Over the past twenty years, Afghanistan achieved many development gains due to the support and efforts of international forces and governments, however, a number of submitters raised concerns that those development

gains may be lost under Taliban rule.

3.27 Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, commented on the uncertain future for those left in Afghanistan:

The post-2001 generation of Afghans was a generation of hope. My generation was a generation of young men and women who, despite shortcomings, attended schools and universities and had professions. Now these young men and women are at grave risk, for dreaming about and working very hard for a better Afghanistan. Their hard work and dreams are shattered now. They are either hiding in Afghanistan, at serious risk or facing an uncertain future, or they were evacuated from Afghanistan in August, with their loved ones still at risk and constantly being intimidated by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

This devastating situation and the devastating developments could have been prevented if there had been a responsible withdrawal…we knew that the international community's presence in Afghanistan was not guaranteed; we didn't take it for a guarantee. But we also believed in reaching a peaceful settlement with the Taliban—a responsible withdrawal that made sure that the hard-gained progress of the past 20 years, especially concerning women's rights and the rights of minorities, was not lost overnight.22

3.28 Ms Mohammadi, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, submitted:

Since the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban to power, the Taliban have continued to destroy homes, displace thousands of people and reintroduce their draconian rules, synonymous with their previous regime in the late 1990s. As the Taliban are now in control of the country, women's and girls' rights are once again restricted, and they are confined to their homes. Women and girls are no longer able to resume their education or attend university and employment.23

3.29 Similarly, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCA) indicated that they:

…hold grave concern that actions like the curtailing of education and work rights for women and girls, land confiscation and extrajudicial killing directed at minority groups have closely followed the Taliban regaining executive power in Afghanistan.24

22 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 4.

23 Ms Sitarah Mohammadi, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Committee Hansard,

11 October 2021, p. 14.

24 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 1.

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3.30 However, the RCA also noted that:

…some legacy lives on in the education attained by the women and girls of Afghanistan whose learning can be paused but not undone. Finding ways to strengthen and support Afghanistan’s civil society to attain its own goals for its society—many of which align with those of Australia’s—will be vital for addressing the significant challenges faced.25

3.31 Similarly, Professor Felicity Gerry, Queen's Counsel in Crockett Chambers in Melbourne, expressed hope that not all women’s gains would be undone and discussed the role of international community:

…although the Taliban have seized power, the international community is in a position to ensure the visibility of women in positions of power and responsibility and to ensure the recognition of women's issues. One way of doing this in relation to Afghanistan is to listen to, respect and include those women who over the last 20 years or longer have become educated, have taken part and have been in positions of power and responsibility within Afghanistan. There are many women who are highly qualified and experienced in governance in Afghanistan ...26

3.32 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), acknowledged:

Australia has made a major contribution in Afghanistan. A generation of Afghans have seen a better world, but much of this progress is now at risk. With our partners, we will do what we can to ensure that as much as possible is preserved.27

3.33 The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) also noted:

In recent months Prime Minister Morrison, Foreign Minister Payne and Defence Minister Dutton have acknowledged the significance of these achievements and vowed to continue Australia’s development assistance to the people of Afghanistan to ensure development gains are protected.28

3.34 However, Mr Hussein, Refugee Advice and Casework Service, argued that Australia needed to do more to help the people of Afghanistan:

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced our complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, like his international counterparts in the UK and Canada, he specifically mentioned that Australia remains committed to helping Afghanistan preserve the gains of the last 20 years, particularly for women and girls…So far, we have not seen any actions or commitments from the Australian government that match our two decades of engagement in Afghanistan. We have not seen any actions or commitments that match the promises that we made to the Afghan people in our longest war. We have a moral obligation to respond to the humanitarian crisis in

25 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 1.

26 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 4.

27 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 19.

28 Australian Council for International Development, Submission 53, p. 8.

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Afghanistan, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison must announce, and commit to, a significant increase of our humanitarian intake, preferably a substantial multiyear commitment. We need to see those in Australia on temporary protection visas afforded permanency. We need to see efficient family reunion. We need to see the world not leave behind the people of Afghanistan, including Australia.29

Crises facing the Afghan people 3.35 Evidence received by the committee indicated a number of crises now facing the people of Afghanistan as a result of the twenty-year war which ended with resurgence of the Taliban.

3.36 Ms Carina Ford from the Law Council of Australia noted the humanitarian crisis now being faced by Afghanistan:

The withdrawal of NATO allied personnel from Afghanistan and the consequential return to power of the Taliban has resulted in a humanitarian crisis within Afghanistan and a significant influx of Afghan asylum seekers to neighbouring countries.30

3.37 Mr Poate criticised what he saw as the Australian Government’s lack of foresight in relation to the refugee crisis resulting from the war in Afghanistan:

Historically, almost every war has had refugee repercussions. This seems to be an issue that was not factored into Australia’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan—if it had any strategy at all. The outcome of the war has created a current refugee crisis.31

3.38 Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, ACFID, also underscored the significance of the current situation in Afghanistan, stating:

If there's one point we want to press upon you today, it is the scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding across Afghanistan and the urgency that is needed in response…We are sounding the alarm that the worst is yet to come as winter sets in and temperatures drop. Over half the country is living in extreme poverty, 23 million people are forecast to face acute hunger, in the middle of a pandemic the health sector is hanging by a thread and the situation is so desperate that starving Afghans are being forced to sell their own children to feed the rest of their family.32

3.39 Mr Nawid Cina, Acting General Manager, Mahboba’s Promise, emphasised to the committee that ‘[t]his is the worst Afghanistan has ever been. There are

29 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 29.

30 Ms Carina Ford, Member, Migration Law Committee, Federal Litigation and Dispute Resolution

Section, Law Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 15.

31 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 2.

32 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 38.

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11 million children in potential starvation. It's the worst humanitarian crisis since Yemen’.33

3.40 The impending collapse of the economy was another important factor feeding into the humanitarian crisis. The former Ambassador of Afghanistan to Australia, Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, explained:

The Taliban, during their 27 years of existence, have constantly challenged the international humanitarian and human rights laws. Their continuous war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, together with the recent drought and COVID-19, have come together to create a humanitarian catastrophe. The Afghan people are in the grip of severe shortages of food, cash, medicine, clothes and shelter.

…the humanitarian situation is worsening as we speak, as time passes. If you compare the humanitarian situation now to where we were three months ago, it's rapidly going down. The economy of the country is on the verge of collapse. People are running out of cash, basically. When I talk to my friends and relatives in Kabul—I come from Kabul—they say: “We're running out of cash now. We don't know how to buy groceries on a daily basis.” This is the main point that has occupied everybody's mind, as Afghans in the region and the rest of the world: what to do about the economy of the country and what to do to stop the worsening of the humanitarian situation.34

3.41 Further information on the humanitarian situation and assistance is contained in Chapter 8.

33 Mr Nawid Cina, Acting General Manager, Mahboba’s Promise, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 35.

34 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 61-62.

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Chapter 4

The collapse of the Afghan government

4.1 A range of explanations for the collapse of the Afghan government and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were received by the committee and are explored in this chapter. The evidence indicated that there were issues with the long-term viability of the Afghan government and the ANDSF to sustain themselves without the ongoing support of allied forces. Others proposed that the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan (commonly referred to as the Doha agreement), which was an agreement signed between the United States (US) and the Taliban, was the catalyst that delegitimised the Afghan government and led to the strengthening of the Taliban. The role of Pakistan was also an important factor raised in understanding the Taliban’s resurgence.

4.2 This chapter also explores a range of views on the speed of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan which was described by some as surprising. Perspectives on the capability of the Taliban to form government and govern effectively are also considered, as well as the ongoing presence and persistence of resistance within Afghanistan.

Fragility of the Afghan government and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces

The collapse of the Afghan government 4.3 The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) explained that the ‘Taliban commenced major offensives against Afghan military forces in May 2021’ and:

On 2 July 2021, US military forces withdrew from their primary military base outside of Kabul and by the end of July 2021, the US confirmed that the Taliban had taken control of approximately half of the country’s districts. In the interim, the Taliban had indicated a forthcoming peace proposal to secure their position as the governing power in Afghanistan. They entered Kabul on 15 August 2021, claiming victory over Afghanistan and established an interim government, as President Ashraf Ghani and other government officials were evacuated from the country.1

4.4 Professor Theo Farrell, an academic at the University of Wollongong, noted:

In just a few days, over 6 to 15 August 2021, the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, seizing all of its provincial capitals and major cities, including Kabul.2

1 Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), Submission 19, p. 12.

2 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 47.

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4.5 The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) stated that the ‘reasons for the failure of the Afghan government and the ANDSF to defend against a Taliban takeover are open for debate, and it is too early to attribute the root causes without detailed analysis’.3

Problems within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces 4.6 Evidence received by the committee indicated a number of issues within the ANDSF that contributed to the Taliban’s victory in taking over Afghanistan.

4.7 Professor Farrell provided the committee with an article written by Dr Jonathan Schroden, titled ‘Lessons from the Collapse of Afghanistan’s Security Forces’, which identified six key factors which led to the collapse of the ANDSF:

 the ANDSF collapse was months—if not years—in the making;  the United States did not give the ANDSF everything they needed to be independently successful;  the ANDSF did put up a fierce fight in many areas;  the ANDSF were poorly served by Afghan political leaders;  the ANDSF were poorly served by their own commanders; and  the Taliban strategy overwhelmed and demoralized the ANDSF.4

4.8 Professor Farrell agreed with Dr Schroden’s conclusion that ‘[t]he speed of the Taliban advance belies an insurgent victory that unfolded over years’.5

4.9 Mr Scott May, who served in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009, reported ‘[a]s an enlisted soldier I could see that the Afghan Army were not an efficient or effective fighting force…it is not at all surprising how quickly they capitulated’.6

4.10 Another veteran who served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) from 2006 to 2014 described his experience with the Afghan army:

One of the main jobs my platoon had was supporting the ANA [Afghan National Army] patrols either by doing our own patrol near where they were or with them as a part of the OMLT [Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team] when they wanted to be backed up.

There is less than a hand full of ANA soldiers that I personally saw that were at a standard that made you think, [oh] he knows what’s going on[,] he knows his job…

3 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Submission 22, p. 3.

4 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to question on notice (received 8 November 2021) referencing

Dr Jonathan Schroden, ‘Lessons from the Collapse of Afghanistan’s Security Forces’, Combating Terrorism Center Sentinal, 2021, vol. 14, issue 8, pp. 45-61.

5 Professor Theo Farrell, Wollongong University, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 47.

6 Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch, Submission 66, p. 5.

45

There was no way in hell the ANA could have done [their] job without us holding [their] hands.7

4.11 Mr Hugh Poate, whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, submitted that the Afghan army lacked the drive to hold back the Taliban:

There was no shortage of Taliban fighters to fill dead men's shoes. We had no chance at all of beating them. The Afghan National Army was probably 10 times greater than the numbers of the Taliban, but it didn't have the same drive to fight. Most of the Afghan National Army soldiers were there because it was a paid job. They gave up, though, towards the end because they could see the Taliban was going to win and their pay had stopped coming through because most of the money being given to the government of Afghanistan was being squandered by the corrupt government of that time—in fact, under both presidents, Karzai and Ghani.

…they thought that they were going to be supported by the Western forces, but the Western forces announced that they were leaving. That, of course, emboldened the Taliban even further, and the Afghan National Army, who had relied heavily on Western forces for support, suddenly realised: “Well, we're going to be left to our own devices. We can't possibly win”. And when the president flew out of the country, that was the end of it.8

4.12 DFAT compared the lack of morale within the ANDSF with some of the tactics of the Taliban which led to the downfall of the Afghan government:

On the Taliban’s part, its brutality and mercilessness, and its murder of surrendering ANDSF soldiers, broadcast over the internet, was designed to generate fear. It did not abide by its undertakings under the Doha Agreement of February 2020 and that gave it an advantage that was difficult to counter.

For its part, the ANDSF was not able to maintain command and control nor morale within its ranks. Fragile ideological cohesion and a lack of national unity within the ANDSF contrasted against the Taliban’s ruthless dedication to its cause and its use of propaganda to degrade the ANDSF’s will to fight. The Taliban’s military strategy of taking control of main highways and besieging the major cities crippled Kabul’s ability to send reinforcements and supplies.9

Problems within the Afghan government 4.13 Additionally, evidence received by the committee indicated that issues within the Afghan government not only contributed to the flaws identified above within the ANDSF but also, ultimately, to the victory of the Taliban.

7 Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch, Submission 66, p. 14.

8 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 5.

9 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 3.

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4.14 Professor Farrell provided the committee with an article written by Professor Michael Semple, a world-leading authority on the Taliban, which raised a number of issues with the ministerial leadership of the Afghan government:

…there was a critical failure of Afghan leadership of the security forces. Incredibly, Afghanistan operated for most of the past two years with a defence minister who was off sick. A chief of army staff had to stand in for him before being replaced by someone even less competent during the offensive.

The national security adviser was relatively inexperienced but passed on the president’s micro-managing instructions to the armed forces. To cap it all, the head of the administrative affairs division which makes all appointments, was deeply corrupt and, despite the crisis, continued to demand bribes for command appointments, which disastrously weakened the officer corps. Competent officers were simply excluded from some of the most important posts and many units were under-manned, to enable the commanders to divert salary and ration payments.

With such chaos in the top leadership of the Afghan security forces, it is hardly surprising that Afghanistan did not have an effective strategy to combat the Taliban offensive.10

4.15 DFAT also noted that the ‘[b]attlefield performance of the ANDSF was… affected by the Afghan government’s reshuffling of office holders, including interior and defence ministers, governors, and police chiefs’.11

4.16 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, former Ambassador of Afghanistan to Australia, added that there were issues with corruption within the Afghan government:

At national level the weakness of the rule of law in Afghanistan played a key role, and partially our leaders ignored strengthening the rule of law. That of course paved the ground for high corruption. It also paved the ground for power struggle, and, in order to do that, certain elements used ethnic politics. I think these were the key factors in terms of weakening the state inside Afghanistan.12

The Doha agreement 4.17 The Doha agreement was discussed at length in the evidence received by the committee. Many submitters saw that the signing of the agreement played a role in delegitimising the Afghan government, lowering the morale of the

ANDSF, and strengthening the position of the Taliban.

10 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to question on notice (received 8 November 2021) referencing

Michael Semple, ‘Afghanistan unravelled: “Twenty years building a civilised society ends in the return of these brutes”’, The Irish Times, 21 August 2021.

11 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 3.

12 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 61.

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4.18 The Doha agreement was signed on 29 February 2020.13 Home Affairs explained:

Following nearly two decades of US-led Coalition occupation in Afghanistan and nine rounds of negotiations over two years, the Agreement sought to be a comprehensive and sustainable agreement to end the war in Afghanistan for the benefit of all Afghans and contribute to regional stability and global security.14

4.19 The Doha agreement contained a number of commitments made by each party, as outlined by Home Affairs:

A key provision in the Agreement was the US commitment to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the US, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within 14 months. Both parties agreed to a staged withdrawal, with the initial withdrawal reducing the number of US personnel in Afghanistan to 8,600 and the US and Coalition withdrawal of forces from five military bases within the first 135 days of the agreement. This would be followed by a full NATO withdrawal if the Taliban met its own commitments.

The Taliban committed to prevent the use of Afghanistan territory to threaten the security of the US and its allies by any of its members, other individuals, or groups (including al-Qaeda). This was to be ensured by the Taliban directing members not to cooperate with such individuals or groups, and preventing the same from recruiting, training or fundraising. They committed not to provide visas, passports, travel permits and other legal documents to such individuals/groups. The agreement also outlined that measures should be taken to assure that those seeking asylum or residence in Afghanistan do not pose a threat to the security of the US and its allies.

In addition, the US further committed to the release of up to 6,000 combat and political prisoners, to initiate an administrative review of current US sanctions and rewards list against members of the Taliban, and to refrain from the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan or interfere in its domestic affairs.15

4.20 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy Bose, academic specialising in the study of Afghanistan, submitted that the ‘fuse for disaster in Afghanistan was lit by the Doha Agreement’, describing it as ‘one of the most ill-conceived and poorly-implemented exercises in diplomacy since the Munich agreement of

13 See: Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America, dated 29 February 2020, www.state.gov/wp-

content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf (accessed 1 December 2021).

14 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 11.

15 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 11.

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September 1938’.16 Additionally, the way in which the agreement undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government and lifted the Taliban, ‘was one of the most utterly predictable developments that one might have expected if one had much knowledge of Afghan history’.17

4.21 Emeritus Professor William Maley, an academic at the Australian National University, further explained the comparison of the Doha agreement with the Munich agreement:

The Doha agreement was defective in multiple respects. Firstly, it was concluded and signed in the absence of the government of Afghanistan, but that did not prevent the United States, in signing the agreement, from committing that the government of Afghanistan would release up to 5,000 combat and political prisoners held by the Afghan government, even though it was not a party to the agreement. That was a first parallel with the 1938 Munich Agreement, which was conducted in the absence of the government of Czechoslovakia.18

4.22 Secondly, the Doha agreement:

…involved commitments not just on behalf of the United States, but on behalf of Allied powers such as Australia and the United Kingdom that their forces and contractors would be withdrawn as well. The US official who actually signed the Doha agreement was not even a permanent official of the US government, but was a contractor. It's not clear to me that he was authorised in advance by Allied states to make such a commitment.19

4.23 Dr Nematullah Bizhan, also an academic at the Australian National University, agreed that the absence of the Afghan government within negotiations was a fundamental problem as:

… it undermined and bypassed a legitimate government. That was the first problem, but it was not something new. Post-9/11 the approach by most international actors in Afghanistan was paradoxical. As such, they bypassed the state, creating parallel mechanisms. The result of that was [the] prolonging of state weakness. This is something which I discuss in my book; its paradox is an Afghanistan building and undermining the state. The Doha agreement bypassed the government and the people of Afghanistan ...

The second one is that this agreement facilitated fragmentation of the state and polity from within Afghanistan and empowered the Taliban as a group to act as a state and put the state in a much weaker position as

16 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani and Dr Srinjoy

Bose, Submission 15, p. 4.

17 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 52.

18 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 51.

19 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 52.

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another actor, rather than as the major actor, in Afghanistan, and it had implications at different levels in Afghanistan.20

4.24 However, Home Affairs noted that while the Afghan government did not participate in the US-Taliban talks, ‘on the same day the Agreement was signed, a press conference was held to address the next steps in peace negotiations, outlining plans for intra-Afghan peace talks’.21

4.25 Nonetheless, Emeritus Professor Maley explained that while the US had put forward that the Taliban continue with ‘intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides’ following the Doha agreement, they did not even name the Afghan government:

The problem was that the United States, in its initial agreement, gave to the Taliban everything they really wanted. It gave to them the status of a place at the table with one of the most powerful states in the world. It gave them a commitment for the release of up to 5,000 combat or political prisoners. And it provided a firm timetable for the withdrawal of US forces. Having got, at that point, everything that they really wanted, the Taliban had no significant interest in negotiating seriously with anyone else thereafter, and therefore the Taliban movement remitted to a position of strategic stalling rather than serious good-faith negotiations with other parties.22

4.26 Referring to the article noted earlier by Professor Semple, Professor Farrell pointed out that the Doha agreement was a ‘fundamentally flawed’ process that ‘[i]nstead of bringing peace, it enabled the Taliban victory through an approach of appeasement’.23 The article also agreed that ‘the Taliban leadership had never been seriously interested in sincerely negotiating or reaching agreement with the government in Kabul’, but rather the peace negotiations for the Taliban were a ‘strategic communications exercise, to pose as a legitimate political movement and encourage complacency towards their military campaign’.24

20 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 52. See also: Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq,

Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi, Submission 43, p. 6.

21 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 11.

22 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 51.

23 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to question on notice (received 8 November 2021) referencing

Michael Semple, ‘Afghanistan unravelled: “Twenty years building a civilised society ends in the return of these brutes”’, The Irish Times, 21 August 2021.

24 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to question on notice (received 8 November 2021) referencing

Michael Semple, ‘Afghanistan unravelled: “Twenty years building a civilised society ends in the return of these brutes”’, The Irish Times, 21 August 2021.

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4.27 As for the US, the article claimed that ‘[i]t is clear that the US wanted to use the illusion of a political process to provide some political cover for extricating itself from Afghanistan’.25 It explained:

The US talked up the prospects of a political settlement and the hopes that it would hand over to a powersharing administration including the Taliban. But throughout the 2018-2021 peace initiative, the Taliban leadership gave their fighters an entirely different narrative. Unambiguously, it was a victory narrative. Taliban fighters were told that they had defeated the United States in the war and that the US had agreed to hand over power to them as they left- “the Americans have handed us the keys of the presidential palace” was a frequently repeated phrase.26

4.28 Professor Farrell added, therefore:

The Taliban correctly interpreted this deal as the clearest signal yet that the US government had given up on Afghanistan. It led to the immediate ending of the US air strikes in support of besieged Afghan forces and critically undermined Afghan army morale.27

4.29 However, Professor Farrell did note that it was assumed at the time that the Doha agreement would result in a reduction in conflict, not an escalation, and explained the significance of the cessation of US air strikes following signing of the Doha agreement:

There's quite a lot of evidence, and it was reported by the United Nations Security Council, for instance…what the Doha peace deal provided was an assumption on both sides that there would be a reduction in the conflict. For instance, US forces in Afghanistan tweeted that it was expected…that there would be an 80 per cent reduction in fighting. But actually what happened was the Taliban intensified their military operations, but they did so just below the threshold that would trigger US air strikes. For instance, the Afghan Analyst Network, which is a very reputable network of analysts that do field research in Afghanistan, went to several provinces after the Doha deal and what they discovered was the Taliban were using the cover of the Doha deal to make gains on the ground, to capture road networks, to surround district centres but to do it in a way that didn't trigger a US military response. It was only when the Taliban in Afghanistan, in what would have been the autumn of 2020, attacked Lashkar Gah, which is the provincial capital of Helmand—and that was a major attack—that US air strikes were triggered to repulse them. That's why they were seen as a Taliban attempt to see how far they could push it before the US would strike back.

25 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to question on notice (received 8 November 2021) referencing

Michael Semple, ‘Afghanistan unravelled: “Twenty years building a civilised society ends in the return of these brutes”’, The Irish Times, 21 August 2021.

26 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to question on notice (received 8 November 2021) referencing

Michael Semple, ‘Afghanistan unravelled: “Twenty years building a civilised society ends in the return of these brutes”’, The Irish Times, 21 August 2021.

27 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 47.

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That's really critical, because the US air strikes were important for two reasons. The first is they stopped the Taliban taking major capitals and major cities. Whenever the Taliban amassed to do that, the US, which had regional targeting teams, could call on air strikes in a matter of minutes to stop them. The second is that it gave support and morale to the Afghan army on the ground. But, from March 2020 onwards, when the US stopped doing air strikes because of the Doha deal, what the Afghan army saw were planes flying in the sky above them, but they weren't dropping bombs to support them. That caused Afghan army morale to collapse.28

4.30 With regard to the Taliban’s attack on Lashkargah in Afghanistan, Professor Farrell referred to a report by the United Nations Security Council which found:

…that the assault on Lashkargah was most likely ‘a probing exercise to gauge how far conditions of the Doha Agreement could be tested before being challenged by the United States’. It finds that overall, the greater freedom of movement had ‘allowed the Taliban to mass forces around key provincial capitals and district centres, enabling them to remain poised to launch attacks, while technically still abiding by the terms and conditions of the Doha agreement’ (see paragraphs 30 & 31 [of the United Nations’ report]).29

4.31 Dr Srinjoy Bose, an academic at the University of New South Wales, identified another shortcoming of the agreement, stating:

One of the conditions mentioned in the agreement relates to terror networks and terror groups such as al-Qaeda. The Americans wanted assurances from the Taliban group that they would sever any and all ties with the al-Qaeda terror group. However, as part of those negotiations, there weren't any enforcement or monitoring mechanisms that were identified. Without monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, they were really giving the Taliban group a free hand to continue and maintain their generations-old relations with the al-Qaeda terror group and other terror groups.30

4.32 Adjunct Professor Saikal argued that the Doha agreement not only legitimised the Taliban, but also gave the wrong impression to terrorist groups in the region:

28 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 48. Note: Lashkargah is a city in southwestern Afghanistan and the capital of Helmand Province.

29 Professor Theo Farrell, answer to written question on notice (received 8 November 2021)

referencing United Nations Security Council, ‘Twelfth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2557 (2020) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace stability and security of Afghanistan’, 1 June 2021, www.undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/S/2021/486 (accessed 10 November 2021).

30 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 52.

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At the time, I remember, even before the signing of this agreement, I personally warned Mr Khalilzad, the negotiator of the US, that this was a mistake, that this would be a very disastrous agreement, that it would really raise the morale of the Taliban to the highest and also that it would give the wrong signal to other terrorist, radical and extremist groups in the region and around the world that this is the way to go. You commit terror, you commit violence, and we credit you, we pat you on the shoulder, we sign an agreement with you, and we formalise things with you.31

4.33 Similarly, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, an academic at La Trobe University, submitted that the Doha agreement ‘elevated the Taliban as an actor in the region’ and explained:

We should remember that, until 2018 and 2017, many countries in the region which had relations with the Taliban were doing so discreetly. It was not very common for the Taliban leadership to arrive in public meetings or official visits in countries around the region. It was only after the Doha agreement, which was lodged by the United States, and the way it was managed, that countries in the region saw the Taliban as a regional, legitimate actor. They started perceiving the Taliban as a legitimate actor with some inevitable role to play in the future of Afghanistan. And that, I think, reinforced what we saw happen on the ground in Afghanistan…But I think we have seen quite a dramatic shift in the region about how countries and capitals in the region see the Taliban. And that was really triggered by the way Doha leadership negotiations were handled by the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.32

The role of Pakistan 4.34 Some submitters reflected on Pakistan’s role in the destabilisation of the Afghan government through its apparent relationship with the Taliban and noted that the international community should have dealt with the issues

surrounding Pakistan’s role sooner.

4.35 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, discussed the historical links between Pakistan and the Taliban:

There's certainly a range of reporting that points to historical links between parts of Pakistan's government and the Taliban. I can't comment on whether that's the primary source or otherwise of Taliban funding. There are family links and other links across those borders, so there's an ongoing relationship, but that's not all formally government endorsed. If we go back to the antecedents of the organisation, certainly there's a link there to the Pakistan government. They are separate entities now, and the Pakistan government makes that clear, but clearly there's an ongoing relationship.33

31 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 61.

32 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, pp. 52-53.

33 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 43.

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4.36 A 2015 study found that the Taliban leadership was ‘acutely aware that its military campaign is dependent upon retaining access to Pakistani territory’.34 In this context, the Department of Defence (Defence) was asked whether it agreed with the congressional testimony of the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, who stated that ‘never effectively dealing with Pakistan’ was a critical error.35 Defence stated that it agreed with US General Milley’s assessment:

…that the endstate in Afghanistan was the cumulative result of a series of decisions and actions taken over twenty years. The Taliban’s military campaign did depend on retaining access to Pakistani territory.36

4.37 Similarly, Dr Bizhan stated that ‘critical factor in Afghanistan's fall was Pakistan's role in providing the Taliban with sanctuaries, logistical support and equipment’.37

4.38 Additionally, Mr Poate raised the point that the Taliban ‘was backed by Pakistan’ and that this, amongst other contributing factors, meant that ‘the Taliban was always going to win that war’.38

4.39 Adjunct Professor Saikal argued that Pakistan played a role in the ‘remaking’ of the Taliban:

At regional level, Pakistan's policy of using violence in pursuit of strategic objectives has been a key factor behind the rise or the return of the Taliban—the remaking of the Taliban…

It looks like the Taliban have been there for 27 years. They came to power for five years between 1996 and 2001, and then Pakistan played a double game when 9/11 happened and the international forces came to Afghanistan. They brought them back over time.39

4.40 Professor Maley added:

Pakistan has been up to its neck in the perfidious actions of the Taliban since the Doha agreement was signed to use military force to seize control of Afghanistan. There are geopolitical factors and historical factors that explain that particular pattern of behaviour on Pakistan's part.

The initial reaction of Pakistan to the fall of the republican regime in Afghanistan was so ill judged that I think they are attempting rhetorically to back a little bit away from some of the things that were said at that

34 Theo Farrell and Mark Semple, ‘Making peace with the Taliban’, Survival, vol. 57, no. 6, 2015, p. 92.

35 United States House Armed Services Committee, ‘Full Committee Hearing: Ending the U.S.

military mission in Afghanistan’, 29 September 2021, https://armedservices.house.gov/2021/9/full-committee-hearing-ending-the-u-s-military-mission-in-afghanistan (accessed 24 November 2021).

36 Defence, answer to question on notice (received 24 November 2021).

37 Dr Nematullah Bizhan, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 50.

38 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 5.

39 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 61.

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time—for example, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s florid statement that the return of the Taliban had broken the shackles of slavery in Afghanistan and also a very foolish speech he gave to the General Assembly of the United Nations…as a result Pakistan have been seeking to create the impression that there is more distance between them and the Taliban than actually is the case. But if one looks at the politics playing out in Afghanistan, it's very clear that the Haqqani network which is now dominant within the Taliban regime was Pakistan's preferred group to dominate the new regime…40

4.41 Dr Bose added ‘[w]e now know that the Haqqani Network are in charge of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. That's their portfolio’.41

4.42 Dr Ibrahimi agreed, explaining:

While Pakistan would like to show that it's playing the role of a responsible actor in Afghanistan, managing our affairs, I think we should also remember that Pakistan has had a lot of influence on the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani shura and the Haqqani Network, which is now in control of Kabul. With that sort of power and influence comes responsibilities. At the end of the day, it seems to me that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on 15 August and the overthrow of the government of Afghanistan was by proxy from Islamabad [capital of Pakistan], in a way…the Taliban victory would not have been possible had it not been for that really sustained strategic, military training and adviser support that they received from within Pakistan.42

4.43 Mr Sloper, DFAT, noted that ‘[t]here's some well-known media coverage around the establishment of the Taliban so-called cabinet, which involved consultations with Pakistan representatives’.43 However, Mr Sloper also explained:

Equally, when we look at the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is a clear line through Taliban thinking that they wish to avoid being perceived to have or having what they would describe as 'foreign interference' in their operations.44

40 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 53.

Note: The Haqqani Network is a Sunni Islamist militant organization founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who emerged as a top Afghan warlord and insurgent commander during the anti-Soviet war and later allied with the Afghan Taliban during the mid-to-late 1990s. He was also a known associate of Osama Bin Ladin. See: www.dni.gov/nctc/groups/haqqani_network.html (accessed 1 December 2021).

41 Dr Srinjoy Bose, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 52.

42 Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 54.

43 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, Department of Foreign Affairs and

Trade, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 43.

44 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, Department of Foreign Affairs and

Trade, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, pp. 43-44.

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4.44 Professor Farrell agreed:

For the regional powers, the Taliban offer the potential for security that would increase trade from Pakistan to Iran and so forth. The Taliban can be very enabling for economic growth in the region, but I would emphasise that the Taliban, in one respect, are cagey enough customers to understand that they don't want to be beholden to any regional power. They became very dependent on Pakistan during the war against the Americans, and they resented that.

There has always been a tension between the Taliban and their Pakistan hosts throughout the 20-year war because they didn't like the extent of control that Pakistan had over them, so they will be very slow to let any kind of dependency like that develop.45

4.45 Additionally, Professor Farrell noted:

The Taliban are a nationalist network. That's the first thing to realise. The rivalry between Afghanistan and Pakistan is quite intense among the ordinary population, so it's entirely possible that parts of the Taliban— already some of the southern Taliban groups are very resentful towards Pakistan, particularly because Pakistan took some measures which impacted on Afghan refugees in Pakistan who were their people.46

4.46 Adjunct Professor Saikal also discussed how the Taliban will likely interact with Pakistan moving forward, stating:

The possibility of whether [the Taliban] can go against Pakistan is low. Yes, in the lower rank and file, they may get hurt when they see too much meddling from Pakistan in the affairs of Afghanistan. As you know, when Kabul collapsed, among the first visitors was the chief of the ISI [Inter-Service Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence agency], who came to Kabul and worked with the Taliban very closely to put their so-called caretaker government together. At this stage, I don't envisage a revolt against Pakistan at the highest level of the Taliban leadership. In the lower level, maybe; they may become noisy. But at the higher level, no. In the long term, I can see some kind of partnership emerging between Pakistan, the Taliban and China…China has a keen interest to see Afghanistan joining the CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Of course, they've been talking to the Taliban about that. But in order to get these mega regional economic projects up and running you need the expertise, and, I'm afraid, the Taliban don't have that.47

4.47 In considering what Australia can do in response to the role of Pakistan, Adjunct Professor Saikal put forward:

…the door is still open for the member states of the UN to put a joint resolution together, and I hope that Australia can take the initiative to draft

45 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 52.

46 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 53.

47 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 61.

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that resolution that will really mention the level of support that the Taliban have enjoyed from Pakistan, the safe havens and the leadership of the Taliban there and the training. You know that leading figures of terrorist organisations have lived in Pakistan, have died in Pakistan, have been killed in Pakistan and are buried in Pakistan…Pervez Musharraf, who served Pakistan for eight years as president, said to the Guardian in 2015, “We created the Taliban so that we could counter the Indian influence in Afghanistan.” What other evidence do we want?

The evidence is there and therefore there is a need for the international community to be mobilised. My fear is that, if we don't take this seriously, the state sponsorship of terror might turn into bigger things. For a country to push a terrorist group to this level of occupying another country and now really having a terrorist group governing this country, you can imagine how many other terrorist groups are now in Afghanistan from the regions: from central Asia, from the Arab world they're being attracted to Afghanistan like to a magnet. Therefore, I think this question of why Pakistan has been behaving like this should be raised at the highest level, and certainly there should be an investigation. As I said, Australia has a good bilateral relationship with Pakistan. There's the platform of the Commonwealth and the platform of the UN and other multilateral platforms where Australia could become active.48

4.48 Adjunct Professor Saikal added that whilst the international community is putting the necessary pressure on the Taliban and ‘none of the 193 member states of the UN have recognised the Taliban’, it must also put ‘the necessary pressure on the backer of the Taliban, Pakistan. There is a fair bit of pressure on Pakistan but not enough’.49

4.49 Additionally, Dr Bizhan submitted:

…the international community needs to impress upon Afghanistan or states such as Pakistan that any recognition or engagement in the future with any government in Afghanistan will be based upon certain firm conditions. Those conditions are respect for human rights, inclusiveness in government and how the rule of people will be seen in that context in Afghanistan. These are some of the areas, but time matters in Afghanistan—if you leave it too long. While the situation is quite challenging and the policy options are quite limited, there are at least still some options for leverage available to the international community.50

4.50 In terms of what the Australian Government is doing in relation to Pakistan, Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary of the North and South Asia Division at DFAT, explained:

Obviously, Pakistan's a very important country here: it's got closer relations typically with Afghanistan than most others, it's got the refugee population that's come over the border and we know that Pakistan and the

48 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 64.

49 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 62.

50 Dr Nematullah Bizhan, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 55.

57

new regime have been in close cooperation. The foreign minister [Senator the Hon Marise Payne] has spoken to her Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Qureshi, on a couple of occasions in recent months, and I know that we much appreciate the cooperation we have had from Pakistan, not least in helping take people who've made it over the border into Pakistan onwards.51

4.51 Mr Sloper, DFAT, provided additional detail explaining that Australia is engaging with Pakistan in relation to a number of common concerns about the situation in Afghanistan such as the humanitarian crisis, displacement of people, illegal narcotics, trafficking and terrorism, stating that the ‘primary reason for that is that they, as an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan, share those concerns’.52

Views on the speed of the Taliban takeover 4.52 There was some commentary in the evidence relating to the speed of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan with division on whether or not allied forces could have predicted how fast the capital would fall.

4.53 Professor Farrell noted that ‘[i]n just a few days, over 6 to 15 August 2021, the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, seizing all of its provincial capitals and major cities, including Kabul. The speed of the Taliban advance belies an insurgent victory that unfolded over years’.53

4.54 Professor Farrell added two observations on the speed of the Taliban’s takeover:

The first thing is: with almost no exceptions, I think everybody was surprised at how quickly the Afghan state collapsed in August 2021. The speed with which the Taliban swept across the country took everyone by surprise. It was anticipated that the Afghan Taliban were clearly making gains on the battlefield but it was anticipated that those gains would unfold over a matter of months. Even right up to 15 August, when the Taliban ended up on the doorstep of Kabul, it was expected that Kabul would hold out for a number of months, because Afghan security forces had pulled back to Kabul. It's a large city of five million people. There was a concentration of Afghan security forces there. In fact, Kabul fell literally overnight. So the speed of the Taliban advance took everyone by surprise. That's the first thing I would say.

The second thing I would say is that there were actually multiple indicators that the Afghan national defense and security forces were in

51 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 43.

52 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, Department of Foreign Affairs and

Trade, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 43.

53 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 47.

58

severe distress and were losing ground quite considerably ever since the Doha peace deal was signed on 29 February 2020.54

4.55 General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, noted that not only was the Afghan government not expecting the Taliban to advance so quickly, but the Taliban:

…were also surprised at the speed [of their advance and ease with which they entered Kabul]. Essentially, within about 10 or 11 days they were able to negotiate the handover of all provincial capitals and then occupy Kabul, overwhelmingly without fighting—certainly without substantial fighting. I don't think it was what they were expecting.55

4.56 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, added:

We think, ultimately, [the speed of the Taliban’s takeover] reflects that the Afghan population more broadly believed that the Taliban was eventually going to take control, so therefore you might as well not fight it. Intelligence analysts have talked about this for many years—that it's really about who has confidence, who is perceived to have the wind behind their backs, and that one step can potentially lead to a cascade. So there was concern about countries conducting visible evacuation efforts.56

4.57 In an answer to a question on notice, Mr Jason Scanes, Founder of Forsaken Fighters Australia Inc, referred to a number of reports as far back as 26 January 2021 which warned of the potential collapse of the Afghan government:

A news report on 26 January 2021 stated that groups in Afghanistan would view the U.S withdrawal as a victory, shifting the balance of power in favour to the Taliban and increasing the possibility of a Taliban takeover of the capital, Kabul. It further stated that the growing threats to cities like Kandahar and Kabul were real, with the Taliban having the military advantage having overrun some Afghan checkpoints, destroyed military bases, and seized some district centres.

There were significant concerns over the ANSDF effectiveness, readiness and sustainability…It was reported [in a testimony before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on 16 March 2021] that the Taliban maintain a high level of violence with increases each quarter since the [Doha] agreement was signed (April-June, July- September, and October-December 2020), a much higher number of enemy-initiated attacks compared to seasonal and historical norms.

54 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 48.

55 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 40.

56 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 41.

59

In a report on 09 April 2021, US Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence reported that…without coalition force support the Afghan Government would struggle to hold the Taliban at bay.

Perhaps the most direct picture was painted regarding the future of Afghanistan in a news report on 13 April 2021, where John Sopko, SIGAR, warned "It may not be an overstatement that if foreign assistance is withdrawn and peace negotiations fail, Taliban forces could be at the gates of Kabul in short order."57

4.58 On the other hand, Professor Farrell noted that it is only in retrospect that we can ‘put the pieces of the puzzle together’ despite there being:

…multiple indicators that the Afghan national defense and security forces were in severe distress and were losing ground quite considerably ever since the Doha peace deal was signed on 29 February 2020…

For instance, in June 2021, the Taliban were in control of a quarter of the districts in Afghanistan. That's 104 districts. They doubled that inside one month. By July they'd doubled that to 216 districts that they controlled in Afghanistan. But what happened was that analysts didn't put the pieces of the puzzle together. It's only in retrospect, when we sat back and put the pieces together, that we realised how the Taliban were able to sweep across the country so quickly in July and August.58

4.59 As such, Professor Farrell attributed responsibility to both the Afghan government and to the US:

The Afghan government bears significant responsibility for its own downfall and especially the incompetent leadership of President Ashraf Ghani. However, the Biden administration is responsible for accelerating the collapse of the Afghan state by hastening the US military withdrawal in the second quarter of 2021 when Biden should have taken measures to stabilise the Afghan army. These measures—suspending the Afghan deal given Taliban breaches, resuming US air strikes and continuing a small US military presence to enable contractors to remain to provide maintenance and logistic support to the Afghan army—could have been continued indefinitely at little cost to the United States. Instead, President Biden pursued his political goal of having all US forces out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and in so doing he abandoned the country and its people to the Taliban.59

4.60 In answer to a question on whether or not he believed the Afghan government could have survived if a contingent of US forces remained in Afghanistan, Professor Farrell stated that yes, they could have and raised the point that their presence not only provided the capacity for US air strikes, but also importantly

57 Mr Jason Scanes, answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 8 November 2021,

Canberra, (received 9 November 2021), attachments 3, 6, 7 and 8.

58 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 48.

59 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 47.

60

enabled several thousand contractors to remain in Afghanistan which was crucial to hold the Taliban at bay because the contractors serviced:

…the Afghan army air force—their fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were serviced by these contractors—and also the Afghan army vehicle fleet.

About 80 per cent of the servicing of the vehicle fleet was by foreign contractors. Once the US military postured towards a complete withdrawal the contractors left and took that capacity with them. They also took some high-end capacities around signals intelligence and electronic counterwarfare measures.60

4.61 Furthermore:

The short answer is that the Afghan security forces could have held the line, particularly if they had followed US advice, which was given to Ashraf Ghani in May 2020, to draw back Afghan army forces to a more strategically defensive posture—advice that he ignored, because he refused to give up any ground. They could have easily held the line for a much longer period of time had they followed that advice and continued to receive military support. And it would have been affordable. In terms of the US military budget, it would have been easily affordable. The reason the United States pulled all of its forces out was that President Biden was following a political agenda to get them all out by the anniversary of 9/11 and not that there was a strategic reason for it.61

Perspectives on the capability of the Taliban to govern 4.62 A number of witnesses questioned the capability of the Taliban to form government and to govern effectively.

4.63 Professor Felicity Gerry, Queen's Counsel at Crockett Chambers in Melbourne, stated ‘I think we have to accept that the Taliban doesn't know how to govern. They haven't had the experience in governing…’62

4.64 Professor Farrell questioned the Taliban’s prospects of being able to provide public services reflecting on their previous time in power in Afghanistan and enduring ideological focus:

If they do maintain control, the problem is that they simply lack the capacity to deliver public services. They already demonstrated that they were a very ineffective government when they were in government in the late 1990s. They literally lacked the capacity to deliver public services, and there's not much indication that they've improved. The government they announced in early September is a very hardline government. It is very ideological. They put ideological people into positions of government. So

60 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 49.

61 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 49.

62 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 6.

61

they're not optimised to harness [the] human capital that remains in Afghanistan around governance—quite the opposite—and of course they're not optimised to engage with the international community to access humanitarian support and development assistance, and Afghanistan desperately needs humanitarian support and development assistance…they're not optimised to access international support and deliver the public services that are desperately needed, so it's looking pretty grim unfortunately.63

4.65 Additionally, Professor Farrell reflected on Taliban’s influence in areas such as Helmand Province in Afghanistan during the 20-year war in making a point about their prospects in governing today:

…Taliban commanders who are now having to be provincial governors and deputy ministers and are pretty clueless about it because they're not trained in public administration. They have no experience in this; they're not even politicians. I did quite a bit of research on the Taliban campaign in Helmand. We reconstructed the campaign and we looked closely at the rise of Taliban shadow governance. This was an area of really great concern for ISAF from 2009 onwards. ISAF was concerned that the Taliban were actually, behind the shield of their military campaign, building a shadow governance, and that was undermining public support for the Afghan government. What was quite interesting was that the Taliban, on paper, had a shadow governance, but they really struggled to put it in place. They just didn't have the personnel. Very often the shadow district governor was also the military commander…What they weren't able to do was to deliver, for instance, health care or education in the areas they controlled. What we saw during the war was that the Taliban tolerated government delivery of health care and education in the areas they controlled. The Taliban, during the course of the war, didn't actually develop—you see in some insurgencies, like in Latin America, that the insurgencies develop the capacity for governance. They develop that expertise. The Taliban have never developed that. I think you're absolutely right in saying that, now they are in control, it's very likely that you're going to see historically incompetent governance now in Afghanistan, at a time when it desperately needs capable governance. There is a considerable possibility that this will, over time, erode—it already is eroding—public support, whatever small amount of tolerance there is for the Taliban. In time that could manifest itself in public unrest and, potentially, armed resistance.64

4.66 Adjunct Professor Saikal also questioned the capabilities of the Taliban in relation to regional economic cooperation:

China has a keen interest to see Afghanistan joining the CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Of course, they've been talking to the Taliban about that. But in order to get these mega regional economic projects up

63 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 49.

64 Professor Theo Farrell, University of Wollongong, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 52.

62

and running you need the expertise, and, I'm afraid, the Taliban don't have that. At the moment, key economic portfolios have been given to local mullahs, who don't know much about how to run a small administration— how to run a village—let alone how to run a country and how to deal with China on their mega project of Belt and Road. So I can't see how the continuation of the Taliban in power in Afghanistan would work in the interest of regional economic cooperation, as far as other countries are concerned.65

4.67 Furthermore, Dr Nishank Motwani, an academic at the Australian National University, raised concerns about the Taliban’s legitimacy due to the association of members of its cabinet with terrorism and what this might mean for the emergence of violent extremism in Afghanistan:

The Taliban's caretaker government has done little to assuage fears of the new rulers providing an enabling environment for violent extremists. It is a matter of fact that more than half of the Taliban's 33-member cabinet are on UN or US terrorist sanctions lists. Among the individuals sanctioned is the Taliban's caretaker prime minister, Mullah Hassan Akhund, who served as foreign minister and then deputy prime minister during the Taliban's previous rule, from 1996 to 2001…the Taliban's interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network, [is] a specially designated global terrorist, with a US$10 million reward for his capture.66

4.68 Emeritus Professor Maley described the Taliban interim government as ‘like the smile of the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll, really: the smile is there but the body isn't’.67 He explained:

… the situation in Afghanistan is still extremely fragile. The state has actually collapsed; it has lost its key revenue sources and it has lost its key operational personnel … The likelihood is that this will incline the Taliban not to deliver social welfare for the population but to try to increase its coercive capability and rule through fear. If it goes down that path, however, there's a real risk that there will be mass demonstrations and contentious politics directed against it, and the Taliban regime could unravel.

… In that sense, I think it's actually quite important to keep connections open to non-Taliban political and social actors in other parts of the world so that if the Taliban regime collapses one doesn't just end up with a war of all against all, which could be truly disastrous for everyone. There needs to be a willingness to recognise that alternative centres of authority need to be engaged at this point rather than at a point when it's far too late to help anyone on the ground.68

65 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 61.

66 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 49.

67 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 55.

68 Emeritus Professor William Maley, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

pp. 55-56.

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Resistance in Afghanistan 4.69 Evidence received by the committee indicated that there was persisting resistance present in Afghanistan and that the Taliban’s rule may not yet be guaranteed.

4.70 Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Adjunct Professor Saikal argued that there remained resistance within Afghanistan against the Taliban on a number of levels, albeit fractured:

…opposition is appearing strongly in Afghanistan. You see the women of our country demonstrating on a daily basis. I saw a group of them who, a few days ago in Kabul, were stopped from demonstrating on the streets. They went inside their houses and they started raising their placards—still raising their voices. Political opposition is strong. Also, combat resistance against them is there. But they need a lot of coordination…There is an element of fatigue and tiredness among the bulk of the population but the opposition is there.69

4.71 Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, a PhD candidate at Melbourne University, also commented on the resistance within Afghanistan despite the violence inflicted by the Taliban, stating:

Afghanistan [is] the only country in the world which bans girls from attending schools. Despite that, Afghan women have protested for their rights, demanding their right to education, work and social liberties, to which the Taliban have responded with intimidation, threats and the killing of women activists. You might have heard the tragic news coming out of northern Afghanistan, where five women activists have been shot dead as of last week.70

4.72 Dr Bizhan noted the transformation of Afghan society and the changed expectations of citizens, particularly of women, but was pessimistic about the prospects of the resistance:

The situation in Afghanistan is grim, quite dark. But one fact we can't deny is that, in the last two decades, society has been transformed in Afghanistan. The Taliban are pursuing the same policies they had in the nineties, but the people are different. The population has had access to services, education and media and, by and large, was connected with the rest of the world. So now we hear that women are protesting and making demands of the Taliban. At the moment, that protest is being repressed— not only through force but also through economic means. I'm in contact with people in different provinces—friends, family members and former colleagues. They don't see any hope to sustain themselves because the economic situation is so harsh.71

69 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 62.

70 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 3.

71 Dr Nematullah Bizhan, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 55.

64

4.73 On the other hand, Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC were more hopeful and recommended that the Australian Government support informal grassroots movements ‘by communicating and supporting individuals and movements on the ground, as well as processes and work done to consult with women across Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover’. They explained:

Despite the difficult circumstances which continue to worsen each day, there are still grassroots activists and movements both inside and outside Afghanistan. The work and strength of these networks have grown over the past two decades…This can be done by continuing communication and support to these individuals and movements.

…Due to obvious constraints posed by the Taliban, influencing the continuation of certain progressive laws and provisions will not be immediately possible, however research and consultations with women across the country done by Ms Safi’s former Ministry for Women’s Affairs can be used as a resource upon which to build and guide international efforts to enable governance for the benefit of women that are in line with international law.72

4.74 Adjunct Professor Saikal reflected on past conflicts and resistance in Afghanistan and noted that coordination was the key to Afghanistan’s future:

It will take some time. But I have lived long enough to see the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I'll never forget when the Red Army invaded Afghanistan. For two months it was silence. But then two months later there was a huge uprising in Kabul. People were going up on their roofs and declaring opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With the Taliban this time around on day one of their takeover [of] Kabul, the people of Afghanistan rallied in support of their national flag…The women of Afghanistan rallied in seeking their own rights [on] day one. The people of Afghanistan stood up in different cities against the Taliban. As you know, even after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban fighting continued in certain areas in the north of the country. There is still resistance, armed resistance, to the Taliban. So these elements are there, as I said, in a very scattered way. It needs coordination. The opposition needs coordination inside Afghanistan. The international stand against the Taliban needs a lot of coordination. And coordination is needed between the national opposition and the international opposition to the Taliban.73

4.75 Adjunct Professor Saikal concluded by stating ‘in the long-term, I can really only see change happening in Afghanistan if there is opposition to the Taliban. The political opposition is there, and the civil opposition is there. We see a

72 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC, answers

to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 12 (received 24 November 2021).

73 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 63.

65

continuation of this, and, of course, they need a voice; they need support from the international community’.74

74 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 63

67

Chapter 5

Australian withdrawal and evacuation operations

5.1 This chapter provides an overview of the process of the final Australian withdrawal from Afghanistan during 2021, including preparations made for withdrawal, the closure of the Australian embassy in Kabul in May 2021, and events leading up to and during Australia’s evacuation efforts in the wake of the Taliban seizing control of the country in August 2021.

Australia’s preparations to withdraw from Afghanistan 5.2 The committee took evidence relating to Australia’s withdrawal preparations and planning through 2021, with a particular focus on the timing and rationale for the closure of the Australian embassy in Kabul in May 2021.

Closure of the Australian embassy in Kabul 5.3 The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provided a range of information to the committee about the reasons the Australian Government took the decision to close its Kabul embassy in May 2021, and outlined the

timeline of these events and decisions.

5.4 As background, DFAT noted that it has led Australia’s diplomatic and policy approach on Afghanistan since diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1969.1 DFAT described Australia’s diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan over the two decades since 2001:

…when Australia went into Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks with the United States and [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] NATO allies, our diplomatic relationship changed focus. Our diplomatic coverage had been on a visiting basis from the Australian High Commission in Pakistan, until 2006 when we established a resident Ambassador and Embassy in Kabul. Nine Ambassadors have led the whole of government presence in Afghanistan since 2006, with the Embassy team including officials from a range of government agencies and locally engaged staff.2

5.5 DFAT stated that the government had 'carefully monitored the security situation in Afghanistan' since the opening of the Kabul embassy in 2006, and outlined the risk mitigation strategies necessary for the operation of the embassy:

1 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 1.

2 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 1.

68

DFAT, in consultation with [the Department of Defence] and intelligence agencies, regularly assessed and mitigated the range of security risks to Australia’s diplomatic presence in Kabul, including from terrorism, insider attacks, and general violence. This necessitated significant investment to mitigate risks to the lowest level practicable. This included managing the largest number of contracted security guards of any post in our network, extensive building infrastructure, a large fleet of armoured vehicles, armed security, and detailed tactical security measures such as intricate security planning for every movement of personnel. Notwithstanding all of this investment in a broad range of protective security measures, since its establishment, the Kabul Embassy remained one of DFAT’s highest security risk posts.3

5.6 DFAT 'conducted a program of regular internal security reviews of Australia's diplomatic presence in Afghanistan' from 2016 onwards, which 'took careful account of the wider Coalition footprint in Afghanistan'.4 DFAT noted that all its diplomatic posts, including the Kabul mission, have a Crisis Action Plan, which covers contingency planning, and which is subject to regular review.5

5.7 DFAT noted that it chaired a monthly Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) on Afghanistan through 2020 and 2021, attended by representatives from the Department of Defence (Defence), the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, and intelligence agencies, which addressed issues including embassy security:

The focus of the inter-departmental meetings was information sharing to maximise our situational awareness on security, security threats, the peace process, partner actions, and political, economic and humanitarian issues. The meetings helped shape our awareness of security threats to the mission. DFAT held a separate fortnightly [virtual] meeting between DFAT Canberra and the mission focused exclusively on embassy security.6

5.8 DFAT commissioned an internal review of embassy security in September 2020 'to assure contingency arrangements and necessary security enablers to support our continuing diplomatic presence', in light of the worsening security outlook in the country and the extensive drawdown of coalition forces.7

5.9 DFAT made a submission to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 12 January 2021 outlining progress on the review, 'noting the rising risks in Afghanistan

3 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 2.

4 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 2.

5 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 4.

6 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 4.

7 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 2.

69

and that consideration of closure of the embassy may be required if risks became unacceptably high'.8

5.10 DFAT stated that contingency planning meetings ‘were taking place at the mission several times weekly in 2021—both internal meetings and with other embassies in Kabul’, and a practice exercise was undertaken in January 2021 which helped inform the findings of the internal review that had been commissioned in September 2020.9

5.11 This review reported its findings in March 2021, with DFAT explaining:

The March 2021 report factored in the actual and potential impact of the February 2020 announcement by the US Administration of a political settlement with the Taliban and a timetable for further drawdown and withdrawal of US and coalition troops. It included concerns that a coalition military withdrawal and a reduction in NATO oversight in country would affect key security and medical enablers, increasing the security risk to our mission in Kabul.10

5.12 On 12 April 2021, DFAT provided a brief to the Foreign Minister advising on the increasing security risks in Kabul.11 After the announcements in mid-April 2021 that the withdrawal of United States (US) and Australian Defence Force (ADF) troops was scheduled to be completed in advance of 11 September 2021, intelligence agencies and Defence advised DFAT on a number of occasions in late April that 'the departure from Afghanistan of international forces and the ADF, and the expected deterioration in the security environment would lead to a significant increase in risks to our embassy' that may necessitate its closure. Further:

[T]here was a real risk that the security and medical enablers considered critical to our contingency planning would be absent. In short, we faced growing risks which could no longer be mitigated by the physical security measures implemented successively over many years since the establishment of our embassy.12

5.13 Defence informed the committee that its advice to DFAT in late April was that Defence 'would not be able to guarantee Embassy security once drawdown

8 DFAT, 'Correspondence which corrects evidence given to the committee at the hearing on

11 October 2021 regarding the closure of the Australian Embassy, Kabul', received 29 October 2021, p. 1.

9 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 4.

10 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 2.

11 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 11.

12 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 2.

70

was complete and responsibility for security of the diplomatic zone transferred from NATO to Afghan forces'.13

5.14 General Angus Campbell AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, expanded on the advice Defence provided in relation to closing the embassy:

[T]he deteriorating security situation was…deteriorating [our] capacity to understand the security situation and to respond to it, and to be confident that we had both a local military capability, in the Afghan national army and security forces, and coalition partners who would similarly be able to respond. Remember: to function effectively, an embassy needs its own local security, needs to move around the green zone, needs to get people to a hospital facility in [extremis] and needs to move back and forth to an airhead at Kabul airport.

As we were planning and drawing down the force, while it's always a contested view—and it was a contested view—and there are absolutely good reasons to maintain an embassy, from Defence's perspective the inability to be confident to understand the security situation, which is always volatile in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan on any good day, as much as there was an inability then to respond and do something about that security situation, was what we were concerned about. We were concerned about it with regard to the full suite of the green zone, the embassy compound, the airport, the hospital facility and the transit routes in between. While you could hold on and just 'see how she goes', the advice from Defence was that the embassy ought withdraw when Australian forces were withdrawing, because that gives us confidence that we would not have an embassy team isolated in [extremis] if the worst were to happen.14

5.15 General Campbell advised that Defence were not asked to scope the possibility of ADF personnel providing security services to the embassy in place of the existing contracted security arrangements. General Campbell noted that the ADF ‘had ceased to have a combat force in Afghanistan some years previously’.15

5.16 DFAT officials noted that options for co-locating Australia’s embassy, potentially with the US or the United Kingdom (UK), were considered but were ultimately assessed as unviable.16

5.17 DFAT recommended in a submission to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 4 May 2021 that the Kabul embassy be closed by 28 May, with Australia-based

13 Defence, Answers to written questions on notice from Senator Wong (provided 25 October 2021),

Question No. 13.

14 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 30.

15 General Angus Campbell AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, Committee Hansard, 15 November

2021, p. 36.

16 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, and Ms Minoli

Perera, Chief Security Officer, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, pp. 34-35.

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staff to depart by 15 June. The timing of the embassy closure was linked to timelines for the ADF’s withdrawal.17 DFAT stated:

Drawing on advice from Defence and Australian intelligence agencies and our own assessment of the increasingly uncertain operating environment, DFAT judged that all reasonable security mitigations to reduce the risk to an acceptable level had been exhausted.18

5.18 The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, visited the Kabul embassy on 9 May 2021 in order to consult directly with Afghan leaders and the most senior like-minded military and diplomatic officials. On 13 May, the government made the decision to close the embassy. The government decided that Australia would 'maintain non-resident representation, with diplomats visiting Afghanistan—where possible—until circumstances permitted a return to resident representation'.19

5.19 Embassy staff and locally engaged employees were advised of the decision to close the embassy on 21 May 2021. Coalition partners were also informed of the decision on that day.20 Once the decision to close the mission was taken, ‘a daily drawdown meeting was held between DFAT and the mission to ensure an orderly closure of the mission’, with Defence in attendance.21

5.20 On 25 May 2021 the government publicly announced that the embassy would close on 28 May. DFAT stated that the timing of the announcement and closure 'was informed by security and operational considerations'.22

5.21 The joint statement from the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs announcing the embassy closure stated:

In light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Australia will as an interim measure revert to the model of visiting accreditation for our diplomatic representation to Afghanistan, which we used from the opening of diplomatic relations in 1969 until 2006. Our residential representation in Afghanistan and the Australian Embassy in Kabul will be closed at this time.

We will close our Embassy building on 28 May 2021. DFAT officials will visit Afghanistan regularly from a residential Post elsewhere in the region.

It is Australia’s expectation that this measure will be temporary and that we will resume a permanent presence in Kabul once circumstances permit.

17 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 14.

18 DFAT, Submission 22, pp. 2-3.

19 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 3.

20 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 3.

21 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 4.

22 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 3.

72

This form of diplomatic representation is common practice around the world. It does not alter our commitment to Afghanistan or its people.

The departure of the international forces and hence Australian forces from Afghanistan over the next few months brings with it an increasingly uncertain security environment where the Government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence.

On the Foreign Minister’s recent visit to Kabul, we reaffirmed Australia’s support for the Afghanistan Government during this time of change for the country. Australia remains committed to the bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, and we will continue to support the stability and development of Afghanistan in concert with other nations.23

5.22 DFAT also updated its travel advice for Afghanistan on 25 May, to advise that 'Australia’s ability to provide consular assistance would be severely limited after the embassy closure'.24

5.23 DFAT noted that at the time of embassy closure in May 2021, the Kabul post directly employed ‘24 Locally Engaged Staff, and there were around 280 contracted staff’.25

5.24 Following the closure of the embassy in Kabul, Australia's diplomatic mission to Afghanistan was moved to be co-located with the Australian Embassy in Qatar, where it will be located 'for the foreseeable future'.26 DFAT stated that this mission 'is helping to deepen our cooperation with partners, many of whom also moved their missions to Afghanistan from Kabul to Qatar'.27

Impacts of the embassy's closure 5.25 The committee heard that the embassy closure created impacts for various groups, including visa applicants, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) associated with Australia, and local Afghan staff involved with the embassy.

Impact on NGOs and visa holders 5.26 The committee heard that the embassy closure created difficulties for visa applicants and NGOs in Afghanistan. Ms Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor and

23 The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, and Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for

Foreign Affairs, 'Statement on the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan', Joint Media Statement, 25 May 2021, available at www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/statement-australian-embassy-afghanistan (accessed 25 October 2021).

24 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4.

25 DFAT, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Budget Estimates

2021-22, Portfolio Question on Notice 107 (answer received 10 September 2021). Note: The committee understands that the 280 contracted staff were employed by security contractors.

26 DFAT, Submission 22, pp. 5-6.

27 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 6.

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Centre Director, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), commented on the impact as follows:

In terms of the impact of the embassy closing, I think it's important that the embassy closing had an impact not only on the NGOs but also on many visa holders, Australian citizens and permanent residents also in Afghanistan. As I mentioned in our opening remarks, the issue with the fall of Kabul was that people were calling RACS, asking us: 'Who do we call? Who do we contact?' Our natural response as legal advisers in this process is to contact the embassy of Australia in Afghanistan or the country in which you are remaining. The fact that the embassy was closed, the fact that there wasn't an alternative and the fact that we as legal representatives didn't have a contact point or someone to speak to when this hit is a real issue. I think that the point of the embassy closing is a really important one because it had repercussions for many, and I believe that it had repercussions in terms of the evacuation and why it was so chaotic.28

5.27 Mr Nawad Cina, Acting General Manager, Mahboba's Promise, commented on the embassy closure and its impacts on the safety of NGO staff who had links with Australia:

I think the closure of the embassy ended the communications, really. Our people on the ground had been in good contact with the Australian embassy, and so that was the primary contact. It speaks also to [the] question regarding potential preparation. But, yes, we didn't receive much comms from the embassy prior to its closure.

Senator LAMBIE: You didn't receive an alternative contact then?

Mr Cina: Not from what I know. I could be incorrect in saying so. But I would just like to add that it has been the support of the previous ambassador and a lot of embassy staff with our case that has propelled the seriousness of it, so I am grateful for that. But no alternative contact that I know of was provided.29

Impact on local embassy staff, the Locally Engaged Employee program and contractors 5.28 GAP Veteran and Legal Services (GAPLS), a legal and advocacy organisation has assisted ‘Afghan Nationals who worked with the Australian Government and its contracting partners’.30 GAPLS asserted that the embassy closure had

significant impacts on security staff associated with the embassy:

[The embassy closure] left thousands of Australian passport and visa holders at considerable risk and at the mercy of hostile forces and other belligerents occupying Afghanistan at the time. Those particularly at-risk were over 200 individuals who worked for the Australian Embassy as Security Guards and Contractors, inclusive of their families, which brings

28 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 31.

29 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 36.

30 GAPLS, Submission 18, p. 1.

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their total to at least 1000 individuals left with no support from the Australian Government.

On 15 June 2021, the Australian Embassy Security guards were served Employment Termination Notices by hand. The advice to them and those terminated prior to this date was 'due to the project reduction and downsizing of personnel requirements, as notified by GardaWorld's client’.31

5.29 GAPLS contended that ‘[a]t no time leading up to the fall of Kabul were the Australian Embassy security guards and other contractors notified that the Embassy was closing permanently’,32 and submitted further:

The closure of the Australian Embassy may have been the right thing to do to protect the lives of Australian diplomats and locally engaged staff, many of whom were evacuated well ahead of the 31 August deadline. However, it had devastating consequences for the Australian Embassy guards, contractors and their families (the Embassy Group) who were deemed ineligible to apply for a humanitarian visa under the 'At Risk Afghan Employees Visa Scheme.' This scheme was reserved only for those who were directly employed by the Embassy or other specified agencies, not contractors.

The denial of responsibility for the Embassy Group was evident in media statements, particularly at a Ministerial level. Whilst it is true that the Australian Embassy group were the direct (employee) responsibility of the Private Security Company GardaWorld, arguably, there was a moral responsibility on the part of the Australian Government to afford the Embassy Group a duty of care. The Government was well aware that the Embassy Group was at risk due to their service to the Australian Government. The rhetoric at the ministerial level stating that the Private Security Companies and other Australian contractors were coordinating the evacuation of the Embassy Group is false.

There can be no denying that the sudden closure of the Australian Embassy denied thousands of vulnerable individuals and groups of people the critical time they needed to create emergency contingencies and move themselves and their families to safety. As a result, those Australian visa holders remain in Afghanistan and face the likelihood of brutal reprisals.33

5.30 Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan (SAWA) Australia asserted:

The closure of the Australian Embassy in May 2021 contributed to the chaos, fear and anguish experienced by the Afghan people immediately

31 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 9.

32 Note: DFAT advised the committee that the embassy was closed and temporarily relocated. See

Mr Newnham, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 35. The committee understands that no decision has been taken to close the embassy permanently. See Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, ‘Statement on the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan’, Joint Statement with the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, 25 May 2021.

33 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 9 (emphasis in original).

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following the Taliban takeover in August. Desperate for their lives and safety, people had little or no recourse to diplomatic assistance or advice as to how to apply for humanitarian assistance or visas to seek refuge in Australia.

In the ensuing 2-3 months (between May and August) hundreds of Afghan nationals previously employed by the Embassy, along with interpreters, translators, drivers etc who had supported Australian troops, were left stranded. SAWA considers that Australia had a moral responsibility to assist these people, as well as many thousands of others who sought to escape the prospect of a tyrannical regime.

A delay in the closure of the Embassy, and the retention of some Australian staff in Kabul, might have enabled more evacuation flights to be arranged and better management of granting of visas, advice and assistance.34

5.31 In July 2021, Former Prime Minister John Howard also said that Australia has a moral responsibility to assist Afghan interpreters and other staff who worked with Australian agencies, urging the government to do more to assist Afghans who assisted Australia.35

5.32 Departmental officials were asked about what advice was provided to government about the impact of the embassy closure in relation to the visa processing of locally engaged employees, and what action was taken about this. Mr Geoff Tooth, Assistant Secretary, Afghanistan and Regional Branch, and former Head of Mission Kabul, DFAT, stated that embassy employees ‘were advised of all their rights under the LEE [Locally Engaged Employee] visa scheme, we provided them all the detail of that and they were continually engaged in the process’.36

5.33 Home Affairs noted that it did not have a presence in Afghanistan in 2021, and that it did not have an immigration office at the Australian embassy in Kabul. As such, there were no staff undertaking visa processing and assessment work at the embassy prior to its closure on 28 May 2021.37

5.34 Chapter 6 contains further evidence on the Locally Engaged Employee program.

Impact on AFP operations 5.35 AFP representatives advised the committee that it was consulted about the closure of the embassy on 3 May 2021, the day before DFAT recommended to

34 Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan (SAWA) Australia, Submission 14, p. 2.

35 Rashida Yosufzai, ‘John Howard says Australia has a ‘moral obligation’ to help Afghan

interpreters’, SBS News, 8 July 2021.

36 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 26.

37 Home Affairs, Answers to written questions on notice from Senator Wong (received 25 October

2021), Question No. 7 and 8.

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government that the embassy be closed.38 When asked about whether the embassy closure had any impact on AFP operations, Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner, AFP, told the committee:

I think it's fair to say we had used the embassy in Afghanistan in terms of visits from Pakistan to assist with some of our inquiries, so it has had a potential impact. It did have a potential impact at the time.39

Reputational impact 5.36 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi, commented in a joint submission that Australia’s decision to close its embassy, being the first coalition partner of significance to do so, had

a negative impact by ‘giving the impression to fellow diplomatically involved missions and organisations that the security situation in Afghanistan is extremely dire’ and caused others to contemplate either evacuating or closing their missions in the country.40 The joint submission argued that the embassy closure was also ‘critical in terms of conveying a message or warning that Afghanistan will be abandoned’ and was ‘a vital factor to embolden Taliban and their supporters’. Further:

In the end, though, the early withdrawal for Australia was a positive decision as we saved further loss of life. The negative impact however was on the Afghan nationals, making them feel ‘abandoned.’41

5.37 Rural Australians for Refugees submitted:

Australia’s reputation has been severely damaged by the sudden decision to close its Embassy, and then withdraw with a lack of humanitarian consideration for Afghan nationals and apparent lack of planning in this hasty retreat and evacuation from Afghanistan.42

Evacuation of Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders 5.38 The committee received detailed evidence about the evacuation operation undertaken by the Australian Government during August 2021. The timeline

of events and actions taken by the Australian Government is presented here from evidence received by the committee.

38 Australian Federal Police, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November

2021 (received 24 November 2021), p. 2.

39 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 16.

40 Submission 43, p. 11.

41 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi,

Submission 43, p. 11.

42 Submission 24, p. 8.

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Evacuation planning and communications with Australians prior to the fall of Kabul 5.39 Defence was asked what contingencies and operational plans it had in place when the ADF withdrawal was announced on 15 April 2021, in the event that

the Taliban took control of Kabul while troops remained. Defence stated:

As at 15 April 2021 prudent planning options existed to cover contingencies in Afghanistan, and the 80 ADF personnel remaining were within scope for extraction in one airlift should the need have arisen. These remaining 80 ADF personnel were located at Kabul and therefore had significant force protection from US and NATO forces. ADF personnel were withdrawn in line with the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.43

5.40 In relation to planning at this time for DFAT staff in Kabul, Defence stated that the ‘DFAT Kabul Crisis Action Plan [CAP] identified options for DFAT staff to withdraw from Afghanistan that could be supported by ADF’.44 DFAT elaborated:

The CAP for Afghanistan considered all medium to high risks posed to Australians and Australian interests, and detailed evacuation plans should these be required, including for the staff at the mission as well as Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families. Embassy staff held regular contingency planning meetings and maintained a working copy of the CAP. Following the Embassy closure, staff retained responsibility for the CAP while working remotely.45

5.41 When asked whether Defence had a specific plan for a non-combatant evacuation operation from Afghanistan as at 15 April 2021, Defence stated:

There was no specific plan for a non-combat evacuation operation (NEO) from Afghanistan as at 15 April 2021. However, Defence maintains a NEO contingency plan that can be rapidly applied to any country. The ADF [Headquarters Joint Operations Command] commenced specific and detailed Afghan NEO planning in May.46

5.42 Defence noted that it provided intelligence advice to DFAT regularly on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, with the Defence Intelligence Organisation giving advice 39 times to DFAT through 2021 on these issues. 47

43 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 12.

44 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 12.

45 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No 27.

46 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 12.

47 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 9.

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5.43 In its submission to the Foreign Minister on 4 May recommending closure of the Kabul embassy, DFAT stated that the Embassy estimated that there were up to 500 Australian citizens in Afghanistan at that time.48 DFAT did not recommend any assistance or evacuation of Australian citizens and permanent residents prior to the closure of the Embassy, with DFAT explaining:

As at 4 May, the security situation had not yet deteriorated to the point where an evacuation of Australians needed to be considered. Regular commercial flights were operating, and the Australian Government continued to provide up-to-date travel advice to Australians in Afghanistan, with clear advice on security risks.49

5.44 DFAT commented further on the communication and travel advisories it provided in the leadup to August 2021, stating that it 'has communicated regularly and clearly with Australian citizens and Permanent Residents' in Afghanistan:

Through travel advisories and direct communication, DFAT has been advising Australians not to travel to Afghanistan for many years. Afghanistan has been a ‘Do Not Travel' location since before 2001, due to the extremely dangerous security situation and very high threat of terrorist attack.50

5.45 DFAT noted that it had provided several updates to its country Travel Advice for Afghanistan during 2021:

 On 15 May 2021, DFAT reissued travel advice advising Australians to leave as soon as possible by commercial means, if it was safe to do so.  On 25 May 2021, travel advice was updated noting that there was an increased risk of attacks, and advising that Australia’s ability to provide

consular assistance to Australians in Afghanistan would be severely limited after the Embassy closure on 28 May.  On 1 July 2021, DFAT strengthened its advice to urge Australians to depart the country, with the advice stating: “If you’re still in Afghanistan, you

should leave as soon as possible by commercial means if it’s safe to do so. Do not delay."  On 13 August 2021, DFAT advised Australians to leave now, noting the airport may close or commercial flights may cease with little warning.

Commercial flights from Kabul Airport continued until Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August 2021.51

48 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 21.

49 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 21.

50 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4.

51 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4; DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held

11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021), Question No. 21.

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Interaction with evacuation planning of other nations 5.46 Submitters and witnesses discussed how Australia's evacuation program in August 2021 operated alongside the evacuation programs of other nations.

5.47 When asked about which international partners Defence engaged with on the evacuation mission prior to 16 August 2021, Defence advised that it engaged 'closely and regularly with the United States' in the lead up to the evacuation, and that it 'worked closely with New Zealand, the US, UK and UAE [United Arab Emirates] during the evacuation' as well as holding discussions with Japan.52

5.48 In July 2021, the Biden Administration announced that it would begin Operation Allied Refuge flights out of Afghanistan during the last week of July for US visa holders.53 Media reporting at that time quoted Australian Government sources stating that Australia would not join the US operation and that Australia had no plans to mount a similar operation.54

5.49 Defence was questioned whether it had been asked for advice, or provided advice, to the Australian Government on how Defence could assist the US operation, including to enable the inclusion of Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and visa applicants in the US program. Defence responded that it was not asked for advice, nor provided advice on this matter.55 Defence stated further:

In July 2021, the Afghan government remained in power and Kabul airport remained open. Australians and Australian visa holders were able to leave Kabul by commercial means. There was no requirement for a military evacuation.56

52 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 36.

53 U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, 'Operation Allies Refuge’, 17 July 2021,

https://af.usembassy.gov/operation-allies-refuge/ (accessed 17 November 2021).

54 See, for example: Rashida Yosufzai, ‘Australia says it won't put Afghans who helped its military

on evacuation flights’, SBS News, 16 July 2021, www.sbs.com.au/news/australia-says-it-won-t-put-afghans-who-helped-its-military-on-evacuation-flights/296794ef-8631-46f9-91db-635708df5837 (accessed 24 November 2021).

55 Defence, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021 (received

27 October 2021), Question No. 32.

56 Defence, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021

(received 1 November 2021), Question No. 33.

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The Government evacuated Australian passport and visa holders from Afghanistan via commercial flights during July 2021. Australia was not invited to join US facilitated movement of its citizens during this period.57

5.50 DFAT stated that it ‘spoke with the US in mid-July about its evacuation planning’.58 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, commented further about the US operation Allied Refuge:

We're not aware that there was any potential at that time to open the initiative to extract Afghan nationals with connections to other countries. That was really a US initiative to manage the process for US special immigration visa applicants to go to the US mainland. It wasn't something that applied to us, and it was very different to the separate operation that occurred in mid-August—the special military evacuation air bridge with partner governments for mass evacuations.59

5.51 In relation to the UK’s program, including the following UK statement in late May 2021 that it would ‘accelerate the relocation of those who may be at risk of reprisals’, Defence stated:

Defence was not asked by the UK for advice or assistance with respect to its evacuation operations.

But both countries routinely assist each other in operational environments. UK and Australian officials and military assets cooperated closely on local security requirements and evacuee coordination in the conduct of their respective national evacuation operations when in Kabul.60

5.52 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, commented on Defence’s engagement with alliance partners on potential evacuation contingencies:

[W]e engage closely, particularly in defence circles, with the United States and the UK on what we would call non-combatant evacuation operations on a regular basis. We do it not just with Afghanistan but with any other country where we have nationals or equities involved, or where we might be responsible for moving people quickly in the event of a contingency. For example, we have a non-combatant evacuation discussion on countries beyond Afghanistan, but it is true to say that those engagements occurred increasingly urgently as the security situation deteriorated in Afghanistan. The US had its own very detailed and very complex evacuation process for its own personnel.61

57 Defence, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021 (received

27 October 2021), Question No. 4.

58 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021 (received

28 October 2021), Question No. 37.

59 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 36. See also: DFAT, Answers to questions on notice

following public hearing on 11 October 2021 (received 3 December 2021), Question No. 011.

60 Defence, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021 (received

27 October 2021), Question No. 26.

61 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 36.

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Evacuation efforts in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover of Kabul 5.53 DFAT outlined when it gave advice to the Foreign Minister in relation to the need for an evacuation operation from Kabul:

On 14 August, DFAT provided advice to the Minister that DFAT, Defence and Home Affairs agreed it could be necessary, to expedite the uplift of Australian nationals, permanent residents and immediate family members who may wish to leave Afghanistan, along with humanitarian visa holders, including former Locally Engaged Staff. DFAT also advised of its support for Defence evacuation contingency planning.

On 16 August, DFAT provided advice to the Minister of the need to expedite the uplift, via emergency evacuation, of the above cohorts.62

5.54 In relation to the number and location of Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and visa applicants in Afghanistan at that time, DFAT stated:

DFAT was in contact with the 57 Australian citizens, PRs and family members registered with DFAT at 14 August 2021. 75 per cent of those registered resided in Kabul; none resided in Oruzgan. As at 12 August, Home Affairs had advised DFAT that there were around 425 Afghan LEE with visas, or on hand visa applications, in Afghanistan. DFAT does not hold a record of the location of where visa applicants lived in Afghanistan.63

5.55 DFAT explained that these numbers informed the expected scope of Australia’s evacuation operations:

On 14 August the estimated number of citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and visa applicants expected to be eligible for evacuation was 550, including 57 people registered with DFAT (40 citizens, 13 permanent residents, four family members). The remaining number was an estimate drawn from Home Affairs information on the pipeline of locally engaged employee visa applications. We anticipated those numbers would change over time. The final number evacuated far exceeded our expectations of what would be possible.64

5.56 Following the Taliban taking control of Kabul on 15 August 2021, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs issued a joint public statement on 16 August, as follows:

The situation on the ground in Kabul, as in the rest of Afghanistan, is evolving rapidly.

62 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 25.

63 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 25.

64 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 6 December 2021), Question No. 41.

82

As in any crisis situation, the Australian Government’s priority is to ensure the safety of its citizens. We have over 130 Australians in Afghanistan, working in the UN, NGOs, and elsewhere, and we are working to bring them and their families home.

We are also assisting those who have been granted humanitarian visas, and others who are in the process of applying for protection.

We are closely connected to the US, UK, Canada, and other allies and partners.

As a partner committed for many years to helping Afghanistan build its future, we are deeply concerned at the potential for further loss of life and suffering.

The Taliban must cease all violence against civilians, and adhere to international humanitarian law and the human rights all Afghans are entitled to expect, in particular women and girls. The Taliban will be held fully accountable for any killing or other mistreatment of Afghan military and other security forces who have surrendered or been captured. Afghan Government officials and elected political leaders are fully entitled to be treated with safety, respect and dignity.

The Taliban’s leadership is responsible and accountable for the conduct of its forces.

Those preparing to leave the country must be able to do so without threat or hindrance. We will continue to work with key partners in the days ahead to enable this safe passage.65

5.57 The Australian Government undertook an immediate process to evacuate people from Kabul between 18 and 26 August 2021. DFAT led the Australian Government evacuation effort, and chaired an Inter-Departmental Emergency Taskforce (IDETF) to coordinate the response which met daily from 13 August 2021 and 'supported a high tempo of government consideration'.66 DFAT elaborated:

Ministers met daily to take decisions. Ministers, the IDETF and the Head of the Crisis Response Team on the ground in Kabul made operational decisions. The IDETF met 19 times, daily and sometimes twice a day, during the operation (13-31 August, and on 2 September) and was attended by senior officials from: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet; Department of Defence; Department of Home Affairs, Australian Border Force; Australian Federal Police; Emergency Management Australia; Department of Health; Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and

65 The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Defence, and

Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 'Statement on Afghanistan', Media Release, 16 August 2021, available at www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/statement-afghanistan (accessed 29 October 2021).

66 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4.

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Communications; Office of National Intelligence, Defence Intelligence Organisation; and overseas posts.67

5.58 The government took a decision on 17 August to utilise Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) subclass 449 visas to help expedite the evacuation process, rather than requiring Afghan evacuees to hold a permanent Australian visa.68 The use of subclass 449 visas is discussed further below.

5.59 DFAT led 'a team of DFAT, Home Affairs and ADF personnel into Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) from 17 August 2021, under ADF force protection to ensure the safety of government personnel'. The ADF 'brought in food, water and basic shelter to Kabul international airport during the evacuation operation'.69

5.60 Evacuees flown out of Kabul were flown to a staging area that had been established at Al Minhad Air Base (AMAB) in the UAE, which is the ADF's main logistics support base in the Middle East. Defence submitted that the use of Australia’s main logistics hub at AMAB involved the 'short-notice establishment of temporary facilities to accommodate, feed, and provide medical care for several thousand evacuees, before moving to Australia'.70

5.61 Defence noted that in support of the evacuation effort, it deployed 'over 300 additional personnel to the Middle East to support those personnel already deployed at our main logistics hub and to work alongside our allies and partners'.71 One hundred and forty-seven ADF personnel were deployed to HKIA in Kabul. In addition to aircrew, Defence provided personnel who undertook security, liaison, and medical roles.72

5.62 DFAT deployed 51 officers to Kabul and the UAE during the evacuation operation, among the total of 345 DFAT officers ‘who staffed the evacuation operation around the clock’.73 DFAT deployed 15 officers to Kabul during the evacuation operation.74

67 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 38.

68 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 12.

69 Defence, Submission 20, p. 3.

70 Defence, Submission 20, p. 3.

71 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2.

72 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2; DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held

11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021), Question No. 40.

73 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 19.

74 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 40.

84

5.63 Eighteen Home Affairs and 20 Australian Border Force (ABF) officers were deployed to HKIA in Kabul and AMAB during the evacuation effort, along with four additional locally engaged staff. It expanded on its role:

In close consultation with DFAT and ADF, Home Affairs and ABF officers worked to assist evacuation efforts by facilitating border clearance of evacuees. This included performing face-to-passport checks, document verification, identity verification, bona fides assessments, biometrics collection, confirmation of visa status and security checking before travel to Australia. The ABF also played an integral role in escorting a small number of passengers presenting potential risk to other passengers. Home Affairs and ABF teams based in Australia and around the globe also worked to provide assurance on the visa and MAL [movement alert list] status of evacuees, establish support arrangements for unaccompanied minors and vulnerable evacuees, and facilitate arrival [and] clearance at Australian airports.75

5.64 When asked how many Home Affairs staff were assigned to processing Afghan visa applications during the evacuation operation, Home Affairs provided further information:

Between 19 August 2021 and 10 September 2021, the Department’s efforts during the evacuation period included multiple onshore and offshore work sites. Work was distributed using our global network 24/7 and for Subclass 449 visa processing, 30 full time equivalent staff undertook processing with an additional (approx.) 1000 overtime hours. There were also 12 staff located in Canberra who worked around the clock in the migration stream. These staff were supported by a team of Executive level and Senior Executive Officers. There were also staff on the ground in Kabul and the UAE.

In Canberra, various areas of the Department undertook activity supporting the evacuation in various areas of intelligence, biometrics, corporate, health, legal, [information technology], international, social cohesion, Australian Border Force and executive and senior executive support.76

5.65 Between 18 and 26 August 2021, a total of 4,168 people were evacuated from Kabul under the Australian Government effort, including: Australian nationals; other foreign nationals; and Afghan visa holders at risk in Afghanistan, including former locally engaged employees and their families.77 Approximately two thirds of the evacuees were women and children.78 Defence provided the following breakdown of the evacuee cohort:

75 Home Affairs, Submission 19, pp. 13-14.

76 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 23.

77 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4; Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force (Home

Affairs), Submission 19, p. 3.

78 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 19.

85

 167 Australian citizens;  2,984 Afghans with approved visas;  52 New Zealand citizens;  310 New Zealand sponsored Afghans;  635 British nationals;  18 US citizens and US sponsored Afghans;  1 Singaporean citizen; and  1 Fijian citizen.79

5.66 Over this nine-day period, the ADF flew 32 evacuation flights from Kabul. Defence force assigned two C-130J Hercules, two C-17A Globemasters, and one KC-30 Air to Air refuelling aircraft to the evacuation efforts.80

5.67 Once evacuees from the Australian effort reached the staging area at AMAB in the UAE, Australia coordinated flights to bring evacuees to Australia. DFAT stated that, as of 8 October 2021, 27 flights had brought evacuees from AMAB to Australia. This comprised 17 flights operated or chartered by the ADF, seven Qantas charter flights, and three Etihad flights.81 As at 8 October 2021, Australia had brought around 3,950 people from AMAB to Australia on these flights.82

5.68 Home Affairs provided a further breakdown in the composition of arrivals on repatriation flights to Australia between 20 August and 1 October 2021, stating that this consisted of 495 Australian citizens and 3,507 Afghan nationals, including the following:

 2,844 Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) subclass 449 visa holders;  Approximately 260 permanent refugee visa holders;83  113 permanent partner visa holders, and 26 provisional partner visa holders; and

 73 permanent resident visa holders.84

5.69 Home Affairs noted that the repatriation effort to Australia was undertaken through the activation of the Australian Government Plan for the Reception of Australian Citizens and Approved Foreign Nationals Evacuated from Overseas (AUSRECEPLAN). This mechanism, which was activated on 26 August 2021, is a standing arrangement that outlines the process that

79 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 52.

80 Defence, Submission 20, p. 3.

81 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4.

82 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4.

83 Including subclass 200, 201 and 202 visas.

84 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 November 2021), Question No. 4.

86

'enables the safe repatriation of Australians, their immediate dependants, permanent residents and approved foreign nationals (evacuees) following an Australian Government led evacuation in response to an overseas disaster or adverse security situation'.85 Home Affairs stated:

The objective of this AUSRECEPLAN activation was to coordinate the repatriation of all appropriately screened evacuees from Afghanistan into quarantine facilities in Australia, and have them connected with humanitarian settlement and immigration services.

The Department, in close consultation with the Department of the [Prime Minister & Cabinet], DFAT, ABF and Defence, utilised the National Coordination Mechanism which is designed to bring together relevant stakeholders from across the Australian Government, state and territory governments, and [industry] to manage resolution to a concern of national significance, and to coordinate quarantine arrangements for evacuees being repatriated from Afghanistan.86

5.70 Under this arrangement, Australian States and Territories supported quarantine arrangements for evacuees from Afghanistan above the incoming passenger caps in place at that time due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.87

5.71 DFAT commented that the military air evacuation operation from Afghanistan 'was one of the largest humanitarian airlift operations in Australia’s history', stating further:

Our priorities were to evacuate Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families, former locally engaged employees and their families, and other visa holders, who could safely make their way to HKIA in Kabul. Every effort was made to assist as many from these cohorts as possible to leave Afghanistan, working with our allies and partners, particularly the United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. This included supporting the departure of citizens and visa holders from partner countries, as they did for us.88

5.72 Defence also highlighted the scale of the operation, submitting that the evacuation of over 4,100 people from Kabul was 'a much greater number than initially thought possible'.89 Defence commented further on Australia's role within broader evacuation efforts:

The United Kingdom and the United States enabled Australia’s efforts through their coordination of the evacuation, and we could not have evacuated those that we did without their support, nor could we have continued evacuation operations after their departure. Australia worked

85 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 16.

86 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 16.

87 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4; Home Affairs, Submission 19, pp. 16-17.

88 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 4.

89 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2. See also: Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 3.

87

closely with partners throughout the region as well as with the New Zealand Defence Force.90

Impact of bombing at HKIA on 26 August 2021 5.73 On 26 August 2021, a suicide bombing took place at HKIA which killed 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans, with many more wounded.91 On 27 August 2021, the Prime Minister announced that 'during the course of

the previous day, Australia’s evacuation operations from Kabul had been completed and all Australian official personnel supporting the evacuation operations had departed'.92

5.74 Home Affairs noted that on 29 August 2021, a Joint Statement on Afghanistan Evacuation Travel Assurances was issued by 102 countries including Australia:

The statement outlines that assurances have been received from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from the 102 countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.93

Evidence relating to the Australian evacuation effort at HKIA 5.75 The committee heard a range of evidence about difficulties encountered by individuals attempting to access the Australian evacuation effort at HKIA, the processes in place at the airport, and the scope and scale of the Australian

evacuation effort.

5.76 Officials acknowledged the extreme difficulties that faced those attempting to access the evacuation at HKIA. Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary and Crisis Coordinator, DFAT, commented in evidence to the committee:

DFAT also acknowledges the desperate circumstances of those who went to the airport in Kabul seeking to depart, very many of whom feared for their lives, and those of their loved ones, for the fact of their beliefs, their employment, their ethnicity or their gender. They suffered crushing crowds, heat, illness, violence and the depraved terrorist attack of 26 August as the evacuation window closed. We recognise the dedication of the Australian personnel deployed to Kabul and those supporting the evacuation operation in the UAE and in Australia.94

90 Defence, Submission 20, p. 2.

91 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

92 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

93 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

94 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 19.

88

5.77 Mr Daniel Sloper, DFAT’s Special Representative on Afghanistan and the head of the Crisis Response Team (CRT) during the evacuation effort, described the efforts made at the airport during the evacuation:

I think it's fair to say it was a complex, fluid and sometimes chaotic environment, particularly outside the perimeter of the compound of the airport. Necessarily, that meant there were challenges to both security and logistics but also communications, housing and sanitation. So I think, broadly speaking, we can say it was challenging. In terms of sleep through that period, most members of the CRT probably slept between two and four hours each day—some less, some more on other days. If I could just note that part of the success of that operation—and it was relatively successful; we acknowledge there were people left behind—is very much due to the people who we were helping and the calm and the dignity they showed under very extraordinary circumstances. For example, many were sleeping in outdoor areas, on stones, and were supported with food and water supplies from the ADF but actually going through quite difficult circumstances.95

5.78 General Campbell provided an assessment of Australia’s evacuation effort as follows:

[A] little over 50 countries participated in the coalition campaign in Afghanistan, and we were routinely described as the largest non-NATO contributor and typically about the 10th largest contributor…Australia in its contribution to the non-combatant evacuation operation lifted the fifth-largest number of people out of Kabul. It's worth remembering that the city is regarded to have fallen on the 15th, when the president fled. On the 16th the government collapsed and the airport was flooded with Afghans, but there were no flights. On the 17th our first people went in and, very late on the 17th and landing back at AMAB on the 18th, the first people were lifted out. I think that's a pretty impressive record.96

5.79 Mr Sloper commented on the range of countries operating evacuation missions through the airport, and the difficulties for those presenting for evacuation:

There were many different claims there. They were predominantly Afghan people coming forward but there were also other nationalities and permanent residents. It was very evident on the tarmac how many countries were involved, with the airspace being heavily controlled. In the last few days in particular, that became more and more congested. On most days, we had a thousand people, if not more, in turmoil at the gates, and most of them were sleeping overnight as time went on. Taliban checkpoints were operating quite close to those as well. It was a very concerning and hard situation for those who were trying to get through.

95 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 42.

96 General Angus Campbell AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, Committee Hansard, 11 October

2021, pp. 46-47.

89

When they did get through, they were often dehydrated and very tired, but we were able to assist them from that point.97

5.80 Officials emphasised the close cooperation of the Australian evacuation effort with other coalition partners.98 Security and management of the gates at HKIA was managed by US and UK military personnel. Defence stated that both Australian Government officials and the ADF ‘were integrated into coalition control and communications nodes to enable evacuation operations’.99 DFAT provided further information about communications and operational planning at the airport:

All Australian agencies in Kabul met at least twice a day to review planning and operations. While communication links were not always stable, the ADF and APS agencies worked to maintain communication between Australian teams at each stage of the operation.

Head of DFAT’s Crisis Response Team (CRT) or his representative and ADF staff each attended coordination meetings hosted by NATO, which were held at least once daily and sometimes more frequently. These meetings covered the security situation, logistics and issues relating to the evacuation.

The Australian Government’s primary communication with people seeking to depart was the smartraveller consular travel advice. As information became available concerning specific cases, Australian staff would identify potential evacuees, provide advice on the situation at the gates, or respond, where possible, to questions.

ADF, DFAT and Home Affairs staff were positioned as close as possible to the gates, and worked with US and UK military personnel at the gates, in order to identify Australians, permanent residents, visa holders, and other Afghans eligible to travel.100

5.81 Defence stated that ADF personnel were deployed to the perimeter of the airport during the evacuation operation.101 When asked about whether ADF personnel worked with private security forces outside HKIA and whether ADF personnel worked at airport checkpoints to help identify Australian evacuees, Defence responded:

The ADF did not work with private security operating outside HKIA.

97 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October

2021, p. 43.

98 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, and Mr Daniel Sloper, Special

Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 46.

99 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 48.

100 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No 48.

101 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 47.

90

The ADF received no requests from allied countries to help at airport checkpoints and the ADF largely operated within the airport. At times there was a requirement for the ADF to facilitate movement of Australian passport and visa holders through checkpoints into the airport, to then be processed by Home Affairs and DFAT officials.102

Process for individuals to access Australian evacuation flights at HKIA 5.82 DFAT provided the following overview of the process for an Australian evacuee to get into the airport during the evacuation:

Those individuals registered with DFAT were sent an email with advice on proceeding to the airport, prioritising safety, and providing clear advice on risks, along with instructions on the best way to be identified by those at the gate. Smartraveller was regularly updated with advice for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, as well as Australian visa holders on travel to the airport.103

5.83 DFAT noted that the emails sent by DFAT were individually addressed, but did not contain the names of individuals in the body of the email. When asked how people with electronic visas could prove their validity to Taliban and allied forces at various airport checkpoints, DFAT stated:

Names of Australians and visa holders eligible for evacuation were provided to the US and UK in the early stages of the evacuation but were of limited utility due to the chaotic environment at the airport gates. Any communication with the Taliban on airport access was coordinated by the US and UK. ADF personnel worked with these forces at the gates to identify potential Australian evacuees out of the crowd and passed information through to Home Affairs and DFAT who then assessed the validity of documentation being presented.104

Process of prioritising evacuees 5.84 When asked what the process was for deciding who could board departing flights for those inside HKIA during the evacuation operation, DFAT responded that the 16 August statement by the Prime Minister, Minister for

Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the decisions taken by the Minister for Immigration, informed assessments of people seeking to evacuate. DFAT elaborated further:

On 19 August, Minister Hawke agreed to arrangements for managing the issuing of emergency visas in Afghanistan. The Minister for Immigration delegated authority to the senior officer on the ground, the Head of the CRT [Crisis Response Team] to authorise uplifts from Kabul in extremis

102 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 43.

103 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 44.

104 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 44.

91

and balancing the best information available. This was on the basis that all required checks and reviews would occur in the UAE or a third location before a visa was issued and onward travel to Australia occurred.105

The evacuation needed to take place during the period of allied forces controlling Kabul airport and ahead of the 31 August final withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.106

5.85 DFAT stated that decision-making by the most senior DFAT officer on the ground, the Head of the Crisis Response Team, for the evacuation of non-citizens and non-permanent residents was guided by the following principles defined by Minister Hawke:

 against granting visas to a person who was not directly connected to Australia through being a certified locally engaged employee, or as a family member of an Australian citizen, permanent resident, LEE or Australian visa holder;

 in favour of providing visas to spouses, children (including under guardianship arrangements), parents and grandparents;  against providing visas to more distant relatives including siblings of the primary visa holder and their families;  against splitting family groups; and  against granting visas to single men of fighting age.107

5.86 When asked how people in the airport were assessed and prioritised, DFAT stated:

Home Affairs and Australian Border Force staff initially assessed people as they were presented from the gates. As numbers in the staging areas grew during the week potentially threatening the operation’s capacity to assist more, on a limited number of occasions, Head, CRT directed Home Affairs and Australian Border Force staff to prioritise assessment of Australian citizens and permanent residents and their families in the staging area to relieve pressure due to a likely faster processing time. This and identification of an additional staging area during the week relieved this pressure.

In instances where we were aware of individuals or family groups immediately outside the gates, this information was passed to ADF and

105 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

106 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 39.

107 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

92

Home Affairs and Australian Border Force and DFAT staff near the gates who attempted to positively identify people within the crowd.108

5.87 DFAT stated that its officials in Kabul 'were provided names of individuals requiring assistance from Canberra, and directly from Afghans and Australians, including from community groups and political

representatives'.109

5.88 The names of Australian Citizens, Permanent Residents and their families who had registered with DFAT were also shared with the US and UK (via Australia's diplomatic missions in Washington and London) at the commencement of the evacuation 'to assist with gaining access through the US controlled airport perimeter'. DFAT noted however, that this was 'of limited utility due to the chaotic environment at the airport gates'.110

5.89 In relation to the process for deciding who could board the next available evacuation flight once individuals had been cleared by Australian officials, DFAT advised:

In accordance with consular practice during an emergency, we assisted Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents and their immediate families (spouse and dependent children). Home Affairs and Australian Border Force in line with the decisions taken by the Minister for Immigration, assessed non-Australians for uplift, in consultation with the Head of the CRT on sensitive or highly complex cases. Home Affairs and ADF then determined boarding for the next flight in order of processing and taking into account the seating configuration of a plane, medical or other conditions (such as pregnancy), and a desire to keep families together where possible.111

5.90 When asked how many people that made it into the airport were subsequently rejected from boarding an Australian evacuation flight, DFAT responded:

All of the people approved for uplift departed Kabul airport on flights. Australian government agencies did not record the number of people not approved for uplift.112

108 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

109 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

110 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

111 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

112 DFAT, Answer to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 49.

93

Difficulties gaining access to the Australian evacuation effort at the airport 5.91 The committee heard evidence of the difficulties associated with safely accessing HKIA during the evacuation window. Mr Nawad Cina, Acting General Manager, Mahboba's Promise, commented:

The evacuation efforts began from the first day ... we attempted to get over 100 orphans, widows and staff out through the airport. It was an impossibility, unfortunately. Visas were a critical issue in that moment. Seventeen 449s, the emergency visas, were granted, but we had a tremendous amount of goodwill from different layers of government, which encouraged an evacuation attempt. However, to secure a security escort to the gate—there were many companies that were doing this, and one was helping us pro bono—we required visas, to provide them an assurance, to get them through the gate. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.113

5.92 The Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan (SAWA) Australia submitted:

One example, among many thousands, of the failure of the Australian Government to assist more people seeking evacuation flights is the case of the former Director of the women’s training centre which SAWA has supported for over 10 years. As a prominent women’s rights activist, she faced a high risk of danger from the Taliban.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover, a Special Humanitarian Visa was obtained for this young woman and her family. However, they were unable to get through the crowds at the Hamid Karzai airport in the ensuing chaos, despite making multiple attempts. They witnessed people being crushed in the crowd and the death of a young child, exacerbating the personal distress they were experiencing in their flight from their home country.114

5.93 The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre provided another case study, highlighting family separations that occurred during the evacuation:

After the Taliban took control of Kabul, those agencies (Home Affairs, DFAT and Defence) working to evacuate people faced a worst case scenario for the conduct of evacuations under extraordinary pressure. The chaos and panic which ensued as individuals and families struggled for their lives to get close to and through the airport barricades, resulted in a significant numbers of family units being separated.

We have been in contact with a young [woman] from Afghanistan who was literally pulled through the barricade into the airport, granted a 449 visa on the spot and then evacuated and brought to Australia. While she is one of the “lucky ones” to have made it out, she remains highly distressed, as her husband and two young children, aged 8 and 10 were left behind at the airport. They are now in hiding in Kabul moving from house to house

113 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 34.

114 Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan, Submission 14, p. 3 and Submission 14.1, p. 1.

94

as her husband has been told by his former employer that the Taliban has threatened him and is looking for him.

While family separation was inevitable in the chaotic and dangerous situation at Kabul airport, now more than six weeks later, there is still no clear communication from the Government, process or pathway by which she can put forward her case and no assistance being provided to her to help her be reunited with her husband and two children in safety.115

5.94 GAPLS submitted that some of its clients, a group of Australian Embassy guards, contractors and their families, were not granted entry at the airport gates despite holding subclass 449 visas:

The Embassy group was repeatedly rejected at the airport gates by ADF and foreign soldiers. They did not accept the digital e-Visa or the Australian Evacuation Flight offer issued by DFAT. DFAT expressly stated in the Australian media that these facts were false. This messaging was inconsistent with the evidence coming out of Afghanistan from our clients, including photographs [audio and video sent via WhatsApp] taken at the gates by LEEs desperate to prove they held Australian visas.116

5.95 GAPLS submitted further:

DFAT had sent e-Visas to thousands of people who were clinging to them with every hope of evacuation, but for the fact, those papers were worthless because time and time again, the soldiers rejected anyone who didn't have an actual visa in their passport, or who was trying to enter the airport with an Australian or US (or other coalition) passport. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, it was clear that DFAT had not considered some of the critical dilemmas Australian visa holders would face while waiting to be pulled from the canal of human sewage. For one, there was no phone charging facilities in 'the ditch', which countered the advice DFAT had issued in the email that directed people to 'keep your telephone charged.' Fortunately, the Embassy Group had the foresight to take multiple phone chargers with them and were wisely conserving the life of each battery. Their problem was that when they showed the soldiers their e-Visas, those soldiers told them to leave the area.117

5.96 In response to reports of ADF personnel turning people away at the airport or refusing to accept their Australian visas, Defence stated:

No-one with an Australian passport and visa was turned away by ADF personnel at [HKIA]. To the best of their ability, ADF personnel brought individuals with any form of recognisable documentation through airport checkpoints for evaluation by Home Affairs and DFAT officials.

DFAT and Home Affairs managed the passport and visa processing at [HKIA]. ADF did not assess passports, documentation or emails.

115 Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 60, pp. 8-9.

116 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 16.

117 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 19.

95

DFAT is the lead Agency on international crises coordination. At the request of DFAT the ADF continues to facilitate the movement of evacuees to Australia on regularly programmed sustainment flights.118

5.97 When Defence was asked if it has investigated or sought further information about allegations that ADF personnel ignored visas or insisted they were not real and refused to facilitate access to Australian aircraft, Defence responded that ADF personnel did not assess visas, with DFAT and Home Affairs being responsible for evaluating the eligibility of visas before evacuees were granted access to aircraft.119

5.98 Dr Kay Danes OAM, Senior Humanitarian Advisor for GAPLS, also commented about how difficult it was for groups trying to assist evacuees to communicate with Australian officials:

The greatest challenge we had was not from the Taliban. Granted, getting through those checkpoints was not easy, and at times our people were beaten quite savagely. But our main problem was the lack of communication with DFAT and less communication with our ADF. It felt very much like we were outsiders, not to be trusted or even eligible to evacuate. I felt extremely frustrated by the fact that whilst I had contact with the DFAT [point of contact], they seemed to be completely overwhelmed. The lack of information to Australian visa holders was extremely poor.120

Use of temporary subclass 449 visas during evacuation operations 5.99 As noted earlier, in addition to other visa types, short-term Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) (subclass 449) visas were also utilised during Australia's efforts to evacuate people from Kabul in August 2021.

Background to the Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) (subclass 449) visa 5.100 This visa is a subclass of the Temporary Safe Haven (Class UJ) visa, which can be utilised to respond to emergency humanitarian situations 'where people face, or have faced, a strong likelihood of being displaced from their residence,

and are in grave fear of their personal safety because of their personal circumstances'.121

5.101 Home Affairs noted that the Temporary Safe Haven (Class UJ) visas were introduced and first used in 1999 to evacuate nearly 4,000 Kosovars from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and some 2,000 East Timorese from East Timor, and explained further:

118 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 45.

119 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 46.

120 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 19.

121 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 5.

96

These visas facilitate the movement of large numbers of people under imminent threat of harm. Application for this visa is made by accepting an offer from the Australian Government (usually made by the Minister responsible for immigration) for temporary stay in Australia.122

5.102 Home Affairs submitted that subclass 449 visas have a number of unusual features:

 they are not part of the Humanitarian Program nor any other visa program;  application is made by accepting the Australian Government’s offer of a temporary stay in Australia and an authorised officer endorsing, in writing, the acceptance of the offer;

 the period of stay is set by the visa decision-maker in each case;  holders are barred by operation of law from applying for another visa (other than a further subclass 449 visa) unless the Minister lifts the bar; and  holders in Australia are eligible for certain payments and concession cards,

including Special Benefit, Family Tax Benefit, Dad and Partner Pay, and Parental Leave Pay, and the Health Care Card.123

5.103 Home Affairs stated that the relatively flexible criteria for this visa 'comes at increased risk as the Department has less information about applicants on which to base assessments of eligibility for grant of the subclass 449 visa, relative to standard processes'. It noted:

This risk is accepted when the Government agrees to make offers of stay for the purposes of this visa subclass, however it can be mitigated by other security processes, such as the collection of biometrics, as deemed to be appropriate in the circumstances which prompt its use.124

Use of subclass 449 visas in relation to Afghanistan 5.104 On 17 August 2021, the government agreed to use the Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) subclass 449 visas 'to facilitate the urgent evacuation of priority Afghan nationals'. Home Affairs stated that this visa was used because of 'the

rapidly changing security circumstances in Afghanistan, the urgent and exceptional humanitarian nature of the evacuation operation and the limited window for people to depart Afghanistan through Kabul airport'.125 These visas were issued for a period of 90 days.

5.105 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division, Home Affairs, elaborated on why the decision to utilise subclass 449 visas was made at the time it was:

122 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 5.

123 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 5.

124 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 5.

125 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 12.

97

[At that time] it became clear that the ability of Home Affairs to process permanent protection visas, which can take several months, was going to be insufficient. We needed a vehicle to be able to get people out—not just, obviously, the locally engaged staff and their families but other people at risk who might enter through the normal humanitarian program. The 449 visa was seen as the best vehicle to get people through the security at the airport, where people were having trouble, and get them lawfully into Australia.126

5.106 In total, 6,294 persons 'were invited to apply for subclass 449 visas' between 19 August 2021 and 1 October 2021, of which approximately 500 were partner or other visa applicants.127 From these invitations, 5,636 individuals were ultimately granted subclass 449 visas.128

Process for issuing subclass 449 visas 5.107 Ms Cheryl-anne Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department of Home Affairs, commented on the process for issuing 449 visas during the Afghanistan evacuation:

The subclass 449 visa process was a time-critical and resource-intensive process that was undertaken due to the rapidly changing security circumstances and the limited window for people to depart Afghanistan. It allowed the department to balance Australia's humanitarian obligations with the integrity of Australia's migration and border management priorities against the backdrop of a dynamic threat landscape. To support this operation, the department utilised our global network to assist in the processing of subclass 449 visas. A linked global network was stood up to ensure the department was able to extract the greatest possible capacity in a short time frame. This network, spread across six state and territory offices, and 13 offshore posts, effectively enabled a 24-hour processing capacity, therefore maximising the visa outcomes.129

5.108 Home Affairs submitted that the subclass 449 visa process required each person to be invited, and accept, an invitation by the Minister for Immigration for temporary stay in Australia.130 When asked why not all of those invited to apply for a 449 visa did apply, Home Affairs stated:

At the peak of the evacuation from Kabul, to ensure that as many people as possible had the opportunity to access an evacuation flight, the Department was providing notification of the invitation to apply which enabled people to pass checkpoints and access the airport. Visa grants

126 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 35.

127 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14; Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public

hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 29.

128 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department

of Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 21.

129 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 20.

130 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 15.

98

were subsequently processed within departmental systems as the notification holders presented to Officers.131

5.109 Home Affairs provided the following information about how it communicated with prospective subclass 449 invitees and what information was provided with the invitation to apply:

Contact details were provided to the Department of Home Affairs and the Department emailed individuals considered for Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) subclass 449 visa grant… Information provided included:

 visa grant notification to facilitate urgent travel to Australia;  the names of the persons granted visas;  current DFAT information on the Australian evacuation flight offer should the visa holders decide to travel to Hamid Karzai International

Airport;  visa expiry date and bar on applying for any other visa without the permission of the Minister for Home Affairs;  conditions attached to the subclass 449 visa; and  contact details for the Department.132

5.110 Home Affairs expanded on the way this process of granting subclass 449 visas worked during the evacuation from Afghanistan:

It was also necessary for the application for a subclass 449 visa to be a valid application [and] that each acceptance of an offer to be endorsed, in writing, by an authorised officer. Responding to the time-critical environment, emergency verbal visa grant processes were implemented to facilitate the evacuation of eligible Afghan nationals.

These processes allowed for the offer to be made verbally and, once the offer was accepted and endorsed in writing by an authorised officer, the applicant to be verbally advised of the grant of a subclass 449 visa. Home Affairs officers then recorded those grants through an approved template. This process increased the capacity and speed in which eligible Afghans could be evacuated.133

5.111 Home Affairs continued that processes were put in place 'to issue letters, as evidence of visa status, to facilitate people's travel through check points to HKIA'. Further:

Officers recorded subclass 449 visa grants in the Immigration Records Information System, which is normally used for processing paper visa applications lodged overseas. Data input included the results of Movement Alert List (MAL) checks, biometrics data collected from visa applicants or holders and the results of [Public Interest Criteria] checks in which an

131 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 November 2021), Question No. 30.

132 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 29.

133 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 15.

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applicant's identity and available documentation were reviewed. To support visa grants, the Department deployed five mobile biometric collection units, at both HKIA and the ADF's main logistics hub in the Middle East, and subsequently in Pakistan.134

5.112 Home Affairs expanded on the processes utilised to conduct character and security checks:

Fingerprint enrolments collected through the biometric collection process were reviewed against the holdings of Five Eyes counterparts using the Secure Real Time Platform (SRTP). In addition to Australia, other countries currently utilising SRTP include Canada, United States of America and New Zealand. Using an anonymised fingerprint, the responses from Five Eyes counterparts were received and processed by the SRTP in near real-time and provided valuable identity and criminal history data for decision-makers. Once a match/no match is determined, the anonymised fingerprint is deleted. Facial images were only shared on a match if available and required.

When expediting visa processes there is a real and unavoidable risk, arising from the possibility that visas may be granted to persons who are not who they claim to be, or who subsequently are found to be of character concern. While every effort is made to undertake the best available checking of identity, relationships and backgrounds, and any indication of known of likely threat to Australia, absolute certainty cannot be guaranteed. On balance, it was agreed that the risks to individuals being left in Kabul outweighed the potential hazards associated with visa grants of this nature.

No person of known national security or serious criminality concern was brought to Australia on evacuation flights.135

Groups issued with subclass 449 visas 5.113 DFAT submitted that the subclass 449 temporary visa was made available at that time to facilitate evacuations from Afghanistan 'for those with a strong association with Australia and facing serious threats to their safety in the

current environment'.136

5.114 Home Affairs outlined that subclass 449 visas were issued to several categories of individuals during the evacuation process, including:

 certified Locally Engaged Employees (LEEs) who had not yet completed the application process for a humanitarian visa;  extended family members of LEEs settled in Australia, or others with a strong connection with Australia;  particularly vulnerable or high profile people that may have come to the

attention of the Taliban; and

134 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 15.

135 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 15.

136 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5.

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 individuals with existing but un-finalised applications in other visa subclasses (for example, partners in the Family visa steam).137

5.115 Home Affairs detailed that subclass 449 visas were used for certified LEEs and their families, to quicken the evacuation process (compared with the standard process for certified LEEs of applying for a humanitarian visa):

With the fall of Kabul, the Government decided to utilise subclass 449 visas to expedite the evacuation process. Given the urgency, subclass 449 visas were granted to certified LEE and their family to facilitate their departure, on the basis that the permanent visa application process could occur once they were safely in Australia. As is possible under the visa criteria for the grant of subclass 449 visas, the general requirement for health checks was waived before the subclass 449 visas were granted so that people did not undergo health checks before they were uplifted to Australia. However, the subclass 449 visa holders are subject to a condition on their visa that they complete health checks on arrival. These health checks will also be considered as part of any permanent visa application processes.138

5.116 Home Affairs submitted that DFAT and ADF provided it with 'lists of LEEs previously refused certification under the LEE program for consideration for subclass 449 visas', and stated:

This, along with the identification of previously refused or withdrawn family members of LEE applicants identified by Home Affairs resulted in over 2,500 invitations for subclass 449 visas being issued between 19 August 2021 and 25 August 2021.139

5.117 Home Affairs highlighted that visas were also issued to individuals at particular risk of being targeted by the Taliban:

In addition, subclass 449 visas were issued to particularly vulnerable or high profile people that may come to the attention of the Taliban, including locally engaged staff of Australian media organisations and humanitarian service providers, female sporting teams, academics who had previously studied in Australia and human rights advocates. These cases were brought to the attention of the Government and the Department through a variety of means given the exceptional and time-critical circumstances. These channels included members of parliaments, industry and sporting organisations, charities, and the direct approaches by family members in Australia. The Department established dedicated reception and triage processes, and extended the operation of its Global Service Centre (call centre) to support this process.140

5.118 Home Affairs stated that during the evacuation period, 'individuals with existing but un-finalised applications in other visa subclasses (for example

137 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14. The LEE program is discussed further in Chapter 6.

138 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

139 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

140 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

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partners in the Family stream) were also supported through the provision of a subclass 449 visa'.141

5.119 Once in Australia, subclass 449 visa holders are assessed against the criteria for a permanent humanitarian visa.142 Outcomes for these visa holders are discussed further in Chapter 7.

141 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

142 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5.

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Chapter 6

Aftermath of Australia's withdrawal and issues with the LEE program

6.1 This chapter details the aftermath of Australia’s evacuation efforts in August 2021, focusing on assistance provided to Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders who remained in Afghanistan following the initial evacuation effort.

6.2 It then discusses issued raised in relation to the Locally Engaged Employee (LEE) program for Afghan nationals who assisted in Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations in Afghanistan and other Australian diplomatic and humanitarian activities in the country.

Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders remaining in Afghanistan after the immediate evacuation efforts 6.3 A significant number of people attempted to access the Australian evacuation flights at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul from 18 to

26 August 2021 but were ultimately unsuccessful.

6.4 The committee heard concerns about the severe risks now faced by these individuals. These concerns were summarised in statements such as the following, from the Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights:

While Australia tried to rescue people, a large number of people who the Australian government had promised to not leave behind, have been “left behind” and thus feel “betrayed”, such as interpreters who had worked alongside the Australian military in Afghanistan, with some granted permanent visas by the government. As the evacuation missions have ended, and with land borders remaining closed, many are trapped inside Afghanistan, fearing the worst, should the Taliban find them.1

6.5 The Department of Defence (Defence), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) were questioned at length about how many Australian citizens, permanent residents and temporary visa holders had been ‘left behind’ following the conclusion of the evacuation from HKIA, and what options remain for these individuals and families.

Individuals who have left Afghanistan since 26 August 2021 6.6 DFAT advised the committee at a public hearing on 15 November 2021 that since the conclusion of Australia’s air evacuation operation in August 2021, DFAT ‘has continued to support the safe travel of over 1,000 further

1 Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 4.

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Australians, permanent residents, and visa holders out of Afghanistan and onward to Australia’.2 This brings the total number of these individuals who have departed from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover to ‘in excess of 5,150’ after the initial evacuation efforts brought 4,168 people out of the country.3

6.7 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary and Crisis Coordinator, DFAT, informed the committee that just under 900 of these individuals had crossed the Afghan border overland into Pakistan, while 103 others have departed from Kabul on flights chartered by the Qatari government, and around 80 have presented to Australian missions in other countries.4

6.8 Mr Newnham provided further detail on how these individuals had been able to leave Afghanistan:

There are a number of different ways in which this occurs. We're very much focused on flights out of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, and as that becomes a more viable commercial option we expect to see increases in the numbers departing via those flights. We've had some success already with three flights chartered by the Qatari government, with coordination from DFAT and colleagues here to help fill a number of seats we've been able to secure on that route out of Afghanistan. I can also say that individuals are continuing to present at the border, particularly with Pakistan… [W]e're working through our embassies in the region, particularly out of Islamabad, to assist those who do present at the border, and just under 900 individuals have been able to cross the border and be assisted by our high commission ... They are probably the two main pathways. There are others presenting in other capitals that have Australian passports or are permanent residents or hold visas, and, of course, we assist them too, but they are a much smaller number.5

6.9 In relation to individuals that are presenting to Australian officials in countries other than Pakistan, Ms Kate Logan, First Assistant Secretary, Consular and Crisis Management Division, DFAT, commented:

Some small numbers have managed to cross the border into Iran and have managed to fly on to Australia from there. Some other numbers—very low numbers—have gone to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. We know around 80 Australians, permanent residents and visa holders have arrived into

2 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 5.

3 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 20.

4 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 21 and 27.

5 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

pp. 20-21.

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capitals across Europe and the Middle East, again, making their way out of Afghanistan that way.6

6.10 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division, Home Affairs, told the committee at its 15 November public hearing that since the evacuation phase, there have been ‘an additional 40 flights that have had 449s, Australian permanent residents or Australian citizens on them’ bringing people to Australia, including a significant number on flights from Pakistan.7

6.11 DFAT provided a further update in response to a question on notice, stating that as at 22 November 2021, the government has now supported 1,706 people to travel safely to Australia following the evacuation phase of 18-26 August, comprising 45 Australian citizens, 192 Australian permanent residents, and 1,469 other Australian visa holders.8

Citizens and permanent residents still in Afghanistan registered with DFAT 6.12 DFAT provided several updates to the committee over the course of the inquiry on the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents remaining in Afghanistan who had registered on DFAT’s Consular and Crisis

database.

6.13 Mr Newnham informed the committee that as at 1 October 2021, 129 Australian citizens and 157 permanent residents had registered DFAT’s database as requiring assistance from government.9 By 22 October, 96 Australian citizens and 106 permanent residents were registered on DFAT’s database for Afghanistan.10

6.14 Mr Newnham subsequently advised at the committee’s 15 November public hearing that, as at 12 November 2021, those numbers had reduced to 87 Australian citizens and 82 permanent residents in Afghanistan registered on DFAT’s consular assistance database.11

6.15 When asked what avenues are causing these numbers to fall, Mr Newnham observed:

6 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 21.

7 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 39.

8 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021 (received

3 December 2021), Question No. 18.

9 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 34.

10 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

Legislation Committee, Estimates Hansard, 28 October 2021, p. 59.

11 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 21.

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The first thing I'd say is that these numbers are highly fluid. Individuals are registering on the database from time to time, and we're working our way through that list. Putting that aside, the major feature…is that whereas at the end of the evacuation we had in excess of 4,100 evacuees, as a result of the combined efforts of all those represented today and colleagues overseas, we now have in excess of 5,150 total who have departed from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, which is an increase of around a thousand since our last appearance before the committee.12

6.16 Mr Newnham acknowledged that DFAT did not have an estimate of how many other Australian citizens and permanent residents may still be in Afghanistan but have not registered with DFAT.13

Number of visa holders remaining in Afghanistan 6.17 Officials were questioned on how many visa holders and visa applicants remain in Afghanistan, and were unable to provide an exact figure or estimate of those numbers. Mr Wilden of Home Affairs offered the following

explanation at an Estimates committee hearing on 25 October 2021:

We don't know how many people are in Afghanistan. That's one of the challenges, obviously. There have been a number of visas granted across a number of categories. Some of the people had their visas granted two or three years ago and have never presented at an Australian border. So we can't say with any certainty how many people are in Afghanistan. People are crossing borders. We hear of hundreds crossing into Pakistan every week and hundreds into Iran. We have people with 449s popping up in all manner of countries, who have either been evacuated by other nations as part of that process or made their own way there. So there's no accurate figure I can give in relation to how many visa holders are currently in Afghanistan.14

6.18 Mr Wilden informed the committee at its public hearing on 15 November that Home Affairs does not retain a ‘master list’ of visa holders by country overseas, nor for visa applicants, and explained:

In terms of the visas, we have the list of numbers and the people attached to that who were given an invitation letter or given the visa during the evacuation phase. There are still cases where people present in any number of countries, and, if they're a valid visa holder and they have other family members, we grant another visa. There's no master list of people who make representations, purely and simply because we have a longstanding process for people to seek protection in Australia or come via any means [for] that matter. My evidence last time was 26,000. That number has clearly gone up in terms of the people who've applied for

12 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 20.

13 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 34.

14 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Department of Home Affairs, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Estimates Hansard, 25 October 2021, p. 95.

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protection visas who are already outside Australia, and they may be in any number of locations.

We focus on those from whom we have received a visa application or, in the case of the 900 or so, those who got the letter but weren't granted the visa. We monitor those in case they come to our attention, at which point— with the minister's authority, as it is the minister's visa—we can grant a visa to allow them to come to Australia.15

6.19 Mr Wilden reiterated that some Australian visa holders who were in Afghanistan in August 2021 and were not evacuated by Australia at that time had been evacuated by other countries or had otherwise found a way to leave Afghanistan since:

[We would] also note that a lot of these people have left Afghanistan already. A lot of them were picked up by other countries. We have already found visa holders who've come to our attention in the US, in the UK, in many of the surrounding countries and in Europe, who we are now trying to facilitate to get here, so it's not as simple as who is left behind in-country versus who holds a valid visa to Australia.16

6.20 In relation to subclass 449 visa holders who had been issued emergency visas since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the committee heard that out of a total of 5,636 individuals granted these visas, 3,568 had arrived in Australia as at 12 November 2021, meaning that 2,086 individuals holding these visas are still outside Australia.17

6.21 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Home Affairs, estimated that around 1,100 of these individuals are in Pakistan, where the DFAT post is working with them.18 Ms Moy told the committee that Home Affairs cannot definitively say how many of these individuals are still in Afghanistan, explaining:

In regard to where those individuals may be who were granted a 449 but have not yet arrived in Australia or come to our attention, as you heard earlier, DFAT is still working with people at the border. Also, we have people who have arrived from Frankfurt, London, New Delhi, Istanbul, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. So when we ask, 'Where are those individuals?' we can do the maths and say, 'This many have arrived and this many haven't,' but to be able to say that they're actually in Afghanistan is very difficult because people have made their way to other places, been picked up by other coalition members or made

15 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 22.

16 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 34.

17 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Home

Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 28.

18 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 37.

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their way in other ways across land borders or perhaps were out of the country at the time they were granted the 449.19

Partner visa holders 6.22 Home Affairs did inform the committee that, as at 11 October 2021, there were 394 Afghan Partner visa (subclasses 300/309/100/820/801) holders outside Australia, but that Home Affairs has no visibility of whether these individuals

are in Afghanistan or in in another country, as it ‘does not track the movements of visa holders outside Australia’.20 More broadly, Home Affairs stated:

The Department is unable to confirm or determine the location of visa applicants who are outside of Australia.

When applying for visas, applicants are required to provide this information and are required to keep the Department apprised of their contact details. However people may have elected to leave their original location and may not have updated the Department.21

Other estimates of visa holder numbers remaining in Afghanistan 6.23 Representatives of GAP Veteran and Legal Services (GAPLS), a legal and advocacy organisation that has assisted ‘Afghan Nationals who worked with the Australian Government and its contracting partners’22 provided estimates

of the number of visa holders still remaining in Afghanistan.

6.24 Mr Glenn Kolomeitz, Director, GAPLS, gave evidence at the committee’s 11 October 2021 public hearing that 1,300 Australian visa holders who are direct clients of GAPLS remain in Afghanistan seeking urgent evacuation.23 Dr Kay Danes, Humanitarian Advocate, GAPLS, estimated that the overall number of Australian visa holders remaining in Afghanistan is in excess of 5,000, and explained the difficulties in ascertaining accurate information:

Including our people, I believe the total figure is in excess of about 5,000 people—Australian visa holders, to be sure. The problem with identifying the exact number is the disconnect between all the organisations that are working separately and not together because there isn't a central hub where everyone can go, like the Americans have. I'm part of a network that's tapped in with the American private contractors that are evacuating AMCITs, American citizens, et cetera from Kabul. They have a very coordinated effort because they have a central hub and they have the

19 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 28.

20 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 35.

21 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 38.

22 GAPLS, Submission 18, p. 1.

23 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 9.

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support of the private sector and government. Australia doesn't really have that, so we're working and we're finding each other. Then we're finding stragglers—for instance, a Supreme Court judge, not to go into any detail, found out that we were facilitating evacuations or processes for evacuation, and so they came on board. Other people have come to us and said: 'I've got an interpreter that I worked with and I can personally vouch for. These are their details, they uploaded them to the cloud before they burned them.' All of those sorts of people are coming to us asking: 'Please, you guys seem to be the most effective and most organised. Can you help us to get on your list?' We have a priority list. We have a group A list, a group B list, a group C list and a whatever list. We've got a lot of names. We've got a lot of data and throughout this time we have done nothing but try to offer our data to the Australian government, the people who apparently can check things really thoroughly. They can see what visa holders are left behind and who needs assistance.24

Reasons for individuals remaining in Afghanistan 6.25 Mr Newnham stated that of those Australian citizens and permanent residents registered with DFAT, ‘in many cases registration means individuals are seeking to leave the country, but in many other cases individuals are unwilling

or unable to leave, as well’.25

6.26 Mr Newnham acknowledged that in some cases where individuals are currently unwilling to leave the country, this may be because they have family members that they would like to leave with who are awaiting visa approval from Home Affairs. Mr Newnham commented:

[We] are assiduously working our way through the list of those who have been registered, including where they cite family members seeking visas, and we certainly work very well and collegially with colleagues at home affairs to seek to expedite the possibility of visa applications. These are complicated, at times, and quite complex, and a number of pieces of data need to be accessed, but that is an ongoing effort. That's central to our effort.26

6.27 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, outlined that a significant volume of work is being undertaken to resolve these issues. Mr Sloper commented further on the nature of these cases and the difficulties in maintaining up-to-date figures:

I want to reassure you that we constantly have people in our consular team in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the visa-processing team cross-referencing those cases. Many are what we'd describe as a blended family—you may have a permanent resident, a passport holder or somebody who already has an entitlement to travel to Australia, and others with the 449 temporary protection visas. You're right that they need

24 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 9.

25 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 35.

26 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 35.

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to be reconciled, and we're working constantly to do that. I note, though, that this is not the only reason they are not choosing to travel. You probably already understand the context, but there are great restrictions at the moment around departure. We're working to support them, but we want to resolve their visa status. One of the complexities is that those who were there when we left on 26 August have now scattered, and our data is constantly being updated. That's the challenge the officials have when providing accurate figures, because each week it changes. We're cross-referencing within the Australian government and are now trying to reach out to other governments.27

6.28 When asked how many of the Australian citizens and permanent residents in Afghanistan are part of ‘blended families’ with different visa and citizenship statuses, Mr Sloper commented:

I don't have the breakdown according to individuals with me, but as a rule of thumb…we could say that as a whole it's probably one to four. That is, most have family members, but it'll vary according to each individual. In some cases we may have one or two applications involved—individual applicants or a couple—and in others we may have a large family, which will mean that number is 10 or 15.28

6.29 Mr Wilden added that when processing this caseload, ‘one of the key issues is what the definition of 'family' is’:

We have a definition under policy of 'immediate family'. Given the desperate circumstances, a lot of people came out who would not normally be able to come out under a visa. It's generally your immediate dependants, and doesn't go to brothers, sisters, cousins et cetera. A lot of the requests we now get are about those extended family members. So there are limits as to what we can actually do.29

6.30 Mr Wilden commented on Home Affairs’ work with DFAT on these visa applications, within the context of Australia’s overall humanitarian program:

[W]e do work very closely with [DFAT]. When they have information pertinent to someone's relative and it does relate to a visa concern, they raise it with us. We can then go into our systems to see where those applications are up to—if they can be expedited or if they just need to run their course. It comes down to the individual circumstances.

One of the things we have to keep in mind is that everyone coming in on these visas will be a humanitarian entrant, and there is a limit on the amount of humanitarian visas granted every year. That is based on the priorities as set by government. We don't absolve ourselves, if you like, from considering those relative priorities when we look at someone's claims. There are many more people in need of protection around the

27 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 37.

28 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 37.

29 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 36.

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world and in Afghanistan than we have places available, so triaging and assessing relative priority is very important.30

Options for assisting individuals still in Afghanistan 6.31 A number of submitters and witnesses called on the Australian Government to redouble its efforts to maintain communication and facilitate the evacuation of visa holders from Afghanistan and Pakistan. For example, the Law Council of

Australia (Law Council) submitted:

The experience of [legal] practitioners is that many Australian visa holders remaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan have not received any information or assistance in relation to evacuation and have not received consular assistance.

The Law Council understands that facilitating the further evacuation of visa holders from Afghanistan is extremely difficult, and that it may also be challenging to maintain contact with such persons. However, it suggests that further efforts continue to be made to maintain contact with people still in these areas to provide information on how to depart.31

6.32 DFAT stated that Australia ‘has continued to work with international partners to explore options to assist Australians and their immediate family members and other visa holders who wish to depart Afghanistan’:

We advise through our Travel Advice on Smart Traveller that all travel throughout Afghanistan is extremely dangerous. We also advise that some border crossing points are at risk of terrorist attack, [and] all people who attempt to travel within Afghanistan, including to borders, do so at their own risk.32

6.33 When asked what plan is in place to get Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders still in Afghanistan to safety, DFAT stated:

Travel throughout Afghanistan is extremely dangerous, and our travel advice recommends Australians stay in a safe place.

Australia continues to work with international partners to pursue all opportunities to assist Australians and their immediate family members who wish to depart Afghanistan, including working with the Qatar Government to facilitate the departure of Australians on flights from Kabul.

Australia is supporting citizens and visa holders who reach border crossings out of Afghanistan in selected circumstances:

30 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 36.

31 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 9.

32 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 5.

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 some land borders are closed to travellers seeking to cross from Afghanistan and some border crossing points that are open are at risk of terrorist attack  border crossing points may be closed by authorities without notice,

especially when crowds gather or where there are concerns of an increased risk of attack.

On presentation in locations outside Afghanistan, visa holders are being assisted by DFAT and Home Affairs to transfer to Australia, including COVID-19 testing and border exemption processes:

 for subclass 449 holders this facilitation also involves collection of biometrics and security checks.33

6.34 Mr Sloper observed that it is quite difficult for DFAT to get specific information about the broader security situation on the ground in Afghanistan, and reiterated that DFAT’s advice ‘remains for people to make their own judgement, because movement across the country can be quite difficult and volatile in certain areas’.34

DFAT ability to provide consular assistance in Afghanistan 6.35 DFAT submitted that while its ability to provide consular assistance in Afghanistan is now severely limited, it continues to 'support Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families remaining in

Afghanistan', including through a dedicated Afghanistan Consular Unit in DFAT and the work of consular officials across the region. DFAT submitted that it 'is important to note that not all our citizens wish to leave Afghanistan, and some wish to leave but not at this time'.35 DFAT noted further:

Our consular officials have sent over 6,000 emails and 4,000 SMS messages to provide critical updates to travel advice and to respond to emergency enquiries. We are providing support to renew or replace Australian travel documents. We are also in regular contact with over 200 individuals and their families to check on their welfare. We are providing financial assistance for those needing support with living expenses. We are assisting Australians and visa holders who have crossed or arrived at international borders since evacuation operations ceased. We will continue to assist those trying to return to Australia, including as commercial options for departing Afghanistan emerge.36

6.36 DFAT emphasised that ‘we are doing everything we can to assist those still in Afghanistan’, adding that its support for consular clients also includes referrals

33 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 110.

34 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November

2021, p. 27.

35 DFAT, Submission 22, pp. 4-5.

36 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5.

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to mental health services and support for family members awaiting visas.37 Mr Newnham reiterated at the 15 November public hearing that ‘[i]t is the case, of course, that we continue to assist a great number of individuals with respect to consular cases and to expedite visa applications’.38

Issues relating to the Locally Engaged Employee program 6.37 A significant issue raised during the inquiry was the operation of the Locally Engaged Employee (LEE) program, for Afghan nationals who worked with Australian forces during their operations in Afghanistan (for example, as

interpreters) and were subsequently at-risk because of their association with Australia.

Overview of the LEE program 6.38 In December 2012, the government announced it would offer resettlement to eligible Locally Engaged Employees (LEEs) at risk of harm due to their employment in support of Australia's mission in Afghanistan, 'as a reflection

of Australia's moral obligation and gratitude to those who provided invaluable support to Australia in Afghanistan'.39

6.39 This program commenced in January 2013. There is no specific class of visas for LEEs; rather, the program specifies a class of persons for the purpose of granting Refugee (subclass 200) and In-Country Special Humanitarian (subclass 201) visas to non-citizens at risk of harm as a result of their employment by the ADF, DFAT, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID, now part of DFAT) or the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Afghanistan. Eligibility extends to immediate family members of the LEE.40

6.40 Gaining a visa through the LEE program occurs in two stages: firstly, gaining certification as an LEE; and then undertaking the visa application process.

6.41 Firstly, the individual must be certified as eligible for the program by the relevant Australian department or agency they worked with in Afghanistan, with the relevant Minister then signing off on certification. The relevant decision makers for these certifications are the Minister for Defence, in relation

37 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 6.

38 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 21.

39 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9. This followed the April 2008 announcement of a program to

offer humanitarian visas for LEEs who had assisted Australian troops in Iraq from 2003 onwards.

40 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9.

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to LEEs engaged with the ADF, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in relation to LEEs engaged by DFAT.41

6.42 To be certified as eligible, applicants must meet criteria set out in the relevant enabling legislative instrument under the Migration Regulations, which was authorised by then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship the Hon Chris Bowen MP in December 2012.42 These criteria include that the applicant has been assessed as being at 'significant individual risk of harm as a result of their support to Australia’s whole of Government mission in Afghanistan due to their role, location, employment period and currency of employment'.43

6.43 The legislative instrument governing the LEE program contains an exclusion for individuals who are, or were, Afghan government or military officials or were employed in a private security capacity, as well as any individuals who are not Afghan nationals.44 There is also a general requirement that an individual must have sought to be certified by the relevant agency within six months of ceasing employment.45

6.44 The legislative instrument nominates several specific classes of employees who do qualify for certification,46 and also allows for the Minister to certify an individual as an LEE 'who is able to satisfy the relevant agency Minister that exceptional circumstances exist' that would warrant certification.47

6.45 Defence informed the committee what criteria it uses to determine when 'exceptional circumstances' exist to enable the Minister to certify a LEE application when an individual would not otherwise qualify, and whether these criteria had changed over time:

Defence considers demonstrable threat to life as a result of employment, an inability to communicate electronically or being unaware of the existence of the LEE program as exceptional circumstances.

Defence did not change its conditions for exceptional circumstances, but determined all former employees to be at risk as the Taliban advance accelerated.

41 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9; DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5.

42 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9. See: Migration Regulations 1994 - Specification of a Class of

Persons - IMMI 12/127, enacted on 14 December 2012 for commencement on 1 January 2013.

43 Migration Regulations 1994 - Specification of a Class of Persons - IMMI 12/127, paragraph 3(a).

44 Migration Regulations 1994 - Specification of a Class of Persons - IMMI 12/127, paragraph 3(b).

45 Migration Regulations 1994 - Specification of a Class of Persons - IMMI 12/127, paragraph 4(i).

46 These are: interpreters in Uruzgan Province in positions funded by DFAT; interpreters or

instructors employed with the ADF or AFP; and project, facilities management and advisory staff in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Uruzgan on behalf of AusAID and/or DFAT.

47 Migration Regulations 1994 - Specification of a Class of Persons - IMMI 12/127,

subparagraph 3(a)(iv).

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In July 2021, Defence advised the Minister that all LEE were now regarded as being at risk and re-evaluated LEE formerly certified as ineligible with this assessment in mind.48

6.46 Defence noted that over the life of the LEE program, around half of all certified LEE applications had involved determinations of exceptional circumstances. 49 DFAT advised that the Foreign Minister ‘has exercised this discretion, in the case of 43 individual certifications in 2021’.50

6.47 Defence provided information to the committee about its certification application processes for the LEE program:

Defence provided information on how to apply for [LEE] certification to individuals, where possible while they were employed. Defence maintained a contact point for enquiries at the Afghan LEE inbox[.] This was the primary point of contact.

Defence would respond to initial enquiries with information on the program and provided application forms to individuals who provided information that indicated they were possible LEE. Upon receipt of a completed application form, Defence created a case file, checked Defence records and any documentation provided by the applicant, interviewed any nominated referees who could be located and made a

recommendation for certification as either eligible or ineligible. Once the Minister certified the applicant, eligible applicants had their status advised to the Department of Home Affairs. Applicants were advised of the decision, along with what options were now open to them. For eligible applicants, this was to apply for a Humanitarian visa via a specified email address in Home Affairs. For ineligible applicants, it was to consult Home Affairs regarding the other visa options still open to them.51

6.48 Defence noted that it advised employees of the conditions of the LEE program when providing application information, as well as advising enquirers at their initial contact of the conditions for eligibility. Applicants were advised of the six-month timeframe since employment ‘in the proforma email responses to initial enquiries, and again in the covering email providing the application form’.52

48 Department of Defence (Defence), Answers to written questions on notice from Senator Wong

(received 27 October 2021), Question No. 74.

49 Defence, Answers to written questions on notice from Senator Wong (received 27 October 2021),

Question No. 69.

50 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 3 December 2021), Question No. 010.

51 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 26 October 2021), Question No. 63.

52 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 27 October 2021), Question No. 68.

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6.49 Once an individual has been certified by the relevant Minister, the LEE is provided with information about how to make a visa application, and they and their family are required to lodge visa applications with Home Affairs. Applicants in Afghanistan are assessed against the criteria for a Subclass 201 In-Country Special Humanitarian visa. Home Affairs submitted that being certified as an eligible LEE does not remove the requirements for the individual and their family members to have their visa applications processed in the usual manner and meet the criteria set for visa approvals:

While processing is prioritised, LEEs and their families must meet the same general visa criteria—including the identity, security and health criteria—as all other applicants. Claimed family members must meet the general definitions of a member of the family unit or immediate family of the LEE, similar to other applicants for visas in the same visa subclass.

The Department [of Home Affairs] has no visibility of holdings or processes of other Departments in relation to the number of potential certifications. When a person is certified as an LEE, they are provided with information about how to make a visa application.53

6.50 Visas granted to LEEs form part of the annual Humanitarian Program intake (that is, they fall within the ceiling set by the government for the relevant year).54

6.51 DFAT stated that over the time of the LEE program, in total ‘nearly 4,000 individuals with a connection to the program have arrived in Australia’.55

6.52 More than 2,020 humanitarian visas have been granted to Afghan LEEs and their families,56 the significant majority being Defence LEE.57 Eight hundred and eighty-seven of these visas have been granted since January 2021.58 A further 2,000 Afghans who were certified LEE, or applicants for certification, and their family members, were issued emergency safe haven 449 visas at the time of the Australian evacuation operation in August 2021.59

6.53 Home Affairs noted that fewer than five LEE visa applications have been refused on security grounds over the life of the program.60

53 Home Affairs, Submission 19, pp. 4 and 9.

54 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9. Home Affairs provided figures as at 1 October 2021.

55 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 4.

56 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9. Home Affairs provided figures as at 1 October 2021.

57 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5.

58 Mr Michael Pezzullo AO, Secretary, Department of Home Affairs, Estimates Hansard, Senate Legal

and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, 25 October 2021, p. 59.

59 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 4.

60 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9.

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Number of LEE certified by Defence 6.54 Defence provided further information in responses to questions on notice on the number of enquiries and applications for LEE certification it received over the life of the program, and in particular during 2020 and 2021. Defence stated

that it ‘has processed 1,619 Locally Engaged Employee cases since the program began’.61 Defence stated that it registered 28 new cases in 2020, seven new cases in the first quarter of 2021, and ‘86 new cases since 1 April 2021’.62

6.55 Defence informed an Estimates committee hearing on 27 October 2021 that, of the 1,619 Locally Engaged Employee cases it has processed since the program began:

 the Minister certified 677 individuals as LEE;  516 were certified as ineligible;  356 applications were closed when the applicants declined to continue; and  70 applications have not been finalised.63

Number of LEE certified by DFAT 6.56 DFAT officials stated that over the life of the program, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs have certified 134 individuals as LEE, of which 104 have subsequently been granted a visa (as at 8 October 2021). Over the life of the

program, 594 individuals have been refused certification as DFAT LEE.64

6.57 It was noted that there have been ‘a considerable number of further applications’ for DFAT certification made since the evacuation phase finished in August 2021.65

Operation of the LEE program during Australia's withdrawal from Afghanistan 6.58 This section presents the evidence provided by Defence, DFAT and Home Affairs about the LEE program’s operation during the final years and months

of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, and details criticism of the program raised by other submitters and witnesses.

61 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 64.

62 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 64.

63 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Estimates

Hansard, Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, 27 October 2021, p. 54.

64 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Estimates

Hansard, Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, 28 October 2021, p. 60.

65 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Estimates

Hansard, Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, 28 October 2021, p. 60.

118

LEE visa grants over the course of the program 6.59 Data provided by Home Affairs (shown at Figure 6.1) shows that humanitarian visa grants to Afghan LEEs and their families were around 550 at the start of the program in 2013-2014, before declining through to

2019-20 and then increasing markedly in 2020-21 and the first quarter of the 2021-22 financial year, corresponding with the end of Australia's engagement in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul.

Figure 6.1 Offshore Humanitarian visa grants to Afghan LEE and their families (as of 1 October 2021)

Source: Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 9.

6.60 Home Affairs commented on the situation in the lead up to Australia's announcement of its withdrawal in April 2021:

Through 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, the Department decided 85 visa applications from LEE (totalling 105 applicants). While reflecting the impact of COVID 19, this reflected a longer term trend in applications and decisions relating to LEEs, and the relative stability of Afghanistan itself. On 1 April 2021, the Department had 108 visa applications on hand from LEE, which, with the addition of family members, totalled 538 applications.66

6.61 Home Affairs provided a further breakdown in the number of LEE visa applications received and granted by Home Affairs from April to August 2021, shown at Figure 6.2.67

Figure 6.2 Afghan LEE visa applications and grants, April - August 2021

Source: Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25 November 202)1, Question No. 2.

66 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 12.

67 See also: Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement

Division, Department of Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 29.

119

6.62 When asked how many LEE visa applications had been received by Home Affairs in the program prior to 15 April 2021, when the Prime Minister announced the ADF withdrawal from Afghanistan, Home Affairs stated that 574 Afghan LEEs had lodged a class XB (offshore) Humanitarian application (totalling 2,455 applicants) by that date.68 Home Affairs noted further:

 another 15 LEE visa applications were received by Home Affairs between 15 April and 25 May 2021, when the closure of the Kabul Embassy was announced;69

 a further 16 LEE visa applications were received between 25 May 2021 and 1 July 2021. On this date, 120 applications remained on hand (totalling 460 applicants). 70

 a further 33 LEE visa applications were received between 1 July 2021 and 14 August 2021, at the time of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.71

Processing times for Humanitarian visa applications by certified LEE 6.63 Home Affairs also provided information about the average processing time for LEE visas since the program’s commencement, shown at Figure 6.3.

68 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 13.

69 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 14.

70 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 15; Correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs which corrects a response to a question on notice from Senator Wong in relation to LEE Visa applications received by 1 July 2021.

71 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 16; Correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs which corrects a response to a question on notice from Senator Wong in relation to LEE Visa applications received by 14 August 2021.

120

Figure 6.3 Average Processing Time for Afghan LEE granted Offshore Humanitarian visas (to 15 October 2021)72

Source: Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 17.

6.64 When asked about why average processing times had lengthened significantly in the 2020-21 program year, Home Affairs stated:

The number of visa applications lodged under the Afghan LEE program in 2019-20 was more than what was collectively received over the previous three years. The flow on effect of this was an increase in processing times. Less complex applications were finalised in 2019-20 (average 21 weeks), whereas the more complex cases took longer to be processed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Whilst the LEE program has a streamlined process and remained a Government priority, it was not immune from these impacts.

COVID-19 impacts included resource constraints at Posts due to other priority activities (assisting the return of Australians and Australian Permanent Residents for example) and workplace access issues for staff due to COVID-19 risk management practices.73

DFAT LEE applications during Australia’s withdrawal phase 6.65 DFAT provided detailed information on the number of LEE certification applications it has received and processed.

72 Home Affairs stated that measurement of claims processing commences at lodgement of claim,

however ‘most claims are not complete and rely on the receipt of identity and other documents’.

73 Home Affairs, Answers to written questions on notice (received 25 November 2021), Question

No. 41.

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6.66 Between December 2012 and 15 April 2021, DFAT received 113 applications for LEE certification, and 45 DFAT LEE and their families (totalling 215 people) were granted visas and resettled in Australia under the program.74

6.67 DFAT outlined that following the closure of the embassy in May 2021, it 'received a significant increase in enquiries related to the LEE visa program'; between 25 May and 30 June 2021, DFAT received 105 new applications from individuals seeking LEE certification, with a further 117 applications received between 1 July and 15 August.75 The Minister for Foreign Affairs certified 63 LEE from May to August 2021.76

6.68 Between 15 April and 17 August 2021, a further ten LEE visas had been granted, bringing the total under the program to 55 LEE and their families (totalling 270 people).77

6.69 DFAT later advised that as at 8 November 2021, ‘around 445 DFAT LEE and their family members have arrived in Australia under the program’.78

6.70 When asked how many DFAT LEE visa holders remain in Afghanistan, DFAT stated that, as of 2 September 2021, ‘49 of 89 certified LEE (82 of whom were certified in 2021) remain offshore’, with DFAT unable to advise how many of these remain in Afghanistan.79

Numbers of LEE departing Afghanistan from April to August 2021 6.71 Between 1 April and 15 August 2021, the transport of 438 LEEs and their family members to Australia was facilitated by Home Affairs and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), using commercial flights. This

process included securing ‘above caps’ COVID-19 hotel quarantine places for their arrival into Australia.80

6.72 Home Affairs explained that as at 15 August 2021, when Kabul fell under Taliban control, there were 37 certified LEE visa applications before Home Affairs, of which two were not granted because the applicants were already in

74 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5; DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held

11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021), Question No. 54.

75 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 54.

76 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5.

77 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 5; DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held

11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021), Question No. 57.

78 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 4.

79 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 105.

80 Home Affairs, Submission 19, pp. 12-13.

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another country or did not otherwise meet visa criteria.81 The remaining 35 applications were accepted: 14 were subsequently granted In-Country Special Humanitarian (subclass 201) visas, while 21 were considered instead for the grant of subclass 449 visas.82

6.73 Home Affairs stated further:

The Department will continue to process the existing subclass 201 visa applications lodged by those LEE who were granted a subclass 449 visa. It is not uncommon for LEE to have worked for more than one Coalition partner over time, and the general requirements of Australian law mean that in the event a LEE has been given protection by another Coalition partner, their application for Australia’s protection is refused as they do not therefore need Australia’s protection.83

6.74 Home Affairs noted in its submission that of the 35 visas granted to LEE after 15 August 2021, 18 LEE have subsequently arrived in Australia which, with family members, equates to 91 people.84

6.75 Home Affairs stated that 'the location of the remaining 17 LEEs who were granted subclass 449 visas and who have not arrived in Australia is currently unknown'. It noted that while these LEE have not yet arrived in Australia, 'subclass 449 visa holders who are presenting at other locations are still being transported to Australia'.85

Processes and planning during the withdrawal phase 6.76 Home Affairs submitted that following the government's announcement on 15 April 2021 outlining the ADF withdrawal from Afghanistan, 'further detailed planning was undertaken by the Department to ensure Australia was

well placed to facilitate the visa grant and departure of LEE and their family members ahead of withdrawal', including meetings with other relevant agencies 'to identify timeframes and processes that were required ahead of departure for this group'.86 Home Affairs also commissioned additional health resources through the IOM, 'to undertake the necessary health information and biometrics collection'.87

6.77 DFAT noted that in its 4 May submission to the Foreign Minister recommending the closure of the Kabul Embassy, DFAT outlined the implications for the DFAT Locally Engaged Employee visa scheme, estimating

81 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

82 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

83 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

84 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

85 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

86 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 12.

87 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 12.

123

that ‘around 16 DFAT Locally Engaged Employees of the Embassy and immediate families—in the range of 50-100 people—might be expected to submit visa applications in future’.88 The submission stated that the number of certification applications from DFAT LEE could increase if security in Afghanistan deteriorated.89

6.78 An inter-departmental committee (IDC) was established on 18 May 2021,90 to work through the implications of the Kabul embassy’s closure for LEE applicants. Mr Wilden of Home Affairs stated:

With the announcement of the closure of the embassy, we had an IDC about what the next steps would be. We highlighted at that point the need for referrals to reach us so that we could start processing their permanent protection visas, because they do take some time to go through the various steps of health, character checks et cetera. So pretty much immediately after the embassy—within weeks of the announcement—we were in the planning stage of making sure that locally engaged employees that were being sponsored by the other departments were referred to us for processing for their protection visas.91

6.79 DFAT advised that once the government had taken the decision to close the Kabul embassy, DFAT, Defence and Home Affairs ‘worked closely to advise the Government on the overall estimated number of LEE and families who may seek to depart Afghanistan’ under the LEE program, ‘taking into account those who already had humanitarian visas, those holding a certification applying for an LEE visa, those seeking certification, and those who might apply in future’.92

6.80 DFAT stated that the assessment at that time (late May 2021) was that these cohorts amounted to around 1,000 individuals.93 Home Affairs then ‘maintained an up-to-date assessment’ with input from DFAT and Defence.94

88 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 15. As noted in Chapter 5, at the time of embassy closure, the Kabul post directly employed 24 locally engaged staff, along with around 280 contracted staff.

89 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 20.

90 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 24.

91 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 26.

92 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 2.

93 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 2.

94 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing

15 November 2021, Canberra, p. 2.

124

6.81 DFAT outlined further measures taken in relation to the LEE program, stating that the government decided in late May, on the basis of advice provided, to ‘review previously unsuccessful visa certification applications and the processing of other visa classes’, expedite the processes of certification and visa processing, and ‘prioritise the use of commercial flights, considering other means of departure later if needed’.95 DFAT stated further:

The Government worked through significant constraints of quarantine and caps and with state governments to facilitate entry for LEE and family members above caps. Additional resources in the International Organisation for Migration to conduct health checks were commissioned by Home Affairs. Travel exemptions to enter Australia were arranged. Costs of quarantine were covered.96

6.82 Home Affairs submitted that in June 2021, 'in keeping with Government direction, certification of persons as LEE and support with the lodgement of visa applications…was further prioritised by relevant agencies', with a commitment to visa processing and arrival in Australia for LEEs to be finalised by 31 August 2021.97

6.83 When asked whether any department had been tasked with initiating evacuation planning for LEEs in mid-June 2021, following public commentary about safety concerns for Afghan interpreters who worked for the ADF and were still in the country, Defence responded:

At that time, commercial flights were available for LEE. There was no reason for an evacuation to be conducted by the ADF. Under its contingency planning framework, Defence routinely plans for the conduct of such operations.98

6.84 Home Affairs submitted that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Alex Hawke MP, wrote to the Ministers for Defence, Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General on 7 July 2021, requesting that all certification of LEEs be completed by 10 July 2021, on the basis that Home Affairs would commit to finalising visa processing of all cases on hand on that date. Home Affairs submitted that this commitment was met by departments.99

95 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 24; DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021), Question No. 15.

96 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 15.

97 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

98 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 27 October 2021), Question No. 30.

99 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

125

6.85 DFAT noted that ‘[a]t the request of the Foreign Minister in July [2021], DFAT re-examined all certification refusals made from 2013 to 2020, which led to certification of 7 individual applicants’.100

6.86 A departmental submission to Minister Hawke, dated 12 July 2021 and subsequently released under Freedom of Information laws, noted various difficulties in processing visa applications for the LEE cohort, and increasing issues for this cohort being able to travel out of Afghanistan on commercial flights:

There are ongoing challenges to the processing of humanitarian program applications, including Afghan LEE applications, as a result of continuing restrictions on the Department’s offshore activities and those of our partner agencies due to COVID-19, for example an inability to conduct medical assessments. This, combined with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, makes it extremely difficult to not only process visas but uplift people from Kabul.101

On 10 July 2021, the UAE announced that it will suspend arriving and transiting passengers from Afghanistan from 2359 UAE time Sunday (11 July 2021) evening. Since 21 June 2021, all Afghan LEE and their families have transited the UAE on their way to Australia. Our Post in the UAE has engaged with local authorities and received assurances that transit passengers from Kabul through Dubai to Australia will be accepted for travel as long as they remain in a specified airside transit lounge.

With the suspension of flights to the UAE, commercial flights will become very limited. The Department may be able to use alternative routes through Turkey but this currently requires a 14-day quarantine period in Turkey. The Department has discussed the possibility of charters from Kabul directly to Australia with DFAT and Defence; however, noting the security situation, this is considered a high risk.102

6.87 A further ministerial briefing document from Home Affairs dated 22 July 2021 notes that the main visa processing impediment for the LEE cohort is:

…the completion of the mandatory health examination which relies on services of our contracted provider (IOM) in Kabul. IOM have agreed to extend service hours which will increase the amount of medical

100 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 3 December 2021), Question No. 010.

101 Home Affairs, ‘Ministerial submission: Afghan Locally Engaged Employees (LEE) - broadening

the cohort’, dated 12 July 2021, available at ‘Tragic’ delays: documents reveal Australia knew time was running out to extract Afghan staff | Afghanistan | The Guardian (accessed 1 December 2021).

102 Home Affairs, ‘Ministerial submission: Afghan Locally Engaged Employees (LEE) - broadening

the cohort’, dated 12 July 2021.

126

appointments that can be completed. The Department continues discussion with IOM on the possible deployment of additional resources.103

6.88 This brief from Home Affairs also stated that while Defence and DFAT ‘are managing a significant amount of interest, they do not expect a large volume of enquiries to translate into ministerial certification’.104

6.89 The 22 July Ministerial brief noted further that a significant number of LEE visa applicants (328 cases, as at 2 July 2021), had applications refused due to secondary applicants—that is, members of the primary applicant’s family unit—not meeting the requirements of the ‘Family Unit’ test under the migration regulations.105 Home Affairs elaborated that qualifying family members are limited to:

 a spouse or de facto partner;  a dependent child (of the primary applicant and/ or their spouse or de facto partner);  a dependent child of a dependent child (of the primary applicant and/or

their spouse or de facto partner); and  a relative of the primary applicant (or their spouse or de facto partner) who does not have a spouse or de facto partner, is usually resident in

the primary applicant's household and is dependent on the primary applicant.

The last dot point above means that married parents of a LEE are not a Member of the Family Unit as they clearly do not meet the 'does not have a spouse or de facto partner' requirement.

Other secondary applicants are often refused as they are not found to be dependent on the primary applicant (the LEE).106

6.90 DFAT stated to the committee that on 20 July, the government ‘decided further measures to expedite LEE departures, including a plan for facilitated commercial flights if needed’. DFAT arranged a slot at Howard Springs for a charter flight in early September, with a plan for a second if needed. DFAT stated that these measures ‘were expected to exhaust the known and expected LEE and family demand’.107

103 Home Affairs, ‘Background Brief: Process and Progress of the Afghan LEE program’, dated 22 July

2021, available at ‘Tragic’ delays: documents reveal Australia knew time was running out to extract Afghan staff | Afghanistan | The Guardian (accessed 1 December 2021).

104 Home Affairs, ‘Background Brief: Process and Progress of the Afghan LEE program’, dated 22 July

2021.

105 Home Affairs, ‘Background Brief: Process and Progress of the Afghan LEE program’, dated 22 July

2021.

106 Home Affairs, ‘Background Brief: Process and Progress of the Afghan LEE program’, dated 22 July

2021.

107 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 15.

127

6.91 Home Affairs commented further that during this time, it also worked closely with Defence and DFAT 'to provide information for noncertified LEE about options available under the Humanitarian Program', and engaged with LEE visa holders 'regarding family members whose applications had previously been refused or withdrawn in relation to making an application under the general provisions of the Humanitarian Program'.108

6.92 On 22 August 2021, five days into the Australian evacuation operation at HKIA, the government decided to consider emergency subclass 449 visas for all applicants who had applied for the LEE program but were not certified.109 Defence submitted that these were made available to ‘Afghans with strong connections to the ADF and thereby at greater risk of harm’, including ‘the family of Afghan defence personnel studying at Australian military colleges, those who had studied, and the families of serving ADF living in Afghanistan.110

6.93 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, commented on the steps taken by Defence following the announcements of troop withdrawals and the Australian embassy closure:

[T]here are a number of steps that Defence took in coordination with Home Affairs. Obviously, we finalised most of our [certification] applications. We started to get new ones, so we did increase the number of staff in my division to process incoming applications…they were more on the tenuous [end of the] spectrum, because most of the people that we had direct records for had already applied or had applied to other equivalent LEE programs around the world. But we did re-contact applicants who had not proceeded with applications even though we'd notified them that they were eligible, to say that they needed to advise us quickly if they wished to apply for a visa under the humanitarian program. Of those, we got some replies. With others, we just didn't get any responses. So we were in a process of working with Home Affairs to ensure that we could let them know who we thought would be applying. But it was difficult to get in contact with everybody, simply because some people had already taken up applications for immigration to other countries[.]111

108 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 13.

109 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 87.

110 Defence, Submission 20, p. 3.

111 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 31.

128

6.94 Mr Jeffrey stated that ‘towards the end of 2020 we essentially cleared all of our existing LEE applications’, and added:

It was only when the security situation began to deteriorate that people who had not hitherto applied for a visa decided to do so, so we did have a number of people whom we were processing quickly during that period.112

6.95 Defence stated that in the immediate period before and during the evacuation in August 2021, it received over 15,000 emails in approximately 10 days to its email address set up to deal with LEE enquiries.113 Defence stated:

Defence responded to every genuine enquiry, applicant and correspondent up until August 2021. During the period of the evacuation in August, Defence supplemented its team to manage the increased volume of emails, including across shifts in the evenings and over weekends, and worked closely with DFAT and Home Affairs.

During the evacuation, on advice from Home Affairs, Defence recommended some certified LEEs for 449 visas to facilitate their evacuation. This was a quicker way to ensure LEE could be evacuated, so was prioritised over certifying LEE.114

6.96 Defence stated that the Afghan LEE program is ongoing, and it is still processing LEE certifications.115 In information provided in late October 2021, Defence stated that it is ‘currently reviewing 70 case files for possible certification’.116

Resourcing allocated to LEE processing 6.97 When asked what resources were added to the Defence LEE team when the Australian embassy in Kabul was closed, the Taliban advanced and Kabul fell, Defence responded:

Additional staff were added to the Defence LEE team in Canberra when interest in the LEE program spiked in August 2021. Several more staff supplemented the LEE team when the evacuation operations began making a total of six staff in the LEE team at the height of the evacuation.

112 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 48.

113 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 64.

114 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 64.

115 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 88.

116 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 26 October 2021), Question No. 64.

129

The Embassy closure had no impact on the Defence LEE process. Embassy staff were not involved in the LEE program process. There was no reason to deploy additional staff to Afghanistan to assist Defence LEE.

The LEE program was managed through internal resources and Defence did not seek additional assistance.117

6.98 DFAT stated that during the final months of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan it ‘steadily increased the staff working on DFAT LEE applications for certifications to help process applications for consideration by the Foreign Minister’. DFAT full-time staffing numbers working on LEE visa certification rose from one in May 2021 to five in August 2021.118 From mid-August 2021, in addition to these five full-time staff, ‘a further 11 staff were rotating on a 24/7 basis to respond to the significant increase in enquiries and applications, both for LEE and 449 visas’.119

6.99 When asked what resources were added to the Home Affairs LEE team as the Taliban started capturing more of Afghanistan, Home Affairs responded:

Visa processing for the Afghan LEE visa policy is located in Amman.

Prior to 15 April 2021, Amman Post resources dedicated to processing Afghan LEE visa applications was 0.3 A-based full time equivalent (FTE) plus one FTE locally engaged staff member.

From mid-April to 20 August 2021, Amman resources processing LEE visa applications were increased to one A-based FTE plus two locally engaged delegates and five locally engaged staff members - an increase of 6.7 FTE.

In addition, Canberra program management resources dedicated to Afghan LEE visa applications increased from 0.3 FTE prior to 15 April 2021, to 1.5 FTE from 15 April to 20 August 2021.

In total, resources for processing LEE visa applications increased from 1.6 FTE to 9.5 FTE for the above period.120

Defence LEE records and certification processes 6.100 Defence, DFAT and Home Affairs were questioned at a public hearing about what records the Australian Government holds in relation to Afghans who worked with Australian forces during Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan,

117 Defence, Answers to written questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021

(received 27 October 2021), Question No. 65.

118 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 55 and 57.

119 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 58.

120 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021). Home Affairs noted that these figures do not include resources allocated to processing subclass 449 visas.

130

including whether the government holds a ‘master list’ of those who worked with Australia.

6.101 Mr Jeffrey stated that Defence ‘does not have a master list, and we don't think creating one would be feasible’.121 Representatives of DFAT and Home Affairs also confirmed that neither department holds a master list of everyone with whom Australia worked in Afghanistan.122

6.102 Mr Jeffrey spoke further to the data that Defence holds and explained why this does not encompass everyone who may be eligible for the LEE program:

Defence certainly has lists of those types of people that we directly worked with in a direct employment relationship: for example, those interpreters that worked for the ADF directly on the ground in Uruzgan and elsewhere in Afghanistan, and staff who were working with the Australians at Camp Qargha. But not all people who worked for us in Afghanistan were formally employed by the ADF, so we won't necessarily have specific numbers and identities.

… But, because we take a broad definition in the criteria, it doesn't have to be a direct employee relationship. It can be an employee relationship through a third party, for example, like a contractor. We don't think we could create a master list, and we look at each application on its merits to see if it meets the criteria under the LEE program to determine whether or not we would certify that individual for an application into the humanitarian intake under the Australian government's legislation.123

6.103 Mr Jeffrey commented further on the way Defence applied the eligibility criteria for the LEE program at an Estimates committee hearing on 27 October 2021:

I will tell you how Defence did apply the criteria under the LEE program and how we do apply the criteria. Essentially, a service has to be rendered. An example could be that the employee relationship is actually with another entity. For example, in [Uruzgan] Province we had interpreters who were employed by Dutch forces, but they essentially worked to Australian forces in many instances, so we would regard them as employees.124

6.104 Mr Jeffrey stated that while Defence could compile a list of people that it holds direct employment records for, this is ‘not a useful statistic to encompass those

121 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 22.

122 Mr Geoff Tooth, Assistant Secretary, Afghanistan and Regional Branch, and former Head of

Mission Kabul, DFAT; and Ms Cheryl-anne Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department of Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 22.

123 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 22.

124 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Estimates

Hansard, Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee,

27 October 2021, p. 55.

131

people who might be eligible under the LEE program, because, as you can appreciate, employment conditions in Afghanistan are very fluid’.125 Mr Jeffrey stated that because of this, ‘we have to look at each application on its merits and interrogate whether or not those claims in the applications would allow us to certify them as locally engaged employees’.126

6.105 Commenting on the process undertaken by Defence in ascertaining claims to certify a LEE application, Mr Jeffrey stated:

We look at a whole range of criteria. We've got criteria under the legislation which we need to ensure are met. But at the same time, to verify the claims in the application, we need to see if we have any records. If we don't have any records, we need to consult people on the ground at the time to see if they have a recollection. Do they know? Did they work with this person or this contractor or this company? Does this type of work sound like something that we were doing? We talk to the post and we talk to other government agencies. So it's a process of trying to ensure that we can substantiate the claims in the application.127

6.106 Defence officials also stated that the LEE certifications being processed towards the end of Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan were generally less clear-cut than the earlier applications. Mr Jeffrey commented:

[The] great majority of those who have clearly worked with us, who are known to the Australian Defence Force, have left the country under either our LEE program or a program of other contributing countries. So, when we got towards the latter end of this year, most of the candidates we were looking at were on the marginal side, with claims that were more difficult to verify.128

6.107 Mr Jeffrey noted that changes in the security situation in Afghanistan led Defence to change their assessments for LEE who had previously had certification claims rejected:

One of the key criteria is not only whether they meet the criteria in terms of being an employee but whether they are at serious risk to their security. People we had assessed in 2015 were maybe people who worked for Defence…but we could have judged then that they were not at risk. As the Afghan government began to look increasingly unstable, and the Taliban were making increasing gains, we reconsidered the cohort to determine those we had rejected on the basis that they were not at risk—to take that criteria out and say, 'We now assume that everyone is at risk.' We

125 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 23.

126 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 23.

127 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 23.

128 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 23.

132

reviewed those we had rejected on that basis, and then recertified some of those individuals—not all those individuals we were able to get in contact with; many others had left for other programs with other ISAF contributing countries. That's one example of criteria change. We didn't change the criteria in the legislation; we just changed how we assessed people.129

Criticisms of the LEE program from submitters and witnesses 6.108 Several submitters and witnesses raised significant concerns with the way Defence, DFAT and Home Affairs have managed aspects of the LEE program.

6.109 Forsaken Fighters Australia Inc., an organisation advocating for Afghan LEE founded by ADF veteran Mr Jason Scanes, submitted:

The LEE visa program was designed to ensure that those individuals that assisted the Australian Government, in pursuit of our national interest at great personal risk, would be afforded protection from any reprisals as a result of their association with our Defence Forces. The failure of Government to review the policy and draw on feedback to address deficiencies to improve the program has unnecessarily placed vulnerable people at an increased risk and left many to fend for themselves in Afghanistan. From contractual failures, limited Government oversight and bungled vetting processes, awash with conflicts of interests, private companies and hundreds of millions of dollars, the people adversely affected are the people who facilitated missions and assisted coalition troops. With decisions seemingly lacking any logical reasoning, it appears that Government departments, operating in isolation, have failed to engage with all the relevant sources and information to make informed decisions and address deficiencies in policy. Australia has left interpreters behind in Afghanistan.130

6.110 GAP Veteran and Legal Services (GAPLS) was strongly critical of the LEE program, summarising its concerns as follows:

The Afghan LEE Visa Programs managed by [Defence] and DFAT, respectively, have proven to be a manifest failure. Timelines for the processing of applications for LEE clearance, i.e., clearance to then apply for a visa, have been objectively excessive. Empirical evidence shows cases of up to three years between the submission of an application and clearance or rejection. Often no acknowledgement of receipt of applications was provided by the [Defence] or DFAT LEE teams. Thus, no anticipated timelines were provided.

There was no apparent consistency in the decisions to clear LEE applicants for subsequent visa applications or reject them, thus denying many the opportunity to apply for a visa under the LEE program. The mass rejections process taken contemporaneously with the Taliban advancing on Kabul…serves to demonstrate the lack of any sense of urgency in this

129 Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary, International Policy, Department of Defence, Committee

Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 31.

130 Forsaken Fighters Australia, Submission 58, p. 6.

133

process until it was arguably too late. As well, [there was a] lack of any consistency in the clearance process…131

Number of LEE remaining at risk in Afghanistan 6.111 In addition to figures provided by government departments, the committee also received other estimates on the number of certified LEE and LEE applicants remaining in Afghanistan. Forsaken Fighters Australia submitted:

Forsaken Fighters Australia Inc. have a detailed list of LEEs and family members who remain in Afghanistan, correct as of 05 October 2021. The list consists of 198 LEE with valid Australian visas some XB201, most with 449 and over 450 who remain ‘at risk’ and have not received any form of visa. Many of those individuals have applied to the email and have not received a reply. Some have received a notice advising ‘given your links with Australia, whilst you have not been certified as a Locally engaged Employee you will be given priority for one of the 3000 humanitarian positions’. They remain without a visa today. Many have fled their homes, navigated Taliban check points, endured arduous conditions at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) and been unnecessarily exposed to additional threats, only to be left behind.132

Processing timeframes for LEE applications 6.112 Forsaken Fighters Australia submitted that the processing of LEE applications ‘has been peppered with lengthy delays’:

Many applications have taken years to process. I am confident that there could be no logical reason or justification from Home Affairs or Immigration as to why they have taken years to process applications for vulnerable people, deemed ‘at risk’ because they helped Australians. That should have been an indicator that the LEE program was not functioning as intended and a review was desperately needed. Individuals who were/have been certified by the Defence Minister ‘as at risk’ should have been a priority for Government to process. Instead, many have been left to wait for years, in fear and at risk because they supported our troops.133

6.113 When questioned about reports that Defence LEE certification has in some cases taken years to complete, Defence provided the following information:

Certification could be an extended process for individuals who applied long after ceasing employment with the ADF and who lived in remote areas of Afghanistan. Defence determined eligibility on whether an individual was in an “employee like relationship” rather than whether they were formally employed. Accordingly, Defence would need to gather evidence of the nature of their relationship. Similarly, if an exceptional circumstances test was being applied to an application, Defence had to gather and assess evidence of the claimed circumstances. Applicants were able to appeal an ineligible certification.

131 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 17.

132 Forsaken Fighters Australia, Submission 58, p. 1.

133 Forsaken Fighters Australia, Submission 58, p. 1.

134

No single application process took multiple years. However some individuals did continue to reapply over a period of several years. Following certification Home Affairs commenced the visa assessment process and this process could take an extensive period of time for some applicants.134

6.114 When asked about the average processing time for DFAT LEE certification, DFAT responded:

Each application is treated on a case-by-case basis. Processing times are determined by the complexity of the case, the completeness of the application, and responsiveness of applicants to requests for additional information.135

Eligibility of security personnel 6.115 As noted in Chapter 5, significant issues have arisen in relation to security personnel associated with the Australian embassy in Kabul, with some gaining visas under the LEE program and many others unsuccessful in attempts to

access the program and leave Afghanistan.

6.116 It is unclear exactly how many security personnel associated with the Australian embassy in Kabul have applied for humanitarian visas with Australia (which could include those rejected for LEE certification). When asked about this number, Home Affairs was unable to provide an overall figure:

Home Affairs does not record the specific roles and relationships that individuals may have had with the Australian government.

If an individual is certified by the relevant Minister to be considered under the LEE program, Home Affairs process the visa application against the applicable criteria. The assessment process does not record the nature of an individual’s employment link to the Australian government.

If an individual applies under the broader Humanitarian Program, the same application form is completed and the applicant provides their employment history. However, that information is for an assessing officer to consider, the details are not recorded in a reportable field in a visa processing system.136

DFAT evidence on eligibility issues 6.117 DFAT informed the committee that between 24 May 2021 (when the closure of the Australian Embassy in Kabul was announced), and 26 August 2021 (when the evacuations concluded), 160 private security company employees applied

134 Defence, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021 (received

27 October 2021), Question No. 66.

135 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 28 October 2021), Question No. 59.

136 Home Affairs, Answers to written questions on notice (received 25 November 2021),

Question No. 40.

135

for certification as Locally Engaged Employees of DFAT. Of that number, only 12 were certified as eligible for the LEE program.137 DFAT stated that those unsuccessful in their certification applications ‘were prioritised for consideration by Home Affairs under a separate humanitarian visa category in a process streamlined in the period before and during the military evacuation of Kabul’.138 DFAT noted further that since 26 August 2021, more than 40 private security company employees have applied for certification under the DFAT LEE program.139

6.118 Mr Geoff Tooth, Assistant Secretary, Afghanistan and Regional Branch, and former Head of Mission Kabul, DFAT, commented on the eligibility assessments applied by DFAT and why some security personnel were deemed ineligible:

We regard 'employed with' as a test, whether the individual was fully integrated with the Australian agency personnel, whether they were identified directly with our mission and whether their connection was substantial and sustained.140

6.119 Mr Tooth stated that some embassy guards did not meet this test, as they ‘weren't fully integrated with the embassy and the operation of the embassy’, and elaborated further:

With the way the embassy was constructed in terms of its security overlay, there was inner security, a second round of security and an outer ring of security. Many of the guards were in that outer ring and a wider part of the green zone of the security environment in Kabul.141

6.120 Mr Tooth conceded that these guards were paid under DFAT’s contract with GardaWorld, a contracted security company who operated at Australia’s direction.142

6.121 DFAT officials provided some explanation and context for the layers of security arrangements around the Australian embassy in Kabul, and how this affected LEE claims. Ms Minoli Perera, Chief Security Officer, DFAT, clarified that close personal security services for the Australian Ambassador to

137 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 23.

138 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 23. See also: Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Estimates Hansard, Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, 28 October 2021, p. 62.

139 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 23.

140 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 31.

141 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 31.

142 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 31.

136

Afghanistan and other embassy staff were provided not by Afghan nationals, but by either Australian nationals or Five Eyes (predominantly UK) contractors, due to their specialised training. This was also the usual arrangement for drivers of the Ambassadors and diplomatic vehicles.143

6.122 The ‘inner cordon’ of security services for security inside the Australian embassy compound was undertaken by Indian and Nepalese nationals through Australia’s contracted security provider.144

6.123 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, continued that outside the embassy, there were three layers of security: an inner layer, covering the pedestrian entrances to the embassy, which was staffed by Australian or third-country security personnel; beyond that, vehicular checkpoints; and beyond that again, checkpoints further out—for instance, entry points into the ‘semi-secure zone’.145

6.124 Mr Cowan described DFAT’s approach to LEE certification requests, given this layered arrangement:

There was some shifting of roles between different parts of that. I think it's fair to say that, in giving advice to our minister, we were very cognisant of what role an individual who put themselves forward for certification had played: what was the degree of integration with the mission; what was the visibility; how sustained and substantial was that; and could they really be described as employees of Australia? As you say, as you go further out that connection becomes less, because some of those checkpoints are not necessarily specific to Australia; there was some movement of roles. We were very careful to look at what role people had played and then draw assessments from that in the advice we put to the minister.146

6.125 Mr Newnham added:

[I]t's important to recognise, with a legislative instrument like the one we've got and the series of factors that have to be worked through, that it's very much a case-by-case set of judgements on a particular set of circumstances. There may well have been individuals that had moved to different roles and had different elements to play in that security fabric, and each of those will be dealt with on their merits.147

143 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 23. The Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprises

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.

144 Ms Minoli Perera, Chief Security Officer, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 23.

145 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Committee

Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 24.

146 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Committee

Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 24.

147 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 24.

137

6.126 Mr Cowan noted that the ‘exceptional circumstances’ provision could enable individuals to apply, even if they otherwise would be ineligible because of the exclusion relating to private security contractors.148

6.127 When asked whether the IDC that was set up in May 2021 to examine LEE issues gave consideration to eligibility issues for embassy guards and other embassy staff, DFAT stated:

The inter-departmental committee did not discuss the eligibility of those claiming their employer was the Australian Embassy in Kabul. Pre-existing eligibility criteria and exclusions under visa instrument IMMI 12/127 continued to be applied, including grounds for the exercise of Ministerial discretion under the instrument’s exceptional circumstances provisions.149

6.128 When questioned about whether DFAT took a stricter and more legalistic approach to certifying LEEs than Defence, given DFAT’s low acceptance rates of certification applications for security contractors, Mr Cowan stated:

The approach that Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade took was under the instrument. Contractors were not ineligible for certification because they were contractors, just because they weren't directly employed. There isn't a policy against certifying contractors.

This year, of the 82 individuals whom the foreign minister has certified, 54 of them have been contractors. We have applied the test that's set out in the legislative instrument. We haven't excluded contractors because they're contractors. We have certified people who could effectively be regarded as employees of Australia, those who are identified with our mission and who worked with our mission in a sustained and substantial way. So many contractors this year have been certified by the foreign minister.150

Evidence concerning visa rejections for at risk staff associated with the embassy 6.129 GAP Veteran and Legal Services (GAPLS) provided extensive evidence about the treatment of embassy security staff seeking access to the LEE program. It submitted that more than 200 individuals who worked at the Australian

embassy as security guards and contractors were put at direct risk following the closure of the embassy, with the number of affected individuals rising to at least 1,000 inclusive of the families of these workers.151

148 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Committee

Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 23.

149 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra

(received 13 December 2021), Question No. 24.

150 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Estimates

Hansard, 28 October 2021, p. 62.

151 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 9.

138

6.130 GAPLS stated that a large number of these individuals were issued mass LEE certification rejection letters after the Australian evacuation operation had already commenced:

On 21 August 2021, dozens of individuals from the Embassy Group received mass LEE certification rejection letters [via] a standard templated letter with the same group file number. This, even though all of the applications were submitted by individuals and not as a group. The mass rejection letters lacked any consistency. Dozens of rejection letters were sent randomly to the Embassy Group, and many of those officers had impeccable documentation.152

6.131 GAPLS asserted that those rejected included ‘one of the most senior Australian Embassy Security Guards’ with eleven years of service:

The wording in the letter sent to him on the eve of the evacuation was clinical and insensitive. There was no articulation or explanation as to why his application was rejected. Simply that it had been… The rejection letter did not give any consideration to the fact that as a Senior Embassy Security Guard, [name redacted] was seen by Taliban to be 'traitorous' because he worked for the Australian Embassy and its Government and for the benefit of the Afghan President Ghani.153

6.132 GAPLS noted that several of those rejected included persons of Hazara ethnicity and Shia Muslims, who were particularly at risk of Taliban reprisals, and stated that ‘these elements and by the nature of their employment alone should have guaranteed the Embassy group priority for evacuation’.154 GAPLS commented further:

What is most disturbing is that the Australian Government knew and reported on the risks the Embassy group and their families face on a daily basis as a result of their employment. They and their families are frequently and deliberately targeted for harm. The Taliban Government publicly and repeatedly broadcasted their intentions (and still do) to seek retribution against anyone who worked for the Coalition forces and Foreign Governments, including the Australian Embassy Security Guards, Contractors and their families.155

6.133 GAPLS noted that even once some of these individuals were ultimately invited to accept a subclass 449 visa during the final days of the Australian evacuation operation, there were significant issues with individuals not being able to complete and lodge relevant documentation in the manner requested, and an inability to access appropriate advice on how to do so.156

152 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 14.

153 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 14.

154 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 14.

155 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 14.

156 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 15.

139

Suggested changes to the LEE program 6.134 The Law Council submitted that, given the issues encountered with eligibility restrictions in the Afghan LEE program, the relevant legislative instrument outlining eligibility criteria (IMMI 12/127) and the Migration regulations

should be amended to allow greater flexibility:

The Law Council recommends that consideration be given to amending the legislative instrument which prescribes this ‘class’ of persons, IMMI 12/127, to ensure that all those who have assisted Australia are eligible for protection.157

6.135 The Law Council also recommended that a greater range of family members should be enabled to apply as secondary applicants in relation to a LEE visa application:

[T]he Law Council recommends that the Department consider facilitating amendments to the Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) (Migration Regulations) to enable siblings and non-dependent parents of locally engaged employees granted visas to be granted those visas as secondary applicants.

Currently, only a spouse, dependent child, dependent child of a dependent child, or dependent relative of a primary applicant may be granted those visas as a secondary applicant. Practitioners have experience of situations where the siblings and parents of previous grantees of these visas, who were not granted a visa as a secondary applicant, faced grave danger in Afghanistan for reasons related to the work their family member performed for Australian agencies (for example, as an interpreter).158

6.136 GAPLS submitted that the ‘reception and processing of LEE visa certifications and subsequent visa applications must be improved’, as follows:

The Afghanistan visa and evacuation operation evidenced inefficiencies, a lack of situational awareness, inordinate delays, and a lack of understanding of the processes involved on the part of respective departments. Industry must be engaged at an early stage in this process such that the following initiatives are appropriate:

• A preferred supplier panel of Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) members only to expedite visas, [with the] Department of Home Affairs to facilitate an 'Approach the Market' to a key group of MIA members; and

• Department of Home Affairs to have a preferred supplier panel of MIA members to regulate costs incurred by individuals[.]159

157 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 8.

158 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 8.

159 GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18, p. 22.

140

6.137 Forsaken Fighters Australia recommended that a ‘review of the LEE Visa policy is undertaken without delay’, addressing the following points:

 counterintelligence screening should form one piece of a mosaic for visa approval/denial, not the whole picture;  Defence Minister certification should be the lever to issue or has power conferred to issue 449 visas to expedite people deemed at risk from danger;  Greater communication between departments—where Defence have

certified an applicant, but they have not applied for a visa within 30 days, Defence should make contact again with applicant;  Embed Immigration officials or teams to assist in the compiling of applications and liaising with external groups/organisations;  Australia develops future policy on how to manage, register and track Local

Nationals who provide assistance in areas of conflict and instability; and  Greater transparency with applicants and veterans (establishing a point of contact within Immigration).160

160 Forsaken Fighters Australia, Submission 58, p. 5.

141

Chapter 7

Visa pathways and settlement arrangements for Afghan nationals in Australia

7.1 The committee took a range of evidence on how Australia is offering and processing visa places for Afghan nationals following the fall of the country to the Taliban. Much of the focus in evidence was on the question of whether Australia should be increasing the number of places available, and the speed with which they are delivered.

7.2 This chapter outlines the visa pathways and settlement arrangements for various cohorts of Afghan nationals, including discussing:

 humanitarian visas available to Afghan evacuees currently in Australia, as well as subclass 449 visa holders who are currently outside of Australia;  humanitarian visa processes and availability for Afghan nationals who were already in Australia prior to the fall of Kabul; and  availability and timeliness of other visa types for Afghan nationals,

particularly family visas.

Visa applications and grants to Afghan nationals 7.3 This section outlines information provided to the committee by government departments on the background to Australia’s relevant visa programs, and current numbers and processes for Afghan nationals seeking visas in Australia.

Background to Australia’s humanitarian visa program 7.4 Australia's Humanitarian Program provides permanent resettlement for refugees and people in humanitarian need, and others including their family members. The government sets the number of visas that may be granted

annually under the Humanitarian Program, which for the 2021-22 year has been set at a ceiling of 13,750 places.1 There are currently eight subclasses of refugee and humanitarian visas.2

7.5 The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) stated that all humanitarian program visa applications are assessed on an individual basis, and outlined:

1 Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), Submission 19, pp. 3-4.

2 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 4. These are: Refugee visas (subclass 200, 201, 203 and 204); Global

Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 202); Temporary Protection visa (subclass 785); Safe Haven Enterprise visa (subclass 790), and Permanent Protection visa (subclass 866). Temporary Protection visas and Safe Haven Enterprise visas are not counted towards the ceiling of places offered under the Humanitarian Program.

142

Applicants must satisfy the visa criteria, including satisfying Public Interest Criteria for character, security and health. Ensuring the safety and security of Australians is the Government's most fundamental responsibility and highest priority. Processing times can vary according to the particular circumstances of the applicant, their location (whether they are inside or outside their home country) and their ability to travel and produce documents or access Australian Government officials.3

7.6 Since 1 July 2013, Australia has granted approximately 13,000 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals, with Home Affairs stating that Afghanistan 'has historically been a prominent cohort in the Offshore Humanitarian Program' and has been in the top five countries of origin for this visa program over the last five years.4

7.7 Since 2009-10, 3,888 vulnerable Afghan women and children have received visas and settlement services under the Woman at Risk (subclass 204) visa.5

7.8 Home Affairs noted that under Australia's Operation Sovereign Borders policy, which has been in place since 2013, 56 Afghans remain under regional processing arrangements as at 12 September 2021 (25 in regional processing countries and 31 temporary in Australia).6

Humanitarian and other visa applications lodged by Afghan nationals 7.9 At the committee’s request, Home Affairs provided a range of data on the number of visa applications by Afghan nationals before and after the country came under Taliban control in August 2021, along with data on how long these

applications had been in process.

Visa applications on hand when the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan 7.10 As at 13 August 2021, directly before the fall of Kabul, Home Affairs had the following numbers of visa applications on hand from Afghan nationals:

 1,395 visa applications for Offshore Humanitarian visas made by Afghans located outside of Australia. Of these, nearly 500 applications had been in process for longer than 18 months.7

3 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 4.

4 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 4.

5 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 7. Subclass 204 visas are designed for females who are in danger of

victimisation, harassment or serious abuse because of their gender, or are registered as being of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

6 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 10.

7 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 21, p. 2. Offshore Humanitarian visas include subclass 200, 201, 202, 203 and 204 visas.

143

 1,910 visa applications for Onshore Humanitarian visas made by Afghans (where applicants are onshore at the time of lodging their application). Of these, 1,359 applications had been in process for longer than 18 months.8  17,500 visa applications for non-humanitarian visas made by Afghans

located outside of Australia, the vast majority of which (16,855) were Family visa applications. Of the family visa applications, 12,793 had been in process for longer than 18 months.9

7.11 Home Affairs stated that as at July 2021, the average processing time from lodgement to visa grant for Class XB (offshore humanitarian) visas for Afghan applicants was 63.5 weeks.10

Lodgement of humanitarian visa applications after the fall of Kabul 7.12 Home Affairs informed the committee that between 17 August 2021 (just after the fall of Kabul) and 8 October 2021, 24,857 class XB (offshore) Humanitarian applications were lodged by Afghan citizens.11

7.13 Home Affairs provided further information, current to 8 October 2021, about the total numbers of humanitarian visa applications lodged offshore by Afghan citizens in the months leading up to and after August 2021, shown at Table 7.1.

8 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 21, p. 2. Of the total 1,910 applications across this category, 134 were for permanent protection visas and 1,776 for temporary visa classes, which includes TPV and SHEV visas.

9 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 21, p. 1.

10 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 25.

11 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 03.

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Table 7.1 Class XB (offshore) applications lodged by Afghan citizens, January - October 2021

Lodgement month (2021) Total

January 52

February 53

March 79

April 102

May 88

June 95

July 131

August 8,615

September 14,791

1 to 8 October 1,564

Total 1 January - 8 October 2021 25,570

Source: Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 03.

7.14 Home Affairs officials noted that when accounting for family members included as part of primary visa applications, this number of applications represents ‘well in excess of 100,000 people currently applying’.12 Home Affairs provided updated figures at the committee’s 15 November public hearing, stating that it now had 32,000 primary claims on hand, an increase of nearly 7,000 since 8 October.13

7.15 Home Affairs stated that it is 'assessing the above caseload to determine priorities and valid applications'.14

7.16 When questioned about the significant number of Afghan humanitarian visa applicants who have not been contacted since lodgement of their visa application, Home Affairs stated:

The Department is currently receiving large numbers of applications for Refugee and Humanitarian (Class XB) visas, which means it is taking longer than normal to respond. We know this is a distressing time for

12 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 35.

13 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 29.

14 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 03.

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many people, including our Australian Afghan community, and request patience with the application process.

Applications are generally acknowledged in writing and processed as quickly as possible according to their date of receipt.

All visa applications will be processed in accordance with Government announcements and within program priorities, and assessed on an individual basis. Processing times can vary according to the particular circumstances of the applicant, their location (be it inside or outside their home country), and their ability to travel, provide documents or access to Australian government officials. All visa applicants in the Humanitarian Program must meet the visa criteria and satisfy public interest criteria for character, security and health.15

Numbers of subclass 449 visas granted 7.17 As noted in Chapter 5, during Australia’s evacuation efforts for people at risk in Afghanistan, 6,294 persons were invited to apply for Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) subclass 449 visas between 19 August 2021 and 1 October 2021, of

which approximately 500 were partner or other visa applicants.16

7.18 Home Affairs advised that, as at 1 October 2021, a total of 5,317 subclass 449 visas had been granted.17 Officials advised on 15 November 2021 that this number had increased to 5,636.18

7.19 Of those granted subclass 449 visas, 2,844 people (including four babies born during the evacuation) had arrived in Australia as at 1 October 2021.19 By 12 November, the number of arrivals in Australia on subclass 449 visas had increased to 3,568 people.20

7.20 Home Affairs advised in its submission that it is 'currently considering potential visa pathways for evacuees who have arrived in Australia on a subclass 449 visa', and noted that the 'most appropriate visa pathway will depend on the individual circumstances of each case'.21 It noted further:

Children born outside Australia who have at least one Australian citizen parent at the time of their birth may be eligible for Australian citizenship

15 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing on 11 October 2021,

Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 31.

16 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14; Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public

hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25 October 2021), Question No. 29.

17 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

18 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department

of Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 21.

19 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

20 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department

of Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 28.

21 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 14.

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by descent. Between 16 August and 6 September 2021, 20 children resident in Afghanistan acquired Australian citizenship by descent. A small number [of] people who have since arrived in Australia as holders of a subclass 449 visa may also be eligible for Australian citizenship by descent.22

7.21 Officials from Home Affairs informed the committee that individuals who remain outside of Australia and have had subclass 449 visas granted will be prioritised in the processing of their claims when their permanent humanitarian visa applications are lodged.23

Partner visa applications for Afghan nationals 7.22 In terms of partner visa applications for Afghan nationals, Home Affairs officials noted that, as at mid-November 2021, there are just under 7,500 people with partner visa applications located outside Australia (of which it is unclear

how many are in Afghanistan and how many are in other countries), as well as 534 located in Australia.24

7.23 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division, Home Affairs, explained how partner visas for individuals in Afghanistan were being processed both before and after the evacuation operation:

Where we were able to finalise partner visas since the embassy closed back in May, up until the evacuation phase, the big focus was on finalising those we could and getting them out. Where we were unable to finalise in those last days, those people came on 449s. As I said, there were around 500 who have arrived on partner visas. For the remaining, they're at different stages. Some of them have only put in applications since the evacuation. Some have been with us for quite some time…[W]e're anticipating that a large number of these people will get granted this year. Once granted, [if these individuals] cannot get a passport, then we can look at alternative documentation to allow people to cross borders and come to Australia. Once the visa is granted, we need to have that conversation on a case-by-case basis, if people don't have the relevant travel documentation.

Standard processing times [for partner visas] go just beyond 12 months, so a large number of these may be done this year, if they are already in train. If they have only recently applied, they may not be done this program year; it might be next program year.25

22 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 15.

23 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 29.

24 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 33.

25 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 33.

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Number of humanitarian visa places available 7.24 On 18 August 2021, in response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the Minister for Immigration announced that a minimum of 3,000 places in Australia's annual humanitarian refugee visa program of 13,750 places would

be allocated to Afghans.26 This number ‘is a floor, not a ceiling’, with the government anticipating that ‘this initial allocation will increase further over the course of 2021-22’.27

7.25 Home Affairs submitted that this allocation ‘ensures Australia is balancing the immediate needs of Afghan citizens, while also balancing other global resettlement needs’, stating further that it ‘ensures Australia will continue to meet its international humanitarian obligations through its humanitarian and resettlement programs’.28

7.26 Home Affairs officials noted that several hundred people had received permanent humanitarian visas under the LEE program in the 2021-22 financial year prior to the evacuation operation, and that these would be additional to the 3,000 announced places.29 It was also noted that the initial 3,000 announced places is for the 2021-22 financial year, and that additional places would be made available in subsequent years.30

Processing and prioritisation of Afghan visa caseload 7.27 Home Affairs told the committee that within the initial allocation of 3,000 places, ‘particular priority will be given to LEE, persecuted minorities, women, children and those with close links to Australia’, with further detail regarding

the composition of and priorities within the allocated places ‘under consideration by Government’ and subject to further announcements in due course.31 Home Affairs also stated that the government ‘is working with Afghan community leaders in Australia, and IOM and the UNHCR, to identify and facilitate the resettlement of those Afghans most in need’.32

26 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Submission 22, p. 5.

27 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 27.

28 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 18.

29 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

30 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 32.

31 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 28.

32 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 18.

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Processing timeframes and procedures for Afghan visa applicants 7.28 When asked how many Home Affairs staff are assigned to processing Afghan visa applications, Home Affairs stated, in late October 2021:

The Department has established the Middle East Onshore Complex Team (MEOCT) in Australia to focus on the processing of partner/family visa applications from the Middle East region, including Afghan applicants. There are currently 19 staff in the team, but this does not represent the entirety of staff processing Afghan visa applications, as the Department operates a global visa delivery model, with visa processing offices at a range of locations in Australia and overseas.

Resources are allocated flexibly to manage demand and on-hand levels for all visa types processed across our service delivery network. Staff may work across multiple visa programs based on operational requirements. Departmental systems do not allow us to identify staffing levels assigned to processing a particular type of visa application from a particular nationality at a particular point in time.33

7.29 Mr Wilden updated the committee at the 15 November public hearing on the work Home Affairs is undertaking:

In terms of the broader process for protection claims out of Afghanistan, we actually have 32,000 primary claims in front of us. Some of those arrived before the evacuation and some during the evacuation. At its peak, I think in one week we had over 10,000 applications lodged. What we're doing at the moment is focusing on getting those receipted and making sure they're valid applications. Obviously, when we receive such a large number in a very short space of time, there are delays. We have extra staff working on it. We have people working overtime. People are working weekends to do that.

The primary goal is to get this large group certified, in the first instance, as valid applications. Once we've done that, we can then start to look at the relative priorities of those claims.34

7.30 Mr Wilden commented that prioritisation will be necessary to determine which applicants can receive a permanent humanitarian visa:

Obviously, there are very few spots. No matter whether it's 3,000 or more, it's going to be significantly less than the number of applications we have in. The criteria that the government has already spoken about are those at particular risk, women at risk, LEEs and people with close links to Australia. Those broad categories alone will give us far in excess of the number of spots we have available. So, at the moment, while we've got our processing people seeking to get the claims receipted and to make sure that they're valid, we're also working on how we help guide our staff once they start looking to assess the claims for protection in terms of those relative

33 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 24.

34 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 29.

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priorities, so that those with the greatest claims are considered first for the available places in this program year and in future program years.35

7.31 Mr Wilden stated that further announcements would be made on how the humanitarian program for Afghan nationals would be rolled out:

We are working with the minister on the size and construct of the program, and the minister, or the government, will make announcements on what that will be over the future. I'm not sure what period. At that point we'll then determine the number of places for those already onshore—because, again, that number keeps growing—and then how many places will be available for people offshore to fill the relevant places for Afghans in the program.36

7.32 When asked when Home Affairs expects to have completed the initial work of certifying the validity of the applications that have been received, Mr Wilden stated that ‘[w]e should have that done before Christmas, all going well’.37 In terms of when visa application decisions for this cohort would start being made, Mr Wilden commented that some should be made this year for those already in Australia, with the remainder of decisions being taken in 2022:

The process of deciding these will be as usual. It will roll out, and the first decisions, I'd presume, would come very soon, because we already have a number of people onshore who have valid claims and are already a lot of the way through their claim; we only have to finalise it. They are being made and will be made over coming weeks. The broader group who are offshore, however, will probably have started by January, and then we'll be looking at filling all the places in the program over the six months left in the program year.38

Extension of subclass 449 visas 7.33 During November 2021, the government made announcements extending visa arrangements for all Afghan nationals in Australia who had been evacuated from the country on Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) subclass 449 visas, as

well as some subclass 449 visa holders who were unable to access the evacuation and are still outside of Australia.

Subclass 449 visa holders already in Australia 7.34 On 12 November 2021, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Alex Hawke MP, announced that

35 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, pp. 29-30.

36 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

37 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

38 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

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Afghan evacuees in Australia will have their existing subclass 449 visas extended for 12 months, ‘ensuring continued access to the full range of Government support services as they undertake the process of transitioning onto Australian permanent visas’.39

7.35 These subclass 449 visas, which were due to expire in November 2021 after being initially issued for a 90 period in August 2021, are now valid until November 2022. Home Affairs stated that it would ‘write to all subclass 449 visa holders in the coming weeks [to] give them more information about what this means and what to do next’.40

7.36 Home Affairs also stated that it would ‘process any valid permanent visa applications made by subclass 449 visa holders before their arrival in Australia’, including Family, Skilled or Humanitarian visas. Home Affairs stated that it would ‘contact applicants about the progress of these applications in due course’.41

7.37 The Minister also announced on 12 November 2021 a legislative change to enable Afghan evacuees to ‘transition to offshore permanent protection visas rather than onshore visas which would normally apply to applicants already in Australia’. This change provides for access to a broader range of Government support and settlement services that normally available to onshore applicants. Home Affairs expanded on this announcement:

This change allows Afghan subclass 449 visa holders in Australia to make a valid application for a Refugee and Humanitarian (Class XB) visa in Australia.

This change aligns to a practicable extent, visa outcomes for this group with what they would likely have received through the Humanitarian Program, if they did not need urgent evacuation from Afghanistan.

We will contact Afghan evacuees who have not already made a permanent visa application. We will give them more information about how to apply for a Refugee and Humanitarian (Class XB) visa.

Subclass 449 visa holders can not apply for a Refugee and Humanitarian (Class XB) visa straight away. This is due to administrative steps that need to be taken by the Department. The Department is writing to affected

39 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, ‘Pathways to permanent residence for Afghan evacuees’, 12 November 2021, available at: https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/AlexHawke/Pages/pathways-to-permanent-residence-for-afghan-evacuees.aspx (accessed 12 November 2021).

40 Department of Home Affairs, ‘Afghanistan update: Information for Afghan evacuees in Australia

on subclass 449 visas’, Afghanistan update (homeaffairs.gov.au) (accessed 12 November 2021).

41 Department of Home Affairs, ‘Afghanistan update: Information for Afghan evacuees in Australia

on subclass 449 visas’, Afghanistan update (homeaffairs.gov.au) (accessed 12 November 2021).

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people to give more information about the next steps in the visa application process.42

7.38 The Minister’s media release of 12 November stated further:

The Government is looking at all possible avenues to ensure that visa options through Australia’s long-standing Humanitarian and Migration Programs continue to be available to all Afghan nationals, both within Afghanistan and in other countries.

Within the Humanitarian program, the Department of Home Affairs has been instructed by the Government to afford the highest processing priority to applicants from Afghanistan.43

7.39 When asked how many of the 3,568 people already in Australia on subclass 449 visas were likely to apply for humanitarian visas within the 3,000 places currently available, and how many may apply for other types of visas, Mr Wilden informed the committee:

Quite a number already have applications in. Around 500 have partner applications in, so they'll be in the partner stream. We anticipate that there'll be others in that broad number of 3½ thousand who will apply for partner visas or family visas. We know already, from our discussions with our settlement providers, that some people are looking at business visas and skilled visas as possible avenues as well. Clearly a large number will be refugee and humanitarian visas, but, until those onshore have lodged, we won't be able to give a definitive number. It's probably in the region of 2,000 to 2½ thousand, we would estimate.44

Situation for Subclass 449 visa holders outside of Australia 7.40 Concerns were raised about individuals who were granted subclass 449 visas during the evacuation operation in August 2021 but were not ultimately able to leave the country during this period.

7.41 Home Affairs stated that it ‘is contacting those who hold an Australian visa that was granted to facilitate their evacuation, but remain in Afghanistan or have travelled to another country’, and commented further:

Those granted subclass 449 visas have three months from date of grant to enter Australia. The Government will assist their travel where they are in a location able to travel to Australia. People in this situation are asked to contact their nearest Australian mission to make these arrangements. All subclass 449 visa holders will need to have their biometrics collected before

42 Department of Home Affairs, ‘Afghanistan update: Information for Afghan evacuees in Australia

on subclass 449 visas’, Afghanistan update (homeaffairs.gov.au) (accessed 12 November 2021).

43 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, ‘Pathways to permanent residence for Afghan evacuees’, 12 November 2021.

44 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

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travelling to Australia. Fulfilment of this requirement will be a consideration in any Travel Exemption Request to travel to Australia.45

7.42 The committee was advised by Home Affairs on 15 November 2021 that subclass 449 visa holders currently outside Australia would be contacted via email to advise them on the next steps for their visa pathways. Officials noted that this would be ‘in the region of—based on the average family construct— about 400 to 500 emails that will need to go out to…the primary applicant, with their associated family members, to advise what's next for them’.46

7.43 Subclass 449 visas issued during the evacuation were due to start expiring on 19 November 2021.47 The government then made an announcement on 18 November 2021 in relation to the extension of subclass 449 visas for some individuals still outside of Australia; specifically, for individuals associated with the LEE program. Minister Hawke stated:

The Morrison Government has today announced that temporary humanitarian visas issued to Afghans who supported Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, and who remain there following the August air evacuation, will be extended on an ongoing basis.

Today’s decision provides an ongoing extension to visas issued to certified Locally Engaged Employees from the Department of Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian Federal Police, as well as persons with other working relationships with the Australian Government and their families who were issued temporary humanitarian visas.48

7.44 Minister Hawke stated that those ‘outside of the LEE program who were granted a temporary humanitarian visa which will expire will receive priority in Australia’s Humanitarian and Refugee intake’.49 Further:

The Government will continue to make announcements regarding Afghanistan and the evolving humanitarian situation in the near future. We again thank the Australian-Afghan community for their close

45 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra

(received 25 October 2021), Question No. 31.

46 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 37.

47 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department

of Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 38.

48 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, ‘Visas Extended for Afghans Who Supported Australia’s Mission in Afghanistan’, 18 November 2021,

https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/AlexHawke/Pages/visas-extended-for-afghans-who-supported-australias-mission-in-afghanistan.aspx (accessed 19 November 2021).

49 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, ‘Visas Extended for Afghans Who Supported Australia’s Mission in Afghanistan’, 18 November 2021.

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cooperation, direct feedback and their work to assist people in crisis in Afghanistan.50

7.45 When asked how many of the subclass 449 visa cohort still outside of Australia (which totalled 2,086 individuals as of 12 November) were covered by the Minister’s announcement and had subsequently had their visas extended, Home Affairs informed the committee:

Since the Minister’s announcement of 18 November 2021, 244 (as at 22 November 2021) subclass 449 visas have been granted to eligible persons as described in the announcement. The Department has prioritised grants for those with imminent travel arrangements. The Department is currently working through the cohort of eligible subclass 449 holders, offshore, for further subclass 449 visa grants.

The announcement refers to the extension of visas. However, in practice due to the operation of the legislation, individuals are granted a further visa. All initial subclass 449 visas were issued with three-month validity from the date of the grant and will cease at the end of that period.51

Visa application processes for those still in Afghanistan 7.46 Evidence was received on the need to streamline or provide alternative means for applicants to satisfy identity and other checks normally required for a humanitarian visa application, and to improve the application process more

broadly.

7.47 The Law Council of Australia (Law Council) submitted:

Given the urgency of Humanitarian Visa applications, the Law Council submits that it is essential that there is a user-friendly and reliable way to validly lodge humanitarian visa applications online. Practitioners have reported technical difficulties in lodging Humanitarian Visa applications via the online portal.

These difficulties include receiving error messages when attempting to lodge applications. The Law Council recommends that this portal is upgraded to ensure that it is a reliable means of lodging humanitarian applications. Alternatively, the Law Council recommends allowing humanitarian applications to be able to be validly lodged via email.

Practitioners have also reported not receiving any acknowledgement of their applications, whether they are lodged online or by post. The Law Council recommends that an acknowledgement email with a reference number be sent upon receipt of a Humanitarian Visa application so that there may be some certainty around this process.

50 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, ‘Visas Extended for Afghans Who Supported Australia’s Mission in Afghanistan’, 18 November 2021.

51 Home Affairs, Answers to questions on notice following public hearing held on 15 November

2021, Canberra (received 25 November 2021), Question No. 45.

154

The Law Council also recommends more information be provided in relation to expected processing times and the number of humanitarian places remaining for people from Afghanistan. This would assist practitioners to manage their clients’ expectations regarding timeframes and prospects of success.52

7.48 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC, argued that Australia should remove the need for Afghans to first flee to a third country as a prerequisite to applying for most Australian humanitarian visa sub-classes, by amending the relevant legislative instrument relating to this requirement:

In light of the circumstances in Afghanistan and the difficulty for many Afghans to flee the country, particularly without a valid visa for a third country, we suggest that the Committee reviews the instrument ‘Specification of a Class of Persons - IMMI 12/127’. This instrument makes it necessary for Afghans to flee to a third country in order to be eligible for the majority of Australia’s humanitarian visas. Doing so would represent a more targeted approach tailored to the situation at hand.53

Resolving identity issues and health checks for Afghan visa applicants 7.49 While acknowledging the importance of identity checks as part of the visa application process, the Law Council submitted that ‘there are now clear difficulties with conducting such checks for Afghans, given a lack of embassy

and government staff on the ground to facilitate them, and difficulties producing documents’:

Practitioners have reported that due to the ongoing crisis, some clients from Afghanistan are no longer able to obtain passports or birth certificates for their children in parts of Afghanistan. Additionally, many clients who did not have passports prior to the Taliban resuming power are fearful of presenting at a passport office for fear of alerting the Taliban to their whereabouts. This is consistent with UNHCR information—the UNHCR reports that of the Afghans who have crossed the border into Pakistan since 1 April 2021, 45 per cent have had no identity documentation.54

7.50 The Law Council recommended that, to the extent possible, ‘a more flexible approach be adopted regarding the type of identity documentation required for the issue of visas to people from Afghanistan’, and added:

The Law Council suggests this could include working with the UNHCR and other States in the region also faced with the challenge of confirming identity in this context.

52 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, pp. 21-22.

53 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC.

Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021), p. 10.

54 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 22.

155

By way of example, the Law Council notes that it has been reported that the Pakistan Government, with the support of the UNHCR, is managing a Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise which will update the details of more than 500,000 registered Afghan refugees as part of a country-wide campaign to issue renewed Proof of Registration cards.55

7.51 The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre recommended that Australia adapt its assessment of identity documents and health requirements for all visa applicants from Afghanistan, recognising that ‘identity and health checking in Afghanistan are no longer possible, and that many people from Afghanistan are now unable to secure relevant civil documentation to support their visa application’.56

7.52 Home Affairs officials were asked at the public hearing on 15 November what changes are being made in terms of waiving or changing the requirements for health checks, the endorsement of documents and other requirements that people would normally have to provide in order to put in a valid application for a humanitarian visa. Mr Wilden commented that ‘[a]t this point, there are no changes’ to the standard processes:

A humanitarian visa is a humanitarian visa and has core requirements that must be satisfied. I know there is concern about the ability of people who are still in country. I note that, in our standard humanitarian program, in-country visas usually make up a very small number of those; the places usually go to people who have fled countries. Afghanistan is a unique situation. We're talking with our providers, who up until the middle of August were in situ and providing health services and other services. We will continue to work with them to see—they haven't said that they will not be going back in to provide those services, but they are waiting for the situation to stabilise. We will wait while we go through the first phase of getting the applications receipted. We aren't going to look at alternatives to the existing process. However, if, at a future point, it's quite clear that people can't get medicals et cetera, we will discuss that with government to see whether they want any concessions or changes made.57

7.53 On the specific issue of verifying the identity of visa applicants, Mr Wilden noted that the ‘Afghan case load has traditionally been challenging in terms of identity’ and that this ‘will, we presume, continue to be the case’. Further:

It does not mean we must have specific documents. We need proof of identity that satisfies the decision-maker on who the individual is. That can be achieved through a number of means. We will just have to wait as we move forward—again, it's on an individual basis—to look at what their individual circumstances are, what documentation they may have and

55 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 22.

56 Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 60, p. 14.

57 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

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then, going forward, whether they can access health care in Afghanistan or how we may seek to manage that.58

7.54 When questioned about the novel approaches being taken by other countries to processing Afghan visa applications, Mr Wilden commented:

We are aware that other countries have taken different approaches. But, again, some of those approaches include—I believe that the US are taking people to staging places. So, they've got them out of Afghanistan as part of the evacuation but they haven't actually taken them to the United States. My understanding is that with the US you will still need to meet those basic requirements, particularly around identity, character and security, which is very similar to our own processes. We always speak particularly with our Five Eyes colleagues, whom we often share case loads with. I know that the Canadians have announced large numbers, and I will be talking to them in the next week or so about how they're going to be managing that process. Where they do things differently, obviously that's information for us, and we can look internally at what that means in terms of our own processes. But for the moment, standard humanitarian processing applies.59

The need for increased humanitarian visa support to Afghanistan 7.55 A number of submitters and witnesses commented on the level and pace of Australia’s humanitarian visa intake from Afghanistan.

7.56 The Law Council of Australia provided some context to the discussion of Australia’s humanitarian intake from Afghanistan, noting that even before the Taliban took control of the country, ‘there was a significant number of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, as a result of many years of political instability and violence’. The Law Council noted:

 According to UNHCR data, at the end of 2020 there were almost 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide, mostly hosted in Pakistan and Iran, as well as nearly 240,000 Afghan asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR;

 the UNHCR has estimated that in a worst-case scenario, recent events could result in 515,000 newly displaced refugees fleeing across the borders;  the UNHCR has indicated that between 1 January 2021 and 5 October 2021, 665,182 people have been internally displaced within Afghanistan, of which

80 per cent are women and children, in addition to 2.9 million already internally displaced at the end of 2020.60

58 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 30.

59 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 31.

60 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 10. See also: Refugee Council of Australia,

Submission 59, p. 3.

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7.57 A number of submitters called on the Australian Government to formally raise the number of humanitarian visa places offered to Afghan nationals as a result of the overwhelming crisis facing the country following the Taliban’s seizure of power. Submitters also called on Australia to grant permanent protection and amnesty to Afghans already in Australia, and prioritise family reunification for Afghans in Australia’s visa program.61

7.58 The Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network (AAAN) summarised the concern for Australia to offer adequate support for vulnerable Afghans:

Providing safe haven to refugees for people from Afghanistan is consistent with the promise made by Australia to protect persecuted groups, when they first entered the war in Afghanistan, and strongly aligns with Australia’s international obligations. After two decades of intervention and promises to the people of Afghanistan, which included protection for persecuted groups, women, democratic freedoms and the rule of law, our government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the unravelling crisis in Afghanistan today. The Australian government must grant permanent protection to refugees from Afghanistan in Australia; enable a pathway for family reunification; commit to an additional humanitarian intake for people from Afghanistan in urgent need of protection; and lift the ban on the resettlement of refugees from Indonesia. We must not abandon the people of Afghanistan.62

Calls for an increase to the initial 3,000 announced humanitarian visa places 7.59 Many submitters and witnesses called for an increase to the government’s announcement of an initial 3,000 humanitarian visa places for Afghan refugees. AAAN submitted:

While this initial commitment of 3,000 is a welcome step, it does not go far enough. Afghanistan is currently facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and Australia played a significant role over the last two decades and has a responsibility to help and support the people of Afghanistan now.

Since the Taliban forcibly took over Kabul, we have seen our international partners in the war in Afghanistan step up and significantly [increase] their humanitarian intake from Afghanistan… The Australian government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan so far does not match the promises that we made to the people of Afghanistan, and our 20-year commitment to the war in Afghanistan. We would like to see Australia commit to an additional 20, 000 humanitarian intake from

61 See, for example: Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia), Submission 40, p. 2;

Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44 p. 8; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia, Submission 47, p. 3.

62 Submission 37, p. 10.

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Afghanistan to provide safety to those most at risk at the hand of the Taliban.63

7.60 The Afghan Australian Development Association submitted similarly:

Although resettlement means a brain drain for a nation that sorely requires retention of its skilled people, Australia has a moral responsibility to assist Afghans at risk of reprisal by issuing humanitarian visas for resettlement. The numbers of at-risk Afghans who have worked with Australia over the 20 years of our engagement is well beyond the mere 3,000 humanitarian placements committed. Australia’s international reputation requires increasing our intake to at least 20,000 to match commitments by the UK and Canada, noting Canada’s recent doubling to 40,000:

The Senate is thus asked to recommend increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake from Afghanistan to at least 20,000.64

7.61 Amnesty International submitted that it is:

…deeply concerned that [the 3,000 places announced] does not meet the need presented by the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.

While vague indications have been made that 3000 places will be the “floor”, there is still no confirmation of what the total commitment will be.65

7.62 The Law Council noted that the announced 3,000 initial places ‘does not represent a substantial increase to the recent number of places given to Afghans’ in past years, and emphasised that the 3,000 places are not additional to, but instead fall within, the Humanitarian Program’s existing annual allocation of 13,750 (a ceiling figure).66 The Law Council stated:

This allocation was significantly reduced in last year’s Federal Budget from 18,750 places in 2018-19 and 2019-2020. As a result, within an already smaller program, the 3,000 places for Afghan nationals will come at the expense of persons of other nationalities who have been assessed, e.g., by the UNHCR, as highly vulnerable and in need of protection.67

7.63 The Law Council recommended that the government ‘commit to substantially increasing the number of humanitarian visa places allocated to Afghans over and above its existing ceiling of 13,750 annual places over the next three years’.68

7.64 A number of other stakeholders called for a one-off increased refugee intake from Afghanistan, additional to the 13,750 places allocated to Australia’s

63 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 5.

64 Afghan Australian Development Association, Submission 38, p. 2.

65 Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 13.

66 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 15.

67 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 15.

68 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 16.

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general humanitarian program for 2020-21.69 Many submitters echoed the specific call from Afghan advocacy groups for an increased intake of 20,000 humanitarian visa places for Afghans affected by the current crisis.70

7.65 The Refugee Council of Australia submitted:

The Government’s commitment to 3,000 places within the already reduced Refugee and Humanitarian Program needs reconsideration towards a genuine humanitarian response. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have supported calls for the Australian Government to respond generously, calling for a special intake of 20,000 places for refugees from Afghanistan on top of the recently reduced Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

We argue that the request for a special intake of 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan is not unrealistic: in fact, it is reasonable, necessary and worthwhile.71

Comparison to the humanitarian visa commitments of other nations and to past crises 7.66 The committee heard that Australia’s commitment of a ‘floor’ of 3,000 humanitarian visa places is significantly lower than other comparable nations; with Canada having recently committed to accepting an additional 40,000

refugees from Afghanistan, and the UK recently committing to a resettlement scheme covering 5,000 at risk Afghan nationals in its first year, with up to a total of 20,000 places over the long term.72

7.67 Submitters and witnesses noted that the initial Australian announcement of 3,000 places provides for fewer people to be assisted than in previous responses to comparable crises. It was noted by a number of submitters that in 2015, the Australian Government provided an additional 12,000 places for

69 See, for example: Public Health Association of Australia, Submission 28, p. 1; Community Migrant

Resource Centre, Submission 39, p. 3; Forsaken Fighters, Submission 58, p. 5.

70 Community Migrant Resource Centre, Submission 39, p. 3; Australian Muslim Women's Centre for

Human Rights; Submission 44, p. 4; Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi, Submission 43, p. 15; Rural Australians for Refugees, Submission 24, p. 8; Ariana Australian Association, Submission 29, p. 1; Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees, Submission 35, p. 3; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia, Submission 47, p. 3; Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 13; Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 60, p. 13; Refugee Advice & Casework Service, Submission 54, pp. 6-7; Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021), p. 9.

71 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 3.

72 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 15; Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network,

Submission 37, p. 5; Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 13.

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people displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq, above its general Humanitarian Program allocations, as a result of the crisis in those countries.73

7.68 The Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW (Kaldor Centre), elaborated on resettlement announcements from Canada and the US, in contrast with Australia’s current response and its response to the Syria crisis:

Countries with comparable resettlement programs to Australia have significantly increased their capacity to admit Afghan refugees. In September 2021, the Canadian Government announced a special humanitarian intake of 40,000 Afghan refugees, an intake that will be additional to Canada’s existing annual humanitarian resettlement program. On 20 September 2021, the United States Government announced a Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) ceiling of 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year. Within this expanded intake, Afghans who are both outside and still within their country are designated as priority cohorts for resettlement in the United States. In planning for the 2022 USRAP, the United States Government has recognised the resettlement needs of Afghan refugees who have fled to host countries within the Middle East, Europe, and the Asia Pacific.

As of 8 October 2021, the Australian Government has not offered an additional intake of Afghan refugees, but rather has only pledged to allocate around 3,000 existing places within the nation’s 2021-22 resettlement program (which is capped at 13,750 places) to people fleeing Afghanistan. While welcome, this is not enough; what is needed now are places additional to existing programs. The Australian Government has a demonstrated capacity to offer an additional special humanitarian intake of Afghan refugees. In 2015, Australia offered a special humanitarian intake of 12,000 places for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, which was in addition to the annual humanitarian program (set at 13,750 for 2015-16).74

7.69 Other Australian humanitarian crisis responses were also noted, such as the Hawke Government’s 1989 commitment of 42,000 additional emergency humanitarian visa places following the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the Fraser Government’s commitment of an additional emergency 70,000 humanitarian visa places between 1975-83 in the wake of the Vietnam War.75

Support from the Australian community to assist with humanitarian entrants 7.70 The Refugee Council of Australia highlighted the goodwill of the Australian community towards assisting with an increased humanitarian intake from Afghanistan at this time:

In the weeks since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, refugee and multicultural services around Australia have been swamped with calls

73 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 15; Public Health Association of Australia,

Submission 28, p. 1.; Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 13.

74 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, pp. 2-3 (emphasis in

original).

75 Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 60, p. 12.

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from Australians who want to help refugees from Afghanistan to make a new life in Australia. These calls are coming from all corners of the country and people of all backgrounds, offering employment, housing and donations of goods and cash, and wanting to be involved in sponsoring, welcoming and befriending refugees. All that is missing is the Australian Government offering a generous response through its Refugee and Humanitarian Program.76

7.71 Amnesty International called on Australia to reform its refugee Community Sponsorship Program to assist in an expanded humanitarian intake program from Afghanistan:

If Australia's Community Sponsorship Programme was better, it would be playing an important role in bringing fleeing Afghans to Australia right now. However, it is expensive, cumbersome and it takes away places from the humanitarian intake. A fair and just community sponsorship programme would not take places away from others, limit costs, provide adequate support and services, and allow community, family and businesses to act as sponsors.77

[Amnesty International recommends that] the Australian government immediately reform the Community Sponsorship Programme, including by making it more affordable and in addition to the government’s humanitarian intake, so that it is easier for people to sponsor refugees from countries such as Afghanistan.78

International dimensions to an expanded humanitarian intake 7.72 The Kaldor Centre submitted that by expanding access to protection through a special humanitarian intake for Afghan refugees, the Australian Government ‘can help to relieve the pressure on ‘front line’ States such as Pakistan and Iran,

which are hosting 1.4 million and 800,000 Afghan refugees respectively’.79 It argued that safe and orderly pathways to protection ‘are also a critical form of international solidarity and responsibility-sharing among States’, and urged that Australia’s program should be coordinated with the UNHCR:

A special humanitarian intake for Afghan refugees should be guided by principles of refugee protection…[T]his includes ensuring that Australian Government resettlement processes operate with transparency and consistency, and focus ‘on identifying refugees with the greatest protection needs’ and do not discriminate based on irrelevant factors. To this end, a special humanitarian intake must be undertaken with the consultation and cooperation of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. The agency is

76 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 5.

77 Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 13.

78 Amnesty International, Submission 33, pp. 13 and 14.

79 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, p. 3.

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best placed to identify and refer refugees who are most in need and best suited to resettlement to Australia.80

Coordination for refugee departures from Afghanistan 7.73 The Kaldor Centre noted estimates that there are currently more than 3.5 million internally displaced Afghans, and that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has stated that most of these people ‘have no

regular channels through which to seek safety’.81

7.74 The Kaldor Centre called on the Australian Government to work with international partners to establish an ‘orderly departure’ program (also known as ‘in country processing’) for people seeking to safely leave Afghanistan. It noted that Australia already has an existing visa mechanism to facilitate orderly departure, the In-Country Special Humanitarian Visa (subclass 201), which has been used already in Afghanistan as part of Australia’s Locally-Engaged Employee (LEE) program.82 The Kaldor Centre elaborated:

The purpose of an orderly departure program is to help displaced people to cross international borders safely and avoid taking potentially dangerous or exploitative journeys to access protection in another country.

Orderly departure must have transparent and flexible application criteria and processes, to ensure that individuals who are at risk of persecution or other serious harm can make an informed decision about whether they can apply and safely wait for their application to be finalized. Procedures should be flexible enough to allow individuals to move into another country, and back again if necessary, while their application is in progress. Protection safeguards include the ability of unsuccessful applicants to know the reason for their rejection, to appeal and, if their circumstances change, to apply again.

Orderly departure must be based on a multi-year commitment by the Australian Government and other States, to provide predictability for individuals who need to flee, as well as for partner organisations and support services in the destination country, to better plan for the housing, support services, educational and employment needs of refugees upon arrival.83

Permanent visa pathways for Afghans in Australia 7.75 In addition to calls for an expanded humanitarian intake for Afghan nationals seeking safety in Australia, a number of submitters and witnesses urged the Australian government to grant pathways to permanent protection to refugees

80 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, p. 3.

81 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, p. 4.

82 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, p. 4.

83 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, pp. 4 and 5.

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and asylum seekers from Afghanistan already living in Australia, along with their families.

7.76 AAAN submitted that ‘after two decades of intervention and promises, Australia has a moral obligation to take steps toward protecting those most at risk under the Taliban’. It called on the Australian Government to:

Grant pathways to permanent protection to refugees from Afghanistan living in Australia, held in immigration detention and people from Afghanistan who currently reside in Australia on temporary visas and fear returning to a Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

This includes refugees held in detention offshore and onshore…There is no justification for keeping people detained. These people cannot go back to Afghanistan. They must be given permanent protection.84

7.77 The Kaldor Centre argued:

In providing protection for Afghan refugees, whether those who are resettled through the annual humanitarian program or a special humanitarian intake, or those who have sought—or who may seek in future—protection directly through Australia’s national asylum procedures, the Australian Government must provide a pathway to permanency for the refugees concerned. A permanent, durable solution can allow displaced people to enjoy long-term security and the opportunity to rebuild their lives within the Australian community. Research consistently shows that refugees make considerable economic, demographic, cultural and civic contributions to Australian society.85

Afghans on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) 7.78 Concerns were raised with the committee about the status of Afghans currently in Australia on temporary visas, particularly those currently on

Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs).

7.79 Home Affairs noted that on 17 August 2021, the Minister for Immigration announced that ‘no Afghan visa holder currently in Australia will be asked or required to return to Afghanistan while the security situation there remains dire, and that ‘Afghan citizens currently in Australia on temporary visas will be supported by the Australian Government’.86 This announcement was welcomed by submitters to the inquiry.87

7.80 In relation to the possibility of people returning to Afghanistan, Home Affairs submitted:

84 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 8.

85 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Submission 41, p. 3.

86 Home Affairs, Submission 19, pp. 18-19.

87 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 30.

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Furthermore, Australia is committed to its international obligations and provides protection to individuals consistent with its obligations set out in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol and other international human rights conventions to which it is a party. Australia does not remove individuals to situations where they face persecution or a real risk of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary deprivation of life or the death penalty. If individuals from affected areas wish to return to Afghanistan voluntarily, and if eligible, they will be supported to do so through Australia’s Return and Reintegration Assistance Program.88

7.81 The Law Council expressed concern that the current situation leaves many Afghans who are in Australia on TPVs and SHEVs with ‘a permanently uncertain future, when there is little realistic prospect that they can return to a safe and secure Afghanistan in the foreseeable future’, particularly while the Taliban remains in power.89 The Law Council outlined:

Currently, such visa holders must regularly reapply for protection visas and are ineligible for permanent protection. They are also unable to sponsor a child, a parent or spouse to come to Australia, which is undoubtedly causing additional stress at this time. Anecdotally, practitioner feedback is that a large portion of TPV and SHEV holders are men, who have wives and children still residing in Afghanistan, which are vulnerable groups within Afghanistan.90

7.82 The Refugee Council of Australia highlighted that as of 30 August 2021, there were a ‘total of 5,193 people from Afghanistan who are on a TPV or SHEV or whose application for a TPV or SHEV needs urgent determination or reassessment’.91 This includes 4,291 Afghan refugees who are on TPVs or SHEVs, a further 384 who are awaiting an outcome of their application for a TPV or SHEV, and 518 Afghan asylum seekers who have been refused a visa on appeal at the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA).92

7.83 The Law Council also highlighted that holders of TPVs and SHEVs have reduced access to social services:

Specifically, while temporary protection visa holders are able to access payments such as Family Tax Benefit, Parental Leave Pay and Special Benefit, they are unable to receive Carer Payment and Carer Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Jobseeker and Youth Allowance.93

88 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 19.

89 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 30.

90 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 30.

91 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 11.

92 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 11.

93 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 30.

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7.84 The Law Council explained further:

Afghans present in Australia on TPVs or SHEVs are unable to apply for a permanent protection visa because they are boat arrivals. The Law Council understands the policy objective is to discourage further boat arrivals. However, the Law Council questions whether this is a proportionate measure in circumstances where the holders of these temporary visas have no foreseeable prospect of repatriation, cannot bring immediate family members to Australia and cannot access particular social services.94

7.85 The Law Council questioned whether Australia’s international human rights obligations are being met in relation to TPV and SHEV holders, particularly those from Afghanistan, stating that ‘the current situation of Afghans demonstrates the inherent problems with Australia’s current temporary protection visa policy’.95 It recommended that all Afghan TPV and SHEV holders be transferred to permanent protection visas, and elaborated further:

The Law Council’s preferred position is that the Minister exercise his or her powers such as to transfer all TPV and SHEV holders to permanent protection visas, including in particular the existing Afghan cohorts.

If this is not accepted, it recommends that:

 a moratorium of least five years be granted, to remove the need for renewed applications by these cohorts;  these cohorts be permitted to sponsor family to join them in Australia; and  temporary protection visa holders have the same access to social

services as permanent protection visa holders.

Should, however, the requirement to renew applications be retained, these should be able to be prioritised and progressed without the need for an interview.

The Law Council is concerned for the mental health of Afghan TPV and SHEV holders. The Law Council considers that the settlement programs introduced to ease the settlement of new Afghan evacuees could be adapted to provide mental health and other support to current Afghan TPV and SHEV holders. Otherwise, the Law Council suggests the Department clarify the future of such holders, in line with the suggestions made in the preceding paragraphs, expeditiously.96

7.86 A number of other submitters argued similarly for the Afghan TPV and SHEV cohorts to be offered permanent protection visa pathways. Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS) submitted:

Our experience at RACS leads us to witness that people from Afghanistan in Australia are experiencing immense anxiety and distress due to the lack

94 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, pp. 30-31.

95 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 31.

96 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 32.

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of viable family reunion and the overwhelming worry they have for their family members.

Australia should abolish temporary protection visas given the significant suffering this program is creating. We should grant all refugees currently on temporary protection visas permanent protection, and allow them to finally restart their lives without the prospect of being returned to the country from which they’ve fled. The situation in Afghanistan warrants special consideration of permanent protection given the significant unlikelihood the country will be restored to safety in any immediate future and brings to light all the issues enlivened by this system of temporary protection.97

7.87 In supporting the call to abolish TPVs and SHEVs, Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC stated:

We recognise that immigration is a complex topic in Australia, but this is an extraordinary crisis that requires a coordinated and humanitarian approach. As the Committee will be aware, these visa categories do not allow family reunion, which will have a negative impact upon the mental health and psychological wellbeing of these visa holders in Australia. This in turn may hinder their ultimate integration because of the lack of support structures. The return of the Taliban has affected the Afghan-diaspora in Australia and has hit hard at those that do not have the option of family reunion. Most of the Afghan-national TPV/SHEV-holders have their immediate family members still inside Afghanistan and live in fear that if they are discovered by the Taliban, they may face harm. In the short- and long-term, temporary visa holders fear kidnappings and ransom money demands of their family members by the Taliban. There is precedent in past years, where individuals with ties to western countries—mostly Hazara populated areas—were kidnapped and their families extorted for ransom money. With the return of the Taliban such actions are likely to increase, and we have already received reports from families in Australia that their relatives in Afghanistan are being subjected to this practice.98

7.88 Submitters also highlighted that there are around 15 people from Afghanistan still in offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and around 50 people from Afghanistan currently being held in onshore immigration detention facilities in Australia. It was argued that, given the circumstances now in Afghanistan, there is no justification for keeping these individuals detained, and they should be offered permanent protection and resettlement immediately.99

97 Submission 54, p. 8.

98 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC,

Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021), pp. 7-8.

99 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 8; Asylum Seeker Resource Centre,

Submission 60, p. 4; Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, pp. 16-25.

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Evidence from Home Affairs on the TPV and SHEV cohorts 7.89 Home Affairs outlined the government’s current policy in relation to the TPV and SHEV cohorts:

Consistent with current Australian Government policy settings, unlawful arrivals who engage Australia’s protection obligations are only eligible for temporary protection, that is, either a Temporary Protection visa (TPV) valid for three years, or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa (SHEV) valid for five years. TPV and SHEV holders are not eligible to propose family members for entry to Australia through the Humanitarian Program or the Migration Program. This is in line with the Government’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy that no one who comes to Australia illegally by boat will settle here - established to safeguard vulnerable people from exploitation by people smugglers, prevent the loss of life at sea, and ensure the integrity of Australia’s borders. The Prime Minister restated the Government’s policy in this regard as it applied to Afghan citizens on 23 August 2021.100

7.90 When asked at an Estimates committee hearing on 25 October what the government’s intention is for Afghan nationals who are currently in Australia on temporary visas, Mr Michael Pezzullo AO, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs stated that, without legislative change, no other outcomes are under consideration:

As a matter of law, temporary protection visas—which were introduced in December 2014 at the same time as the SHEVs, of which we spoke earlier— cannot lead to any other kind of visa outcome, permanent or otherwise. The group of which you spoke relate to illegal maritime arrivals as a matter of policy and direction, because we have to take into account not just refoulement obligations but also the practicalities of the logistics of returning someone. As a matter of practice and operations, the government intention—which has been communicated as a direction to me—to not return people to Afghanistan holds for so long as that security situation holds and as long as that government direction holds. So when you say, 'what is the intention,' it's no different, at one level, from the situation prior to the fall of Kabul; although, obviously, the objective circumstances on the ground there have changed. The legal situation is no different because it's legally impermissible for those persons, save the abolition of temporary protection visas, to apply for any other kind of visa, just as a matter of law.101

7.91 Mr Pezzullo advised that Home Affairs has not provided any advice to the Minister or the government more generally about the possibility of

100 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 19.

101 Estimates Hansard, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, 25 October 2021,

pp. 100-101.

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implementing legislative amendments to enable TPV holders to access permanent visa pathways.102

7.92 Mr Wilden from Home Affairs provided an update at the 15 November public hearing on visa application processing for the SHEV and TPV cohort in Australia:

We are right towards the end of that case load, which, as you know, was very large. If I look at the figures at the moment, there are currently 1,668 safe haven enterprise visas on hand and there are 463 temporary protection visas on hand. But it's important to note that some of them are second applications—they've already been granted one, the three years or five years has completed and we're now doing their subsequent term—so I don't have the breakdown below that. For those people who, if you like, haven't had their initial decision, they are generally a very complex group and we have to satisfy ourselves of the core criteria. Identity is still a big one, as I know I've mentioned already. For the many people in this cohort who we don't have decisions for, we had hoped to finish all interviews by July, but, unfortunately, COVID in our two biggest processing centres, and where most of them are, has slowed that down. We still have a small group of people to interview for the final stage of their claim. But, again, in the coming two to three months, for anyone who hasn't had an initial assessment out of the TPV and SHEV caseload, we would hope to have those finalised, pending issues around identity et cetera.103

Afghans whose applications for protection are before the Department or tribunal 7.93 The Law Council highlighted that the changed circumstances in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover should impact rulings in relation to the claims of individuals in Australia currently seeking asylum. It submitted:

The Law Council is aware of numerous instances in which Afghan nationals’ protection visa applications have been rejected on the basis that it is safe to return to Afghanistan, or for the applicant to relocate to a ‘safe’ area of Afghanistan. However, such conclusions are clearly now affected by current events. It considers that given their changed circumstances and the prima facie valid protection claims that all Afghan nationals in Australia now have, there are several cohorts of visa applicants in Australia whose situation must now be carefully reassessed.104

7.94 The Law Council stated that the cohorts affected in this regard are for individuals where:

 a protection visa application is currently on foot;

102 Estimates Hansard, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, 25 October 2021,

p. 101.

103 Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division,

Home Affairs, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 34.

104 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, pp. 27-28.

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 a previous refusal decision is currently subject to merits review before the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT);  an IAA or AAT decision to affirm a refusal decision is subject to judicial

review proceedings; or  the application has been refused and is not subject to any kind of review process.105

7.95 In terms of the number of applicants in these cohorts, the Law Council stated that as at August 2021 there were 384 Afghan unauthorised maritime arrivals (i.e. boat arrivals) protection visa applicants who had matters before the Department or IAA and AAT for decision. There may also be a small number of Afghan applicants in this situation who are not unauthorised maritime arrivals; and it is unclear how many Afghans have matters before the courts on judicial review.106

7.96 The Refugee Council of Australia submitted similarly:

There are currently 384 people seeking asylum from Afghanistan who are awaiting an outcome of their refugee protection application. In addition, there are 518 Afghan asylum seekers who have been refused a visa on appeal at the Immigration Assessment Authority. There are also people who are seeking legal review of their application in federal courts. Many of these refusals have been issued because, at the time, the Department of Home Affairs considered that certain places in Afghanistan (e.g. Kabul) were safe for people to return to, based on section 5J of the Migration Act 1958. These decisions were made before the fall of Afghanistan, and now are clearly incorrect. There is nowhere safe in Afghanistan, especially for minority groups, women, people who are LGBTIQ and human rights activists… As such, those seeking asylum, including those who are currently appealing their case in the IAA or federal courts, now have a much stronger claim for protection. These claims should be prioritised and assessed in light of the circumstances in Afghanistan now.107

7.97 The Law Council submitted further:

[T]o the extent possible, and subject to consideration of the security related criteria for a protection visa, Afghans should be considered as a cohort based on a common, updated set of country information, with a view to saving considerable time and resources of the Department, merits review bodies and the courts. There should be transparency about how the updated country information is prepared, and in every case, relevant visa holder or visa applicant given an opportunity to comment, regardless of whether there is a statutory obligation on the decision-maker to afford such an opportunity.108

105 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 28.

106 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 28.

107 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, pp. 22-23.

108 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 28.

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7.98 The Law Council recommended that the Minister for Immigration ‘expedite the processes required to consider all protection visa applications by Afghan asylum-seekers as much as possible, subject to consideration of security-related criteria’. It emphasised that careful consideration should be given to ‘the changed circumstances in Afghanistan and the need to afford fair and efficient processes’.109

7.99 Responding to the arguments that Afghans who are currently seeking asylum, or appealing visa refusal decisions through the IAA or the Federal Court, should have their cases reviewed in light of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan, Home Affairs commented:

Australia provides protection to individuals consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugee Convention, and other relevant international treaties to which Australia is a party and Australian legislation.

Action to return an unsuccessful asylum seeker to their country of origin or a third country where they have a right to reside does not take place until all claims for protection have been fully considered, including through any merits and judicial review.

Afghan citizens who have applied for either a temporary or permanent protection visa in Australia are a processing priority.

In addition, under some circumstances, Afghan citizens who have had their protection visas either refused or cancelled may be able to request ministerial intervention to allow them to apply for another protection visa.

Requests will only be referred to the responsible Minister, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, if they meet the Minister’s guidelines for referral, including if there are new protection claims that could not have been provided in the original application.110

Prioritising family reunification 7.100 Submitters called on the government to prioritise the family reunification visas of people from Afghanistan in Australia. The Refugee Council of Australia summarised some of the concerns around a lack of pathways for family

reunification:

Unfortunately, family reunion is incredibly difficult for people from Afghanistan, as well as other refugee communities. The availability, cost and significant delays have decimated options for the Afghan community to bring their family members to safety in Australia. Successive government policies have deliberately restricted access to family reunion for many members of the Afghan community. This includes significant

109 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 29.

110 Home Affairs, Answers to written questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November

2021, Canberra (received 25 November 2021), Question No. 42.

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issues with the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP), costs and delays for family reunion in the Migration Program, and deliberate policies designed to deny family reunion for people who arrived by boat, including those from Afghanistan.111

7.101 The Refugee Council of Australia recommended that the Australian Government should identify and prioritise applications from people from Afghanistan within the Special Humanitarian Program backlog, noting that this program is significantly oversubscribed, subject to lengthy processing delays, and with application costs that make it unaffordable to many refugees in Australia seeking to sponsor family members.112

7.102 The Refugee Council of Australia further noted concerns for Afghans in Australia attempting to sponsor family members through the family stream of the migration program (rather than the SHP), noting that visa processing times are very lengthy, and particularly lengthy for Afghan citizens (for example, data from 2021 shows that the average time for a subclass 309 visa application by a citizen of Afghanistan to be processed was 43.6 months, compared with citizens of the US, which took an average of just 7.3 months).113 High costs for this visa stream were also raised as a barrier to Afghan applicants.

7.103 Submitters also highlighted issues with policies designed to impact individuals who originally arrived in Australia seeking asylum by boat, that inhibit family reunification. As noted earlier, the lack of access to family reunion for TPV and SHEV visa holders was cited by submitters as a significant cause of distress for Afghan nationals in Australia on these visas. A further issue was raised in relation to Ministerial Direction 80, as explained by RACS:

It is believed that there are thousands of refugees from Afghanistan on permanent protection visas who arrived in Australia before the re-introduction of temporary protection visas, who are now prevented from reuniting with their families due to a government ministerial directive that requires the Department of Home Affairs to give family reunion applications made by those who arrived in Australia by boat lowest priority.

The effect of this ministerial directive, known as Direction 80, is that refugees from Afghanistan who now have partners and children currently living under Taliban rule, are denied the right to reunite with their family in safety in Australia unless and until they are granted Australian citizenship or an exemption to this Direction. This stands in contrast with other permanent residents who do not need to wait for Australian citizenship before their family’s visa applications are processed.

111 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 7.

112 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, pp. 7-8.

113 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, pp. 9-10.

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We are aware of members of the Hazara community in Australia who have lost loved ones for various reasons while waiting for their family reunion application to be processed. Direction 80 could be terminated right now, and families could be reunited sooner, at the will of the Minister for Home Affairs.114

7.104 AAAN urged that the government prioritise the family reunification visas of people from Afghanistan in Australia, ‘including those who are prevented from reuniting with their families due to an unconscionable ministerial directive that requires the Department of Home Affairs to deprioritise family reunion of hundreds of people from Afghanistan in Australia’. AAAN submitted further:

Many people on temporary visas have been in Australia for at least 8 years and have not been able to reunite with their spouses, children, brothers and sisters, and parents. Family members who were already at risk in Afghanistan before the Taliban came back into power are now even more at imminent risk. Now troubling reports indicate there is a grave concern for families still in Afghanistan. The AAAN is deeply concerned for the safety of Australia’s Afghan diaspora who remained in Afghanistan. The Australian government must expedite the pathway for them to join their family here in Australia.115

7.105 The Refugee Council of Australia provided a case study of the impact caused by Direction 80 on an Afghan protection visa holder in Australia following the Taliban takeover of the country:

Ali has not been able to sleep properly since mid-August. Although he has a permanent protection visa, he has not been able to reunite with his wife and children since arriving in Australia 10 years ago [due to Direction 80]. His wife and children in Pakistan are calling him every day, afraid that they will be forced back to Afghanistan by local authorities who are sympathetic to the Taliban and say they now have to return. Ali has sent money so that his family can move away from the area where they were being harassed. Ali has not been able to work as he usually does in his painting business because his mental and physical health have been so severely affected and he says he cannot focus. He has been calling migration agents to see if there is anything he can do to get his family to safety.116

7.106 Mr Michael Willard, First Assistant Secretary, Immigration Programs, Home Affairs, commented on the status of partner visa processing within Home Affairs for those affected by this Ministerial Directive:

We have established a team within our partner visa processing branch that looks specifically at applications from applicants who are what we would term affected by a direction 80. The issue with partner visa processing

114 Refugee Advice & Casework Service, Submission 54, p. 9.

115 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 8.

116 Refugee Council of Australia, Submission 59, p. 7.

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relates to a ministerial direction around processing priority, which determines the order in which we process partner visas. A number of applicants from Afghanistan, but also some other locations, are the lowest priority because they're sponsored by a former IMA who is a permanent resident and not yet a citizen, and that determines the priority we can give to applications.

[W]e've formed this team to handle this cohort in particular for a few reasons. One is that, because of the 72,000-plus partner visas delivered last year, we're in a position now to be able to start dealing with this case load, although it remains the lowest priority in terms of processing priority directions. The other reason is that it is a very challenging case load to deal with where we're dealing with issues of identity and genuine relationship that require a degree of specialisation in order to be able to handle the case load efficiently, so the team has been formed up in order to drive that effort.117

7.107 Mr Willard stated that no consideration has been given to changing or removing ministerial direction 80, and that doing so would be a decision of government. Mr Willard commented, however that the ‘effect of the direction at this point is more limited than it has been in previous years’:

[That is] because of the size of the partner visa program versus the number of applications that are on hand in the partner visa program. We have around 60,000 applications on hand. We have a program size of around 72,000. So the effort to process applications is being directed across the on-hand case load and across all levels of processing priorities.118

Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Australia’s region 7.108 Several submitters recommended that Australia lift its current ban on resettlement of refugees to Australia through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia, a ban which has been in place since

2014. AAAN submitted that ban ‘continues to limit resettlement options for 10,000 refugees from Afghanistan awaiting safety and protection’, and highlighted commentary on this point from human rights advocate Zaki Haidari:

People from Afghanistan have been stuck in limbo in Indonesia for many years, despite being recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency. Due to a ban put in place by Australia they are ineligible for settlement here. They do not have access to education, employment and healthcare and they cannot return to Afghanistan. The time is now for

117 Estimates Hansard, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, 25 October 2021,

p. 102.

118 Mr Michael Willard, First Assistant Secretary, Immigration Programs, Home Affairs, Estimates

Hansard, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, 25 October 2021, p. 101.

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Australia to end this temporary limbo and enable them a pathway to a place that they can call their permanent home.119

7.109 The Law Council urged that the government give careful consideration to the situation of Afghan nationals and other asylum seekers who have already registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia and Malaysia, and develop regional solutions to assist asylum seekers and refugees in Australia’s immediate region. It noted:

[T]the Law Council considers more needs to be done to resettle those in Indonesia and Malaysia who have been found to be refugees.

The Law Council is aware of the challenge and complexity of developing policy relating to regional settlement and the importance of avoiding a precipitation of boat arrivals. However, it considers that there needs to be a greater humanitarian emphasis on the plight of Afghans remaining in Indonesia, with no apparent prospect of settlement.

The Law Council notes that regional solutions need not be focused solely on an increased intake from Australia. For example, Australia should encourage other countries in the region to accede to or ratify the Refugee Convention, which will not only offer protection to asylum seekers and refugees, but also ensure better protection of the human rights of all persons living in those countries.120

7.110 The Law Council recommended that the Australian Government should ‘urgently review its regional resettlement policies with a view to facilitating the expeditious resettlement of Afghan refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia’.121

Additional suggestions on visas options 7.111 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC provided several additional suggestions on visa options that could assist with the current crisis in Afghanistan.

7.112 Firstly, it was suggested that government could add a special category of protection to the Women at Risk Visa Subclass 204 visa, specifically for women at risk regardless of whether they have ‘a male relative to protect’. It was noted that currently:

Women at Risk Visa Subclass 204 focuses on the ‘harassment, persecution, abuse or victimisation on the basis of gender without any male relative to protect’. The majority of women’s rights defenders with work history of

119 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 9. See also: Australian Muslim

Women's Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 8.

120 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 19. The Law Council set out a detailed proposal in

relation to regional cooperation arrangements it its policy statement Proposal for Australia’s role in a regional cooperative approach to the flow of asylum seekers into and within the Asia-Pacific region, included as an attachment to its submission.

121 Law Council of Australia, Submission 46, p. 20. See also: Refugee Council of Australia,

Submission 59, pp. 15-16.

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over a decade are at direct risk from the Taliban, as are their partners by virtue of their association. These women have often been the breadwinners of their families and have long accounts of combatting and rebelling against societal taboo and traditional practices. This includes, for example, women in law enforcement (e.g. police and the military). These women were at risk already before 15 August by virtue of their being women in male-dominated professions. Australia and other allied forces promoted women in law enforcement and ought to recognise the heightened risk which these women face due to this work.

To recognise the risk for this particular group of women, a special category of women at risk visa regardless of ‘male relative to protect’ should be introduced. Such category would enable Australia to provide an avenue through which these women could be brought to safety as a distinct group based on their employment history at the national and international level. It is important to make sure that women are not neglected and abandoned as they were during the peace process. A comprehensive gender-based approach is needed that is designed for women who belong to a distinct group. These women are highly educated and knowledgeable and would be a great asset to Australian society.122

7.113 Her Excellency Ms Safi, Ms Mohammad and Professor Gerry also recommended that the government consider establishing a specific visa type for Afghans due to the current crisis:

Given the dire situation in Afghanistan which we consider to be comparable to large historic refugee crises, such as the situation in the former Yugoslavia, we suggest that the Committee considers recommending to the Government the establishment of a specific visa type for Afghans. Such a move would be similar to what Australia did in the context of such other prior conflicts to reduce administrative barriers which delay the process and leave persons at grave risk of harm while waiting for visas to process. Examples that the Committee may wish to point to include the visa types for minorities in the former USSR and citizens of former Yugoslavia.123

Settlement services and processes for evacuees from Afghanistan 7.114 Home Affairs stated that the government had decided to offer all of those evacuated from Afghanistan to Australia in recent months with settlement services through the Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP), in light of the

circumstances of their departure, 'notwithstanding the fact that not all people evacuated from Afghanistan are refugees'.124

122 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC,

Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021), pp. 9-10.

123 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC,

Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021), p. 10.

124 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 17.

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7.115 The HSP is 'designed to integrate new arrivals into Australian life by providing practical on-arrival support and helping entrants to build the skills and knowledge needed to become self-reliant and active members of the community', and is delivered 'by service providers that have long-standing experience working with new arrivals'.125

7.116 Home Affairs submitted that following the evacuees’ completion of COVID-19 related quarantine, the department’s immediate priority ‘has been the physical and mental wellbeing of evacuees’, working ‘in lock step with service providers and the states and territories to deliver practical support as new arrivals start their new lives in locations around Australia’.126 Home Affairs elaborated on the process for recent evacuees:

HSP service providers contacted evacuees in quarantine to collect information on family composition, initial needs, and HSP assistance required. The Department referred contact details to Services Australia, to facilitate their contact with evacuees to assess their eligibility for financial assistance.

Evacuees assessed as requiring ongoing HSP support are met on their release from quarantine and transported to suitable short-term accommodation, where they receive an initial range of services including a food package, orientation to services in the local area, and advice on local COVID-19 measures. For evacuees who are settling in a different location to where they quarantine, onward travel arrangements are facilitated and support provided on arrival in their final destination.127

7.117 Home Affairs stated that ‘[b]ased on their level of assessed need, evacuees may continue to receive support through the HSP to integrate into Australian life and build self-reliance’:

This may include assistance to source long-term accommodation, make social connections, and access mainstream and specialised services related to health, employment, education and English language learning. An orientation program is also provided, through which clients learn about the Australian way of life, values and laws and acquire essential life skills. Most clients will generally receive support from the HSP for up to 18 months after their arrival, but this can be extended based on need.128

7.118 Ms Cheryl-ann Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group, Department of Home Affairs, commented further on the initial process for subclass 449 visa holders in Australia:

[T]hrough this period of time where they're being advised about their 449 visa, they're also engaged with their humanitarian settlement provider and, once they come out of quarantine, they're being connected into the

125 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 17.

126 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 17.

127 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 17.

128 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 17.

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community, with a large majority of them in Melbourne and Sydney. They're getting their Medicare cards and getting aligned with Services Australia on special benefit. We are making sure that all of that work is being done. As the minister's made the decision, announced on 12 November, to extend the 449 visas, individuals will be individually advised of that, but there's also the assistance that will be provided in several regards, in terms of employment and economic recovery for the individuals and also assistance for them to get legal support to actually lodge an application for whatever visa it is that they wish to apply for. So there's no void of contact and information coming to the individuals.129

7.119 Mr Pezzullo provided further information at an Estimates committee hearing on 25 October about settlement services arrangements for the Afghan cohort:

We have a Coordinator-General for Migrant Services who reports directly to me. She provides an integrated end-to-end service working in consultation with states and territories and, in some cases, other organisations such as community groups, sporting groups and the like. We have a range of providers who are contracted. They typically operate state by state, although some of them have got overarching national head organisations. These are well established settlement and integration providers who are very skilled and adept in relation to trauma issues, employability—mentioned earlier—language training, supporting youth; and helping newly arrived parents to navigate the school system, childcare, access to government benefits, access to Medicare and healthcare.

…We are very much focused on the Afghan community here in Australia. Mr Hawke, the immigration and migrant services minister, set up a consultive group to ensure that, if you will, an end-to-end arrangement was put in place that deals with everything from mental, emotional and wellbeing issues, through to employment, income and becoming acquainted with Australia. The very basics of it—even if you get English language training, apparently there are some idioms and cultural practices here that take a while to get familiar with.

Those service providers, under the auspices of our migrant services program, provide that end-to-end support. We've got great partners, I should add, in state governments, territory governments, faith groups, community groups, sporting groups, a lot of business associations and, indeed, individual companies come forward saying: 'We'd like to participate. We'd like to open up employment pathways.' We've got some great Australian companies working with these providers.130

7.120 The decision to extend HSP support to evacuees was welcomed by submitters to the inquiry, with the Refugee Council of Australia submitting:

It is…commendable that the Australian Government has offered [HSP] support to all people evacuated, including Australian citizens and

129 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 37.

130 Estimates Hansard, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, 25 October 2021,

pp. 93-94.

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permanent residents. This commitment to support has meant that people can better transition after their traumatic experiences prior to evacuation.131

Advisory panel on resettlement of Afghan nationals 7.121 Home Affairs noted that on 30 August 2021, the Government announced the establishment of an advisory Panel on Australia’s Resettlement of Afghan Nationals. The panel ‘is comprised of Australian-Afghan community leaders

and refugee and settlement experts, chosen for their commitment and expertise in refugee and integration issues’.132 Home Affairs stated further:

The panel’s focus is on planning to support the Government’s commitment to provide an initial 3,000 humanitarian places in the offshore Humanitarian Program to Afghan nationals, ensuring appropriate settlement and integration supports for Afghan new arrivals and the communities into which they will settle; and, harnessing the high level of community commitment and interest in welcoming newcomers and supporting the successful settlement and integration of this cohort.

In addition to the settlement services offered to all people who are settled through the Department’s humanitarian program, the Government is consulting with the panel to consider what further specialised support might be required to support evacuees who have endured extreme trauma. The Advisory Panel will operate for an initial 12 months, with the possibility of extension should ongoing advice be required.133

7.122 A Ministerial forum on Multicultural Affairs was held on 8 September 2021, chaired by Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Hon Alex Hawke MP, and attended by Ministers from each State and Territory, to discuss support for the resettlement of Afghan nationals in response to events in Afghanistan. Ministers agreed to:

 work together at this distressing time for so many people, particularly Afghan Australians, to support coordinated and effective settlement arrangements for the Afghan intake;

 work in partnership with Afghan community leaders in Australia, and leading refugee advocates and service providers, to welcome people from Afghanistan to Australia and maximise their sense of belonging, mental health and wellbeing and broader settlement outcomes.134

131 Submission 59, p. 3.

132 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 18.

133 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 18.

134 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, ‘Ministerial forum on Multicultural Affairs - Communique’, 8 September 2021, https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/AlexHawke/Pages/ministerial-forum-on-multicultural-affairs-communique.aspx (accessed 23 November 2021).

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Afghan Settlement Support Package funding 7.123 On 14 October 2021, the Government announced an Afghan Settlement Support Package worth $27.1 million over two years ‘to help recent evacuees from Afghanistan settle successfully into their new lives in Australia.’135 The

breakdown of funding included:

 $8 million to assist Afghan-Australian community organisations;  $6.4 million to support evacuees on 449 temporary visas transition to permanent visas by boosting the capacity of specialist legal services;  $4.8 million to help new arrivals navigate skills recognition and education

pathways to join the labour market; and  $7.9 million to the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (PASTT) to support evacuees and the Afghan community to access targeted mental health support.136

7.124 Submitters welcomed the announcement of this support funding. Some commented on additional measures they consider to be required; for example, RACS submitted:

RACS welcomes and supports this necessary settlement and support package. However we note that this announcement relates only to recent evacuees, and does not address the critical need for additional humanitarian places from Afghanistan; permanent protection for those [TPV and SHEV holders] who have been living in our communities for the last 8 years; it also does not address the barriers for people from Afghanistan currently living in Australia to reunite with their partners and children currently in Afghanistan.

The announcement also does not address the gap in services such as mental health support for TPV and SHEV holders who are under significant pressures. It also does not address the increased need for legal advice and assistance for the community who remain in Australia and affected by this crisis, such as access to interpreting for those seeking advice on the offshore humanitarian process. This support package is a worthy and welcomed development, however more needs to be done to adequately address this crisis.137

7.125 The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre called for additional funding for ‘legal assistance to specialist community immigration lawyers so they can provide

135 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, ‘New settlement support package for recent arrivals from Afghanistan,’ 14 October 2021, https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/AlexHawke/Pages/new-settlement-support-package-for-recent-arrivals-from-afghanistan.aspx (accessed 14 October 2021).

136 The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, ‘New settlement support package for recent arrivals from Afghanistan,’ 14 October 2021, https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/AlexHawke/Pages/new-settlement-support-package-for-recent-arrivals-from-afghanistan.aspx (accessed 14 October 2021).

137 Refugee Advice & Casework Service, Submission 54, p. 12.

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legal information and assistance to people from Afghanistan seeking assistance with all migration options’.138

Importance of targeted mental health support for the Afghan community in Australia 7.126 Several submitters highlighted the necessity of targeted mental health support services for the Afghan community in Australia at this time.

7.127 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi commented:

Resettlement programs should entail mental health support programs. Those programs should be delivered by individuals who are equipped with language and cultural barriers. More [funding] and resources should be directed at Afghan run community associations in order to build their capacity in the area of mental health. Currently the Afghan community in Australia are under immense pressure by providing mental health support to their loved ones overseas. They themselves are suffering from trauma and PTSD triggered by the current crisis.139

7.128 AAAN submitted that it is important to recognise the mental health challenges of the diaspora community from Afghanistan:

People in the diaspora community may be experiencing the long-term, intergenerational trauma and psychological distress from their experiences of conflict, having escaped war-torn Afghanistan and their refugee journey to Australia over the last few decades, which has been exacerbated in recent months due to the worsening situation in Afghanistan, with many fearing for their families and loved ones back home.

Many continue to struggle to cope with the effects of past and current trauma as they navigate their new lives in Australia, which comes with its own set of stressful challenges. This has taken a huge toll on the mental health of many Afghan-Australians, who are silently struggling in many ways.140

7.129 AAAN noted the importance of acknowledging that there are also barriers that prevent Afghans in the diaspora from accessing mental health support services, and the need for targeted support:

[Barriers include] language difficulties, lack of knowledge and information about mental health and the services available, as well as the fear of judgement by the community, due to the stigma attached to openly talking about mental health as an issue. While there is general mental health support available to all Australians, it is critical to address this issue affecting large numbers of Afghan-Australians to have distinct and targeted mental health support services directed to and made available for

138 Submission 60, p. 5.

139 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and Atal Zahid Safi,

Submission 43, p. 16.

140 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 9. See also RACS, Submission 54, p. 11.

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the Afghans in the diaspora who are dealing with a unique set of emotional and psychological challenges and pressures.141

141 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Submission 37, p. 9. See also: Australian Muslim

Women's Centre for Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 9; RACS, Submission 54, p. 12.

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Chapter 8

Ongoing engagement with Afghanistan and support for veterans

8.1 This chapter covers Australia’s ongoing engagement with Afghanistan: how this is occurring and areas of priority, including safe passage, counterterrorism and protecting human rights. It also investigates Australia’s aid program to Afghanistan: the situation on the ground, issues with delivering aid on the ground, protecting development gains and Australia’s current assistance. It also details the role and contribution of grassroots organisations in Afghanistan and diaspora networks as well as managing sanctions regime obligations in providing aid.

8.2 The chapter finishes with examining the support available for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and veterans who have been affected by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

Ongoing engagement with Afghanistan 8.3 The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spoke to the committee about how Australia is engaging with the Taliban, noting:

Every phase of engagement on Afghanistan has been closely coordinated with Australia’s partners and allies. Australia will remain in lockstep with our international partners to hold the Taliban to account for its commitments and actions, particularly on safe passage, human rights, and counterterrorism.1

8.4 DFAT advised that on 9 September 2021, Australia announced the appointment of a Special Representative on Afghanistan, Mr Daniel Sloper, to lead Australia’s international engagement in the region. Based at Australia’s interim mission in Doha, Qatar, the Special Representative ‘will work closely with partners to advocate for Australia’s key priorities’. DFAT stated that ‘[f]or the next period, Australia’s international engagement will focus on’:

 safe passage for Australian citizens, visa-holders and Afghans at risk;  deterring any transnational terrorism resurgence and maintaining our counter terrorist financing efforts;  reinforcing regional stability, including through humanitarian support; and  influencing the Taliban towards respecting human rights, particularly for

women and girls, and minorities, and humanitarian principles.2

1 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Submission 22, p. 5.

2 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 6.

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8.5 At a hearing Mr Sloper elaborated on the guidance given to him, provided further detail on his role, that of his team and spoke about the approaches of other countries:

 Australia’s Special Representative on Afghanistan receives guidance directly from DFAT following consultation with the Foreign Minister;  Australia’s Special Representative on Afghanistan leads a team called the interim mission on Afghanistan;  the team is not formally accredited to the Taliban regime but looks after

Australia’s interest in the region;  there are approximately 15 other similar missions operating in Doha from other countries, most of which were previously embassies located in Kabul;

and

 there have been up to 50 positions around the globe working on Afghanistan issues in similar roles to Australia’s Special Representative on Afghanistan. However, the Special Representatives of most countries are not located in the region.3

8.6 Mr Sloper spoke to the committee about the expectations of the international community which are being conveyed to the Taliban:

Certainly, there's very clear understanding by the Taliban about the expectations of the broader international community and that extends well beyond what you or we might characterise as like-minded traditional partners. We've seen multiple formats meeting, most recently the Troika Plus,4 which brought some of the regional neighbours, China and others, together with the United States, that made very clear the same points we had. We expect the Taliban to meet their commitments on security and safety for those wishing to depart—so-called safe passage—that they maintain the commitments they gave in negotiations to the Doha [Agreement] on transnational terrorism resurgence and being a haven for potential terrorist activity, that they also respect human rights, and we push particularly on the access for women and girls to education and employment.5

8.7 Mr Sloper emphasised that the Taliban are being judged internationally by their actions rather than their statements:

As we've increased our interactions, it's very clear they're also aware of our expectations and have a polished response, so we've now moved to a discussion collectively where we've asked for demonstration of the actions, and they need to be verifiable and accountable before you'll see significant

3 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 25.

4 Pakistan, China, Russia and the United States (US). See Joint Statement on Troika Plus Meeting,

11 November 2021, Islamabad.

5 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 26.

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movement by any of the countries involved. For example, we don't have people on the ground, as everyone would be aware, but we are in regular contact now with UN agencies and those NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] that operate on the ground, both international and Afghan bodies…6

8.8 Mr Sloper discussed further how the actions of the Taliban are being evaluated by the international community and Australia’s role:

…I'm not going to say that this is easy or is a situation that'll be resolved quickly. The process by which the international community plans to hold them accountable is to look at what is of interest to the Taliban and what is of interest to us and to start having a discussion about how actions may be provided in response.

Australia will not be a lead partner in this but will be a partner in the broader coalition of interests. The Taliban, for example, is seeking recognition. It seeks a release of funds that have been frozen through the way it came to power. It's seeking a number of other things from the international community. They formed part of the discussions we are now having collectively about the need for the Taliban to demonstrate its role as the controlling power in Afghanistan and its obligations to the Afghan people before further movement will occur on those issues.7

8.9 As an example of how Australia is engaging with the Taliban in concert with the international community, on 5 December 2021, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs published a Joint Statement on Reports of Summary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Afghanistan. This statement called on the Taliban to ‘effectively enforce the amnesty for former members of the Afghan security forces and former Government officials to ensure that it is upheld across the country and throughout their ranks’.8

The role of Pakistan 8.10 The committee discussed the importance of engagement with Pakistan as a country which has closer relations with Afghanistan. Mr Sloper added that Australia’s direct engagement with Pakistan is based on shared concerns:

We are engaging with Pakistan on all the same concerns that I outlined earlier. The primary reason for that is that they, as an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan, share those concerns. They participated in and hosted the

6 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 26.

7 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 41.

8 The statement was released initially by the governments of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark,

the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Ukraine. See: www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/joint-statement-reports-summary-killings-and-enforced-disappearances-afghanistan (accessed 6 December 2021).

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Troika Plus discussions…in which the group of participants in that meeting articulated again their expectations to the Taliban.

Certainly there are economic, cultural and people links across those borders, and that has led to a close relationship to some elements of the Taliban. But we do need to make the distinction that, while they have those links, they are two very different entities. Pakistan's interests are in a stable, regular Afghanistan that has control over its border and is managing the displacement of people, the security threats and so on. I would characterise them as very similar to ours.

I visited Pakistan the week before last and had the opportunity to meet with senior foreign ministry officials and their special envoy. I can assure you that they have those interests and are actively working towards ensuring that we do have some stability in Afghanistan. I would say they are an important player, but, in the end, they—like us—will need to hold the Taliban itself accountable for its actions.9

Australia’s key priorities 8.11 As detailed above there are a number of areas of focus in relation to engagement with Afghanistan, including: ensuring safe passage for Australian citizens and visa holders and vulnerable Afghans wishing to leave; deterring

the resurgence of terrorism; influencing the Taliban with respect to human rights for women and girls and minorities; and humanitarian and development support (aid is discussed further below).

Ensuring safe passage 8.12 Discussing efforts to ensure the Taliban allow safe passage for those wishing to leave, Mr Sloper advised:

In the broad, we have seen a commitment at the senior levels. In practice, that varies, and as you would have seen in media reports and elsewhere, we are aware of individuals who have been harassed. We know there are house searches on occasion. These have been raised directly with senior leadership of the Taliban. We're told these are random, not deliberate acts. We have some evidence to the contrary in certain provinces, but I would say on the whole the passport office has returned to issuing passports. Most of those we're dealing with are able to secure passports, some are concerned about approaching and going through that process. We have some anecdotal evidence of harassment, but to date we've been successful with those we are assisting and advising, and they on their own judgements have made the decision to apply and have secured passports.

At borders, from time to time, we certainly see Taliban guards inspecting documents and going through the process with probably more vigour than what we would want and with harassment, physically sometimes, of

9 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 43.

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individuals, but, again, by and large we've been able to bring people out to date.10

8.13 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, International Security, Humanitarian and Consular Group, DFAT, added that:

103 Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members, plus a number of particularly vulnerable visa holders, have joined…three Qatar government sponsored and facilitated flights…from Kabul to Doha and onwards to Australia. We'd really look for that pipeline to significantly expand, noting, as I said, some visa holders have certainly been included on the capacity that we've been able to secure.11

8.14 As noted in Chapter 6, since the conclusion of the air evacuation in August 2021, DFAT has supported the travel of over 1,700 further Australians, permanent residents, and visa holders out of Afghanistan and onward to Australia.12

Counterterrorism and law enforcement 8.15 In relation to concerns about terrorism and violent extremism resulting from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Mr Newnham, DFAT, advised of the possible implications for Australia:

I think it would be fair to say that the ascendancy of the Taliban may have serious counterterrorism implications for us. Terrorist networks may strengthen, there may be threats to the international and regional security posture and groups may strengthen their positions. Much depends, of course, on the response of the Taliban; the outcomes of its conflict with ISKP [Islamic State Khorasan Province] and other groups that operate in Afghanistan; and, indeed, the level of sanctuary for others and the level of regional control that is exercised by the Taliban. I would describe as a medium- and longer-term concern too the flow of people, terrorists and resources, including in the region…. we've of course worked for 20 years to degrade the capability of terrorist networks in this part of the world and, going forward, our focus is very much on deterrence, detection and counterterrorism efforts, particularly with partners. You will see that come through in statements made, for example, in the Quad and other leaders-level commentary. Our options include countering malicious cyberactivity, reducing the appeal of the rise of the Taliban and countering disinformation regarding that ...13

10 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, pp. 26-27.

11 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 27. See Chapter 6 for further detail on numbers who

have left Afghanistan since 26 August 2021.

12 DFAT, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021 (received

3 December 2021), Question No. 18. See chapter 6 for further detail.

13 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, International Security, Humanitarian and

Consular Group, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 42. See also DFAT, Submission 22, pp. 6-7.

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8.16 General Angus Campbell AO DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, emphasised that while the outcome is as yet unclear in Afghanistan, the effort of the international community is ‘seeking to encourage, to persuade, to see the Taliban meet their responsibilities now as an organisation that is in control of Afghanistan, not to see international terrorism re-emerge from Afghanistan’. 14 Mr Sloper, DFAT, added:

As the general has said, obviously we want to deter as much as possible the possibility of Afghanistan being controlled by the Taliban or, possibly in the future, by others and being a haven for terrorist activity or for resources or people moving through that territory that pose a threat to Australia and others. There's a range of tools to counter the threat from extremists. Partly that's working with global, regional and other networks to track information and to get a better understanding of what is occurring. Part of it is engaging with the Taliban directly, collectively with others, to make sure—we want them to be held accountable for their actions, which has been talked about in earlier evidence.

We also have tools that you may be familiar with in terms of countering violent extremism narratives through social media. Finally, of course some agencies work to deter terrorism through operational means. But, as the general said, it is an open question with regard to Afghanistan at the moment. Nonetheless, it is a key priority for us and others to make sure those commitments are met. That extends well beyond what we would characterise perhaps as our like-mindeds—cooperation and effort to bring these messages to the partners shared by the immediate neighbours and others we're working with on this issue.15

8.17 Mr Sloper provided further detail on the areas of concern where work is underway with partners:

The security in Afghanistan is likely and the current humanitarian crisis is likely to drive further displacement and instability. That can lead to criminality, which could also lead to terrorism. Think of narcotics, for example, and human trafficking, risks associated with that as well. There is the safe haven question…and, as you've suggested, a victory narrative about what is perceived as the success of the Taliban in coming to power. On all of these issues there is work underway.16

8.18 Mr Sloper elaborated on the key tasks:

There are four primary tasks coming from the analysis at the moment: one is tracking and understanding the re-establishment of Afghanistan or its territory as a safe haven where the terrorist organisations are moving or planning to move; the degree to which the Taliban is accepting or not of that activity, what connections it itself may have with those organisations

14 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 40.

15 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 40.

16 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 40.

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and meeting commitments to contain them; countering any attempt by groups…to propagate victory narratives, and that can be through social media and other means, and addressing that in reverse; and also understanding other resourcing around the world that may lead to financial support and other support for terrorist groups, and understanding, if you like, the architecture around that. We're working with like-mindeds, as we have before, to counter the narrative. We're trying to build cooperation with traditional partners and some others in terms of the monitoring and understanding, and this builds on work on terrorism that other agencies lead as well, domestically as well as internationally. It's not a new exercise, but it's got a sharper focus now because of the risks we are now seeing emerging from Afghanistan.17

8.19 The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) submitted that the international community ‘continues to assess security and other implications of the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan’, and added:

Prospects for Afghanistan’s immediate region and broader security implications are likely to be contingent on several factors, including: the Taliban’s domestic legitimacy and international recognition; its ability to govern and maintain control internally; its relationship with, and possible accommodation of, terrorist organisations in Afghanistan; and how, and the extent to which, neighbouring countries and the international community engage with a Taliban government. These factors are all linked.18

8.20 Home Affairs submitted that Australia’s counter-terrorism response to events in Afghanistan ‘will need careful and continuing assessment and calibration’. It stated that it will continue to work with international counterparts to support efforts towards three counter-terrorism goals:

1. Prevent the re-establishment of Afghanistan as a safe haven for transnational violent extremism

Efforts will be led by diplomacy and supported through intelligence efforts. Information exchange will be a key. The Department will work with Australia’s international partners and regional neighbours to understand the developing situation in Afghanistan, and advocate for and contribute towards efforts that address any emerging terrorist and violent extremist threats to Australia and its interests.

2. Counter the appeal and proliferation of violent extremism driven by the Taliban’s resurgence

A Jihadist ‘victory narrative’ may reinforce the appeal of Sunni religiously motivated violent extremism, increasing the risk of terrorist recruitment, support and attacks. Social cohesion and countering violent extremism efforts will be critical elements in managing an increased risk of domestic radicalisation. As such, the Department will continue to focus on the

17 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, pp. 42-43.

18 Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), Submission 19, p. 19.

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online environment, including working with industry to reduce the availability of violent extremist content online, and developing compelling strategic communications to minimise the resonance of the Taliban’s resurgence as a negative security influence within the Australian community.

3. Limit the travel of terrorist sympathisers and fighters from Australia and our region to Afghanistan to support terrorism and/or enhance their fighting capabilities.

While COVID-19 travel restrictions currently mitigate this threat, Australia has strong counter-terrorism laws designed to discourage Australians from fighting in overseas conflicts, supporting terrorist organisations, and endangering their lives and the lives of others; including passport cancellations where criteria are met, foreign incursions and recruitment offences, and offences relating to membership, support for, or association with terrorist organisations. The Department will continue to work strongly with Southeast Asian partners to address the risk of foreign fighter movements to and from Afghanistan.19

AFP engagement on issues relating to Afghanistan 8.21 As for ongoing engagement in relation to Afghanistan, Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner, Australian Federal Police (AFP), explained that no AFP members were in Afghanistan and they are not in contact with the Taliban nor

the Afghan police force at this time, however:

…the AFP's engagement on issues relating to Afghanistan is largely managed through our post in Islamabad [in Pakistan], which we've maintained since 1984. Through that post we work with agencies in Pakistan to support law enforcement efforts particularly focused on people smuggling, terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking and money laundering. We're also providing support to the Office of the Special Investigator as it investigates potential criminal offences by members of the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan.20

8.22 Mr McCartney also noted that the AFP is increasing its capacity to two officers in Islamabad, Pakistan ‘and we will use it as a base in terms of assessing, from an AFP perspective, the threat from Afghanistan’.21

8.23 The AFP advised that while the Taliban ‘is not currently a listed terrorist organisation, the Australian Government has implemented the United Nations Security Council Taliban Sanctions Regime into Australian law’. This regime ‘imposes restrictions in relation to the supply of arms, military services and providing or dealing with assets of designated persons or entities’.22

19 Home Affairs, Submission 19, p. 19 (emphasis in original).

20 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 15.

21 Mr Ian McCarthy, Deputy Commissioner, Australian Federal Police (AFP), Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 16.

22 AFP, Submission 34, p. 8.

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8.24 In terms of Australia’s terror threat, the AFP confirmed that they are watching the security situation with domestic security agencies and international partners. Mr Ian McCartney, AFP, detailed potential threats:

One is obviously what we've seen with ISKP in Afghanistan in terms of the threat that would be posed by ISKP both domestically in Afghanistan and potentially externally. The second threat is in terms of whether the events in Afghanistan have been an inspiration point for sympathisers in Australia or an inspiration point for terrorist sympathisers in South-East Asia, particularly in countries such as Indonesia. But we haven't seen that. Obviously we will continue to watch, but we haven't seen the increase of threat.23

Supporting the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan 8.25 Australia has supported human rights in Afghanistan including for women and girls. The committee investigated how the Taliban takeover is affecting the gains made over the last 20 years in relation to the rights of women and girls in

Afghanistan.

8.26 Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, a PhD candidate at Melbourne University, spoke to the committee about the situation for women and girls under the Taliban in the late nineties:

…the Taliban imposed strict regulations on women and girls, preventing them from going to schools and universities, having a profession and exercising their basic right to leave the house without a male guardian.24

8.27 The committee spoke with Her Excellency, Ms Hasina Safi, appearing in a private capacity, the Minister of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan under the previous government, who took the committee through progress for women and girls over the last 20 years:

Basically, we started from awareness back in 2001. From awareness, we went to capacity building. From capacity building, we came to advocacy. From advocacy, we moved to participation. From participation, we moved to meaningful participation.25

8.28 Ms Safi spoke about the situation prior to the takeover by the Taliban in 2021:

…there was very dedicated and hard work and commitment of Afghan women prior to all the social and normal challenges which they had, but definitely we made it and we came here. Coming to meaningful participation, we had many quotas, such as the 27 per cent of women in the parliament. We had women in the cabinet. We had women as deputy ministers. Lately we had women as deputy governors. For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, Afghan women had the opportunity to get into

23 Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner, AFP, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021 p. 16.

24 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 3. See also: Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for

Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 5.

25 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 2.

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local politics. Not only that but we have many teachers, professors, engineers and women in social media, and in business now.26

8.29 Ms Raz Mohammad provided some figures in relation to education for girls and opportunities for women:

Since the collapse of the Taliban, in 2001, Afghanistan and Afghan women have come a long way. Although the progress concerning women's rights has remained very slow in the past 20 years, there have been challenges…including the Taliban's targeted attacks on women activists and girls' education. Despite that, the enrolment of girls in schools increased from 0.08 per cent in 2001—almost nothing—to 40 per cent in 2020. Afghan women worked hard to exercise their rights. They joined government positions and security forces and attended university…27

8.30 Ms Safi advised that there had been work undertaken to assess priorities for women going forward:

There were six specific areas where we were planning to work: women's economic empowerment, participation in local and national governance, access to justice, and also programming by themselves in national priority programs, which was based on the coordination of international partners, gender equality and women's empowerment.28

8.31 As far as the current situation for women and girls, Ms Sitarah Mohammadi, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network advised that:

As the Taliban are now in control of the country, women’s and girls’ rights are once again restricted, and they are confined to their homes. Women and girls are no longer able to resume their education or attend university and employment.29

8.32 Ms Mohammadi provided further detail:

…regarding women and girls, they have already been told to wear full-length burkas and coverings that pretty much cover their entire bodies. That sense of freedom or liberation that they gained over the last 20 years in terms of choosing what to wear and how to express themselves has completely gone. Education, employment—all of that has completely evaporated since 15 August and the return of the Taliban. The future looks grim for them.30

8.33 Ms Raz Mohammad confirmed this situation:

…since the August takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the Taliban have reimposed their old rules, forcing women to stay indoors and

26 Her Excellency, Ms Hasina Safi, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 2. See

also Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 10.

27 Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 3.

28 Her Excellency, Ms Hasina Safi, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 2.

29 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 14.

30 Ms Sitarah Mohammadi, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network, Committee Hansard,

11 October 2021, p.17.

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banning girls from attending secondary and high schools. Although in some provinces, as Minister Safi mentioned, they have been allowing girls to attend secondary schools, since two days ago there has been regression from that, and they have rebanned them from attending secondary schools in Herat. This makes Afghanistan the only country in the world which bans girls from attending schools…31

8.34 Save the Children Australia also drew attention to the suspension on girls returning to secondary school, noting that it remains unclear if girls will be allowed to return. The possible effects of this were highlighted:

Restricting access to education will have a catastrophic impact across Afghanistan. It is not only a violation of child rights but will undermine any attempts to move the country beyond long-term dependence on aid. Prior to the Taliban taking control, Afghanistan’s education system was ranked amongst the top eight at most “extreme risk” globally, with 3.7 million children out of school, at least 60 per cent of whom are girls. Australia must ensure that respect for the rights of women and girls forms the cornerstone of any dialogue with the leadership of Afghanistan. As an important donor, Australia must also ensure that education funding is prioritised as part of humanitarian and development budgets.32

8.35 Mr Nawid Cina, the Acting General Manager, Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian aid organisation founded 25 years ago by Mahboba Rawi, which assists widows and orphans in Afghanistan, told the committee about the current situation with the schools they run:

Everything is closed. A lot of our schools are high schools for girls, so everything remains closed. It depends on the regions as well. For now, all of our projects, outside of emergency aid—that's the main thing we're focusing on—are on hold, and the people who are on our lists are in hiding. We're in a kind of hibernation mode.33

8.36 Dr Nouria Salehi AM, Executive Director, Afghan Australian Development Organisation (AADO) also reported that the Taliban:

…asked us indirectly to start the science teacher training for only 100 male teachers. We didn't say no or yes. We are waiting because previously we were teaching male and female teachers together, so now we are waiting until they open the schools for girls and then we can teach both. Maybe we can teach 100 male teachers and 100 female teachers, not only male teachers. I'm also waiting for the government to decide if we can continue teaching in Afghanistan. But we have another program, life skills for women in the villages. They are happy that we continue with this one, and we have got 150 women in five villages that we are teaching right now.34

31 Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 3.

32 Save the Children Australia, Submission 52, p. 7.

33 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 36.

34 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 41.

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8.37 Mr Arif Hussein, Senior Solicitor, Refugee Advice and Casework Service, spoke about his fears for the gains achieved for women and girls over the last 20 years:

I think the issue here is that there have been a lot of gains in the last 20 years, and it's been done with the help of Australia's involvement there, but women in Afghanistan and girls in Afghanistan also fought really hard for those gains. We had women who were leading political movements, women lecturing at universities and about 27 per cent of the parliament made up of women in Afghanistan. That was what Afghanistan was, just before August 2021.

Right now, there is a lot of talk about Taliban 2.0, saying that, just because they're on social media and things like that, they have changed, but the evidence we see right now is that nothing has changed about the current Taliban versus the Taliban that was in power in the 1990s. Currently, in most places in Afghanistan, girls are not allowed to go to school. If you see the recent interim cabinet released by the Taliban, most of them are men from one particular ethnic group, and there are no women included. It is clear that the gains that we talked about—the gains that the Prime Minister talked about, saying, 'We will continue to maintain those gains and we will continue to be there for women and girls,'—have gone, and now it's time for us to do something about it and at the very least to try to get as many people at risk out of Afghanistan as possible.35

8.38 Ms Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor and Centre Director, Refugee Advice and Casework Service, added:

It's also important to reflect on the fact that a female activist was shot on the weekend for the work she had done to advance women's rights. This is certainly no longer a theoretical risk; this is a risk that we are watching unfold before our very eyes.36

8.39 Dr Salehi, AADO, responded to a question about media reports that girls were being sold, stating:

It's not for $2,000; it's for between $200 and $500 that they are selling their girls to people. Because they don't have anything to eat, they are selling their daughters and buying material for the other children. Yes, it happens. I remember it happened in 1974 in Afghanistan because of the drought, and now it's happening again.37

8.40 Amnesty International noted that women have staged protests:

Despite the myriad threats now presented to women’s rights, women across the country have been holding protests to demand that the Taliban

35 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 30.

36 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 32. See also Ms Zahra Nader and Ms Amie Ferris-Rotman, ‘Women’s rights activist shot dead in northern Afghanistan’, The Guardian, 6 November 2021.

37 Dr Nouria Salehi AM, Executive Director, Afghan Australian Development Organisation,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 43.

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respect women’s rights and implement a more inclusive government that reflects the country’s diversity. While some protests were allowed to continue peacefully, some were violently repressed by the Taliban using force that was not necessary or proportionate in the circumstances. Protests were violently dispersed using unlawful and disproportionate force against peaceful protestors by the Taliban in several cities including the capital Kabul where they beat protestors with batons, used tear gas, threatened them with guns and aerial firings…38

8.41 Ms Safi made the following suggestions: to prioritise assisting those who wish to leave; encourage standards, e.g. for education for those who remain; and encourage the Taliban to define the participation of women in the government.39 Ms Safi also expressed the view that in relation to the provision of aid there should be an emphasis for it to get to women (see below).40

8.42 Ms Raz Mohammad also made some suggestions in terms of international platforms and advocacy:

…I think that the international community, including Australia, should monitor the Taliban's activity. They should pressure the Taliban to stop intimidating Afghan women and to allow girls to go to school. These are the first steps in terms of starting a budget allocation…

The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has created a committee to be a watchdog on the Taliban's activity. I think we can push more through those international mechanisms to make the Taliban accountable for whatever they're doing right now…the Taliban does not have a head we can refer to, but we can hold them accountable in terms of the fighters. It's very arbitrary right now what they are doing in different provinces, so we have to hold them accountable by these means and financial assistance.41

8.43 On 24 August 2021, a joint statement on Afghan women and girls’ human rights was read at the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Afghanistan on behalf of Australia, Spain and a group of countries.42

38 Amnesty International, Submission 33, p. 11. See also: Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for

Human Rights, Submission 44, p. 5; Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 3.

39 Her Excellency, Ms Hasina Safi, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 3.

40 Her Excellency, Ms Hasina Safi, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 5. See

also: Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021 (received 24 November 2021).

41 Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 7.

42 See: www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/joint-statement-afghanistan-womens-and-girls-human-rights (accessed 23 November 2021).

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Overseas development assistance to Afghanistan 8.44 Noting the government’s core objectives in Afghanistan, ‘to fight terrorism and to support our alliance interests’, DFAT ‘coordinated development and humanitarian assistance in support of our objectives’ and ‘[a]s the international

campaign against terrorism progressed, Australia increased its assistance program to Afghanistan’.43

8.45 By way of background, Australia has provided over $1.5 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since 2001.44 DFAT outlined the achievements of Australia’s efforts in development and humanitarian assistance:

We have focused much of our efforts on support to women and girls—and, with our partners, we made significant gains. This includes dramatic improvements in women’s education, health and participation, and in preventing violence against women. For example:

 life expectancy increased from 44 years to 64 for women and 61 for men;  access to education for children increased from 0.8 to 9.2 million children, of whom 39 per cent were girls;  maternal mortality rates reduced from 1,100 to 396 deaths per 100,000

live births;  women’s representation in politics increased from zero per cent in 2001 to 27 per cent in 2020; and  through our support to the World Bank-managed Afghanistan

Reconstruction Trust Fund, we helped provide treatment to over 80 per cent of malnourished children under the age of five.45

8.46 DFAT acknowledged that while ‘Australia helped support meaningful gains in the lives of Afghans[,]…Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult environments in which we deliver assistance’.46

8.47 World Vision Australia advised that ‘Afghanistan’s economy and health and education systems are almost entirely dependent on aid, including World Bank funding'.47

Situation on the ground 8.48 The committee was told that Afghanistan is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis and there is an immediate need for humanitarian assistance. Currently access to international funds are frozen, food insecurity

due to drought is causing widespread hunger, the health sector is fragile and

43 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 1.

44 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 1.

45 DFAT, Submission 22, pp. 1-2.

46 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 2.

47 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 13.

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crumbling exacerbated by COVID-19, there is violence and displacement as well as concerns about the protection of children and the rights of women and girls. Submitters,48 recent media49 and others50 have indicated that Afghanistan is at risk of state and economic collapse.

8.49 DFAT highlighted the current financial situation in Afghanistan:

…Afghanistan, as part of the challenge it's facing now, is extremely lacking in liquidity in its financial sector—illiquidity, if you like. I think there's currently one financial institution doing limited transactions, which is exacerbating the economic deterioration. That's partly due to sanctions and partly due to cautiousness about the change in power and the obligations financial institutions have in those circumstances. So I don't think there is, at least through traditional transactional means in the financial sector, funds flowing in or out. That's not to say that, of course, funds might be entering the country through other means. There is a traditional exchange system across the region with moneylenders and swaps and so on. I don't think anybody is actively sending money in from a government perspective at this stage…51

8.50 Ms Brigid O’Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), elaborated on the frozen assets:

We understand that $9 billion is the amount of money that sits in US financial institutions, which is the government's reserves. Overnight, virtually, $8 billion of aid flow, which sits with the World Bank, was turned off. That was the primary source of funding for key service sectors, principally the health sector, which you've heard evidence about, and the education sector.52

48 Ms Jackie Fristacky AM, President, Afghan Australian Development Organisation, Committee

Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 39; Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 38; Ms Nadine Haddad, Senior Policy Adviser, Conflict and Fragility, World Vision Australia, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 40. Save the Children, Submission 52, pp. 6-7; World Vision Australia, Submission 55, pp. 8-11; Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 60, 62.

49 Alexander Cornwell, 'Children are going to die’, U.N agency warns as Afghanistan verges on

collapse, Reuters, 25 October 2021; Eltaf Najafizada, ‘Pakistan Allows India to Send Wheat as Hunger Grips Afghanistan’, Bloomberg, 15 November 2021.

50 See also Human Rights Watch, ‘Afghanistan Facing Famine’, 11 November 2021; UN News,

‘Afghanistan’s healthcare system on brink of collapse, as hunger hits 95 per cent of families’, 22 September 2021; UN News, ‘Salaries for Afghanistan health workers sends ‘message of hope’ to millions’, 10 November 2021.

51 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard,

15 November 2021, p. 44.

52 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 43.

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8.51 Ms O’Farrell added information about the impact on the ground:

We understand that there are conversations with like-minded countries— former donors to the ARTF, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund— about releasing some of the most critical funding streams, particularly in health and education. Unless we do that, the economy is going to collapse. We've already seen doctors unable to treat patients because they can't get enough medical supplies. Doctors, teachers and nurses have gone without salaries being paid since 15 August. If this situation continues, the suffering will only worsen. People will take desperate measures, as you've already heard, like selling children. People will leave the country. There will be increased flows of refugees. It will also destabilise the country and cause widespread insecurity and, possibly, further terrorism.53

8.52 World Vision Australia noted that ‘[a]lmost half the population - 18.4 million people (8.2 million children) are currently facing emergency and crisis levels of food insecurity in Afghanistan, while emergency levels of acute malnutrition exist in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces’.54 Mr Christopher Nyamandi, Country Director, Save the Children Afghanistan, told the committee about the effects of current food shortages:

What we see now from that transition is a reduction of violence, but then we see children starving to death; we see children freezing. As I'm talking to you right now, here in Kabul, 15 minutes from where I am, I saw a report yesterday about two children who died. Some of the images I was shown were horrific. These are not just numbers; these are families that are grieving and children who, unfortunately, are starving to death today. I think one of the witnesses here spoke about the importance of agency as we go towards winter, the importance of making resources available right now to save lives. Save the Children has 2,200 aid workers across the country, across 18 of the 34 provinces. That funding was going to be made available for us to provide nutritional supplies, to provide the medical response. That would go a long way in preventing some of the deaths that are going to happen in the coming weeks and months. The operating environment is difficult. We look to Australia and developed countries to impress upon the international community to find a political solution to some of the operational challenges that we face in Afghanistan…55

8.53 Ms Nadine Haddad, Senior Policy Adviser, Conflict and Fragility, World Vision Australia, also spoke about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, emphasising the impact on children as well as the health system:

As the UNDP put it, we are facing a full-on development collapse on top of humanitarian and economic crises.

As we speak to you today, nine million children will go to bed hungry; 18 million people are facing a record level of acute hunger. They don't

53 Ms Brigid O’Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, ACFID, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 43.

54 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 8.

55 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 40.

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know when or who is going to deliver the next meal. Now, this figure is projected to go up to almost 23 million. One in two children are facing severe acute malnutrition without immediate assistance, many are slowly dying from starvation with many out of sight. On top of this, the health system is collapsing. COVID-19 is not the only health challenge. We are seeing measles, diarrhoea and polio on the rise again. These are not just immediate threats to life; the unfolding crisis also threatens to undo decades of development gains, where Australia and the international community have invested billions of dollars of support. What we do need to do now is protect these gains…World Vision is committed to standing with the people of Afghanistan. We will support and deliver aid. We do so based on the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence but our ability to do so is hindered by the lack of financial means and channels.

We know the children of Afghanistan can't wait. We need to do three things. We need to act now and act fast but we also need to think long-term ...56

8.54 In relation to displacement, Dr Louise Olliff, Senior Policy Adviser, Refugee Council of Australia (RCA) submitted that there are currently ‘5.7 million people currently displaced within and outside Afghanistan’.57

8.55 Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative, Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre, provided more detailed information in relation to displacement:

Recently, we saw that the Taliban displaced hundreds of the families in the Gizab district, which is part of Oruzgan. The victims are the Hazara people who have supported the international forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban issued an order and gave them three hours to leave their homes, where they had been living for decades. All of a sudden, in three hours, the families were displaced and were out of their homes. On 14 August the Taliban took control of the area, and on the 19th they were ordered to leave the place. Subsequently, in one day, the Taliban sympathisers came from the different districts, like Deh Rawod and Chora to take these lands. And I would say this is not just one incident that happened; it was a coordinated attempt to displace the people who worked with the international forces and supported international efforts, and to replace them with their own sympathisers. That's a very systematic example that we saw in Gizab.

It's not just Gizab, unfortunately, but it's happening in the Daykundi Province, which is a neighbouring province with Oruzgan. This is happening in the Baghran district of Helmand. And all of the victims I mentioned in these areas are from one particular ethnicity, the Hazaras. These displaced people, unfortunately, are without their homes, including their women and children, at this time when we are facing a very harsh

56 Ms Nadine Haddad, Senior Policy Adviser, Conflict and Fragility, World Vision Australia,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 40.

57 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 21.

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winter. It's a long and harsh winter. Even for humanitarian aid to reach them is extremely difficult.58

8.56 Mr Ali added:

For these women and children, and those who are living in the mountains, literally, without their homes, I think we need to focus on different layers of humanitarian aid. One is to provide shelter for them. Currently, the Oruzgan elder told me, no humanitarian aid is allowed to reach to Hazara people by the Taliban authorities. Even in Kabul, the aid distribution is happening to certain areas, and it doesn't [get to] to the Hazara population. We are talking about these areas where it's extremely difficult to reach but that's where the real victims, the real displaced people, are living. They need food, medicine and somewhere to spend the night. It's extremely cold. There are diaspora communities raising funds on their own and they're trying to save a little bit to do something from their part but that's not enough. Diplomatically, Australia needs to put more pressure on the Taliban to let this humanitarian aid reach these people in remote valleys before the first snowfall, which will mean the roads will be blocked for four months and we will probably see a human catastrophe.59

8.57 International talks have been held with a focus on avoiding a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. DFAT reported that the most recent talks hosted by Pakistan and involving the US, Russia and China, have now concluded:

They were the [T]roika [P]lus talks. They were the second format of the meeting previously held in Moscow. Not all attendees were present at the last one. The US didn't attend. This time almost all got there. Yes, we are in direct contact with the United States on those talks. We usually get read-outs on them both before and after about what they're focused on. Pleasingly, the statement that came out of that meeting showed agreement between the range of participants on what expectations we have of the Taliban….60

Challenges with delivering aid on the ground 8.58 In relation to providing aid on the ground in Afghanistan, Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), reported that the Taliban ‘have indicated that they

want humanitarian assistance to continue’. He added:

They seem to recognise that they are not capable of alleviating this current crisis themselves and they have had engagement, as has been reported, with UN agencies, US aid and others. In some instances, as you refer to,

58 Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative, Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 25. See also: Mr Barat Ali Batoor, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 56-57.

59 Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative, Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 25.

60 Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November

2021, p. 41.

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they are looking at practical arrangements to facilitate humanitarian assistance with NGOs. At the same time, however, we know from past occasions that they have instituted repressive policies against NGOs and civil society in the past, and there are concerns that this will re-emerge. We've seen some evidence, which I think you heard about earlier today, that some NGOs in the country are already facing some form of repression. That is obviously a matter of deep concern for us and the Australian NGO community. Obviously, there will be a need to engage, but at the moment it has been quite light.61

8.59 Ms Jackie Fristacky AM, President, AADO advised that the ‘World Food Program has an authorisation through the Taliban, so if there are problems in provinces or districts distributing there is a document from the Taliban leadership saying this can get through and not to hinder the aid distribution. That is helpful because there are erratic elements’.62

8.60 Ms Fristacky reported on their experience of providing assistance:

AADO is a development organisation. But, given the dire situation, we have been providing essential food supplies to families in the Kabul area and earlier in Kandahar. The Taliban did intercept some of the people that were distributing the food supplies. They didn't hinder them, but they did intercept them. I think part of it was more security so that the supplies that were being delivered weren't being seized in the streets before they were delivered…63

8.61 Dr Salehi, AADO, also reported:

They have approached them [AADO staff] a few times. Once it was because they didn't want them distributing the food on the streets for people. They didn't like it; they said no.64

8.62 Mr Nyamandi, Save the Children Afghanistan, advised that:

Save the Children has been more successful to negotiate access with the Taliban. I think the biggest issue that we are negotiating on is for senior aid workers to be allowed to work, and we have seen positive signals on that. However, it's clear that the Taliban authorities do not have the capacity. They do not have the resources and, in some ways, they do not have the political will to move on some important pieces. There is a general lack of a sense of urgency. If children are dying in Kabul, you can imagine what is happening in remote districts that we do not have access to. It would be

61 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 40.

62 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 42.

63 Ms Jackie Fristacky AM, President, Afghan Australian Development Organisation, Committee

Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 41.

64 Dr Nouria Salehi AM, Executive Director, Afghan Australian Development Organisation,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 41.

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important to exert a little bit more pressure so that there is a sense of urgency on what needs to be done to save lives.65

8.63 Ms O’Farrell, ACFID, told the committee about the challenge of access to funding for humanitarian assistance due to sanctions:

You asked about the main challenge to providing humanitarian assistance on the ground and that at the moment is actually financial access. What we are hearing universally from organisations, and this goes for the UN as well as NGOs, is that currently they are unable to transfer funds into the country because of the sanctions and the fact that banks are department-risking and being overly cautious in the way they interpret and apply the sanctions regime. The most effective and efficient way to address that obstacle is by providing a safeguard for humanitarian purposes into the 1988 UN Security Council sanctions regime that comes up for review in December. We would strongly encourage the committee to make recommendations to the Australian government that we play a leading and constructive role in December when it comes up for review. We would refer you in particular to the Somalia humanitarian safeguard, which has proven effective and workable in that process as well. There are multiple precedents as well—Syria, Yemen. That is the main obstacle we see in enabling assistance to reach the people of Afghanistan.66

8.64 Mr Mat Tinkler, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, International Programs, Save the Children Australia, also emphasised:

…it is really important to note that in many parts of Afghanistan aid agencies have been working alongside the Taliban for 30 or 40 years, so this phenomenon of having to deliver vital life-saving support in territory controlled by the Taliban is not new. It is not necessarily a question of recognising the Taliban formally but there are ways to engage in a principled way to ensure that we can constructively continue to do our jobs, deliver life-saving support, and that is very possible and continues to happen…on a daily basis.67

Protecting development gains 8.65 Noting that ‘Afghanistan is one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world’68, World Vision Australia highlighted that significant development gains have been achieved in Afghanistan over the last 20 years:

Changes are visible in ordinary villages around the country, where farmers now use climate-smart agricultural techniques, local committees manage and repair irrigation infrastructure, trained midwives help ensure safe

65 Mr Christopher Nyamandi, Country Director, Save the Children, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 41.

66 Ms Brigid O’Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, ACFID, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 42. See also ACFID, Submission 53, pp. 14-15; AADO, Submission 38, pp. 2-3; Save the Children, Submission 52, p. 9.

67 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 42.

68 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 4.

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births, and girls’ education is valued. Significant development gains have been achieved, especially in the areas of economic development and livelihoods, women’s empowerment and education, civil society, health and water, hygiene and sanitation. The narrative that Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan was “fruitless” or “unsuccessful” does not at all apply to its humanitarian and development work in the war-torn country. These accomplishments are still there, beneath the headlines of recent rapid changes - but they are fragile, and facing a challenge greater than any other in the past two decades.69

8.66 World Vision Australia cautioned that the significant development gains that have been achieved in Afghanistan are ‘at risk of being lost if Australia and the international community do not restore their development assistance to the country’.70

International assistance 8.67 Mr Waktin, ACFID, updated the committee on some aid commitments from other governments:

The [United Kingdom] has doubled its assistance to approximately A$537 million. The US has added $363 million to its humanitarian assistance. At the G20 meeting on 13 October, [President of the European Commission] Ursula von der Leyen announced 700 million euros to the economic catastrophe in Afghanistan. But the most useful comparator on this is Canada because of the similar size in GDP. It announced A$54.6 million in humanitarian aid in addition to its existing $30 million program.71

Australian assistance 8.68 DFAT advised that in relation to the provision of development and humanitarian aid:

Australia helped support meaningful gains in the lives of Afghans. But delivering this work effectively required assured levels of security and stability. As conditions worsened, Australia like other donors, adapted its approach to delivering assistance ...72

8.69 In relation to the current aid situation DFAT submitted that:

Australia is continuing to support humanitarian outcomes in Afghanistan. This includes responding to the humanitarian crisis currently facing the country, combined with an enduring commitment to the welfare of women and girls.

69 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 3.

70 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 12.

71 Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, ACFID, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 42.

72 DFAT, Submission 22, pp. 1-2.

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Humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are acute and growing as a result of the security situation and collapse of the financial system and many government services, all compounded by the effects of a prolonged drought and COVID-19. Around half the population (18 million people) require humanitarian assistance.

We are addressing humanitarian needs in a coordinated way with our partners, including to influence the Taliban’s behaviour. On 13 September [2021], the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced that Australia would contribute $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan from 2021-24. This includes:

 around $65 million in immediate lifesaving assistance and support to Afghanistan, and neighbouring countries hosting Afghan refugees, and  $35 million to address the protracted nature of the crisis out to 2024.

This package will be delivered through UN partners, who have well-developed procedures to meet UN sanctions obligations and operate in Taliban-controlled areas. All have demonstrated strong capacity to manage DFAT’s risk and safeguards policies.73

8.70 The Foreign Minister’s announcement of 13 September noted that this $100 million commitment:

…builds on our one and a half billion-dollar expenditure for Afghanistan’s development over the last 20 years. We stand ready with our international partners to provide further support to Afghanistan people as the crisis evolves.74

8.71 At a hearing, Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, provided further detail on the humanitarian assistance being provided:

The brief overview would be that we've pivoted what was our bilateral aid program to really lift what we're doing in a humanitarian sense. It has a specific focus on women and girls. It avoids providing support to the Taliban. As the foreign minister announced on 13 September, we will provide $100 million in a humanitarian support package, and that's designed to help meet the crisis in three ways. The first way is through providing food and shelter, health clinics, education, reproductive health services and protection of women and girls. The second way is to support neighbouring countries who now host Afghan refugees and to mitigate the possible irregular migration impacts of people smuggling. The third is that, given that we understand this will be quite a protracted crisis, we're providing longer-term humanitarian support for basic health services— food, shelter, women and children—and we will be directing that

73 DFAT, Submission 22, p. 6.

74 Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, ‘UN High-level Ministerial meeting

on the Humanitarian situation in Afghanistan’, Virtual Address, 13 September 2021, www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/speech/un-high-level-ministerial-meeting-humanitarian-situation-afghanistan (accessed 15 November 2021).

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assistance mainly through trusted UN partners, including to make sure that we're complying with [the] sanctions regime.75

8.72 Mr Cowan detailed the funding for the three parts of the package and which organisations the funding will go to, noting that the first two parts totalling $65 million will be provided this financial year and $35 million has been allocated in the two years out to 2024:

…The first part is a repositioning of what had been our bilateral aid program, focusing on humanitarian needs and especially immediate needs in Afghanistan. We anticipate that a bit over $22 million of that will be provided to the World Food Program, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Population Fund for food, shelter and sexual reproduction health services There will also be, we anticipate, $18 million through the World Bank for essential health and education services. So that's for things like health clinics, supplies and education services. And there will be about $4½ million for gender services and research, including to UN women, focusing very much on the empowerment of women and girls. That's the first part.

The second part is some new funding from the humanitarian emergency fund, and that's going to be allocated to neighbouring countries, including, of course, Pakistan, which you've been discussing—those countries which are hosting Afghan refugees. The idea there is to support them but also mitigate against possible irregular migration impacts and people smuggling. In that case, we anticipate the assistance will go to UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the ICRC…

…That program is $20 million altogether. It includes $5 million to the UN Refugee Agency supplementary appeal, which was announced in August, to support refugees in neighbouring countries.

Finally, the third part: we anticipate that the humanitarian acute need will be protracted, and so $35 million of the $100 million is allocated out for the next couple of years, at least in our planning, to the UN Population Fund, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and World Food Program for basic health services, food and shelter to women and children.

So that's the way that we've planned it out. As you can see, the idea is to provide it through trusted essentially UN, mainly UN, partners, and the thinking there is that they will be best equipped to provide that in difficult circumstances but also in a way that is compliant with the sanctions regime that we have to apply.76

8.73 Mr Watkin, ACFID, welcomed the Australian Government’s commitment to preserving the development gains made over the last 20 years, but noted that what they are seeing and hearing about the situation on the ground is that ‘far greater assistance is needed and it is needed urgently’. Mr Watkin added:

75 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 27.

76 Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division, DFAT, Committee

Hansard, 15 November 2021, pp. 44-45.

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There are well-founded warnings from the World Bank and others that, unless we move quickly, the Afghan economy is likely to collapse and so too is the state. This means instability; widespread desperation; further human rights abuses; and violence, including the possibility of terrorism. This risks even greater displacement and refugee flows out of Afghanistan...77

8.74 Mr Watkin discussed Australia’s aid contributions comparing it with spending on military involvement:

The Australian government, prior to the fall of Kabul, had an intention to provide $51 million in official development assistance in 2021-22. We welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of an increase to $65 million this year and then $35 million in ongoing humanitarian assistance between 2021 and 2024. Five million dollars of that official $20 million has gone to the UNHCR's Afghanistan situation supplementary appeal. To reference a comparison to defence spending, we spend as part of our military involvement about $500 million per year. That is 10 times what we provide in aid at the moment…78

8.75 Ms O’Farrell, ACFID, clarified:

…of the $65 million, $45 million of that was a repositioning of the original $51 million, so in essence it's been a $20 million commitment of new additional funding since the fall of Kabul by the Australian government.79

8.76 ACFID recommended that:

 the Australian government urgently increase funding and provide at least $100 million annually on a multiyear basis and support development as well as humanitarian action;

 Australia must take an active and leading role in multilateral efforts to resolve operational challenges which are restricting the provision of life-saving aid; and

 the Australian government must strengthen efforts to support safe passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan.80

8.77 Dr Olliff, RCA, called for:

…a scaling up of a coordinated humanitarian response to the multiple crises facing Afghanistan right now. We encourage Australia to use its aid and diplomacy to greatest effect through supporting calls for the establishment of an independent international human rights monitoring

77 Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, ACFID, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 38.

78 Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, ACFID, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 42.

79 Ms Brigid O’Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Advisor, ACFID, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 43.

80 Mr Timothy Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, ACFID, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 38. See also ACFID, Submission 53, p. 2.

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mechanism, providing greater financial support to organisations working on the ground and continuing to facilitate the emergency evacuation of those facing heightened risks who were left behind in the hasty evacuation. This includes people in areas where local community divisions were exacerbated during the time of the engagement of Western forces and where the Taliban is now seeking retribution…81

8.78 World Vision Australia recommended that the Australian Government ‘urgently deliver a $30 million food security package (in additional funding) to address crisis levels of hunger in Afghanistan’. It also recommended that the government fast-track flexible funding to allow humanitarian NGOs to meet urgent humanitarian needs while upholding humanitarian principles’.82

8.79 World Vision Australia also noted that while the Australian Government has invested $1.5 billion in Afghanistan’s development over the last two decades, ‘Australia’s aid to Afghanistan was as high as $165 million in 2011-12, but it dropped more recently to around $80 million per year from 2017-20 and to around $50 million per year from 2020-22’.83

8.80 Nonetheless, World Vision Australia acknowledged the substantial gains seen in Afghanistan ‘[s]upported by the influx of aid since 2002’ in which ‘Afghanistan has made remarkable gains across many development indicators over the last 20 years’84:

The United Nations Development Programme regularly monitors and tracks national-level development outcomes through its Human Development Index. The Index considers metrics such life expectancy at birth, education outcomes, and standards of living (as measured by gross national income per capita) to calculate an overall measure of human development. In 2020, Afghanistan achieved a human development score of 0.511, which is substantially higher than its score of 0.302 in 2000.85

Assistance without recognition 8.81 It was emphasised to the committee that humanitarian and development aid work can occur through engagement without the need to formally recognise the Taliban regime. For example, Ms Fristacky, AADO, told the committee:

No country in the world to date has recognised the Taliban. They are still de facto as an imposed power. So I can't see Australia moving, and nor should we, because we need to retain that as a lever. We don't have too many levers to talk to the Taliban about, so we need an international lever on that. But recognition is not a precondition for humanitarian aid at all or

81 Dr Louise Olliff, Senior Policy Adviser, Refugee Council of Australia, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 21.

82 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 12.

83 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 4.

84 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 5.

85 World Vision Australia, Submission 55, p. 5.

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development aid in key areas, as long as it is provided through local sources. Aid can go through local sources; it doesn't have to go through the government at all, and that's what the World Food Program is doing ...86

8.82 Ms O’Farrell, ACFID, also elaborated on this point:

There is no interest from the aid and development community to recognise the Taliban. There are ways and there need to be ways to provide assistance without granting any kind of legitimacy or recognition. We would refer the committee to the EU [European Union] conditionality framework, which has been developed setting out five criteria for how the EU proposes to engage with the Taliban to provide vital humanitarian assistance. The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has said that Afghan people shouldn't pay the price of the Taliban sanctions.87

Role of grassroots organisations in Afghanistan and diaspora networks 8.83 Mr Cina, Mahboba’s Promise, told the committee about the work of Mahboba’s Promise on the ground in Afghanistan:

The charity is entirely grassroots in nature in Afghanistan. The work is dedicated towards building orphanages and schools, and a range of vocational training programs that seek to uplift the most vulnerable women and empower them economically to participate in society in a self-sufficient way. There are 500 widows we support monthly as well. In terms of our connections here, we've been a well-known public charity. Former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce is our patron. We have public support from people like Elizabeth Broderick AO, the longest-serving Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and Marie Bashir, the previous Governor of New South Wales.88

8.84 Mr Cina outlined the organisation’s role in providing aid on the ground in Afghanistan given the severity of the humanitarian crisis:

…We've been able to shift only because of how grassroots the organisation is and how connected it is to local communities, so we managed to get a lot of people to come on board to help with us our emergency aid for internally displaced people. There's a camp where we're supporting about 4,000 people. There's no-one else supporting it. That's shelter, food, medicine costs— everything. It's coming back slowly, but we are not seeing many NGOs on the ground, especially in a coherent, consistent manner. It's not a question anymore of NGOs filling in gaps. The need is great everywhere, and I think there's a great opportunity for the Australian government to leverage off the experience of organisations like ours that have these grassroots connections and that have been able to survive and

86 Ms Jackie Fristacky AM, President, Afghan Australian Development Organisation, Committee

Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 41.

87 Ms Brigid O’Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, ACFID, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 42.

88 Mr Nawid Cina, Acting General Manager, Mahboba’s Promise, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 34.

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pivot when many have not been able to do so, and administer more aid. This is the greatest camp that we've ever serviced, but there are thousands more, and it's just an issue of being financially able to reach them.89

8.85 Professor Felicity Gerry QC, appearing in a private capacity, emphasised to the committee the importance of the grassroots movement of women in Afghanistan:

One of the things that I've learned from working with some of these amazing, highly educated and skilled women is that the grassroots movement of women in Afghanistan is incredible. It is really worth understanding the strength and power of the women at grassroots level…it is an incredible resource because it is communication with women who are heading up households and communities. It's really worth understanding that the past 20 years built up women's positions of power and responsibility at grassroots level and not all that has been lost…but I think there's sometimes a feeling that all is lost, and the impression I have from working with these incredible women is that all is not lost and that's why Australia is important.90

8.86 The committee also heard from the AADO, registered with ACFID, which has been running educational and community projects in Afghanistan since 2002 in partnership with skilled local people. Ms Fristacky, AADO, submitted a number of development aid areas to prioritise: development aid in agriculture to reduce reliance on humanitarian aid; the need to harvest solar power in villages and cities for ‘water pumps, for lighting, for heating, for cooking, for recharging phones and computers, and to support online communications and learning’.91

8.87 Dr Olliff, RCA, highlighted the need to be:

…supporting and listening to diaspora communities in Australia who have links to Afghanistan. This is a time of enormous anguish, and the impact of the Taliban taking control has sent shock waves through communities across Australia where there are many people who have personally suffered at the hands of the Taliban and who are now seeing history repeating for their families, communities and loved ones. Our government, we believe, can do this by (1) expediting and facilitating the reunion of families by addressing the significant barriers to family reunification, which we have outlined in our submission; and (2) providing a pathway to permanency and safety for the over 5,000 Afghan nationals who are currently living in Australia on temporary visas or who are subject to offshore processing of immigration detention. We can also support affected

89 Mr Nawid Cina, Acting General Manager, Mahboba’s Promise, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 35.

90 Professor Felicity Gerry, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 6. See also Her Excellency

Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity Gerry QC, Answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021 (received 24 November 2021).

91 Ms Jackie Fristacky AM, President, Afghan Australian Development Organisation, Committee

Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 39. See also AADO, Submission 38, pp. 4-6.

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communities by establishing a diaspora advisory group to inform ongoing government engagement in areas such as remittance channels, aid, humanitarian relief efforts and diplomatic engagement. We have many experts and thought leaders in this country within the diaspora.92

8.88 Mr Ali, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre, drew the committee’s attention to a model used in Europe which supports the involvement of diaspora communities in humanitarian action:

I believe that you can get resources through diaspora organisations, and other countries are doing that much more effectively. In Europe, they have [DEMAC—Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination]93, a European funded initiative to support diaspora communities in humanitarian responses, and they work with the Afghanistan diaspora in Europe to support their humanitarian interventions. Currently in Australia, from my knowledge, there's very little engagement with diaspora communities that are very active in Afghanistan. It's not the only answer but it is one answer to work with communities that are very motivated and have incredibly deep connections. I'm really pleased to see the committee is talking to one of the organisations, Mahboba's Promise. There are organisations set up by members of the Afghanistan diaspora that are doing incredible work in Afghanistan. How can we listen and support some of that action much more systemically as a country?94

8.89 Mr Ali provided examples of how diaspora groups can provide knowledge on the ground to assist with the distribution of aid:

First, I would say that in my experience working with the United Nations in Afghanistan, sending aid to the really needy people is a massive challenge. How to identify beneficiaries in NGO terms and to deliver to them is always more difficult than getting the aid itself. But I would say diaspora communities have this connection which the NGOs lack on the ground. Diaspora communities consist of different, diverse groups in most cases with different knowledge on the ground, and sometimes the NGOs or the organisations lack this local knowledge. When we talk about the humanitarian support, humanitarian aid, particularly targeting to one particular area or one particular cohort of people, that makes the effort specific to where it goes. For example, when we talk about Giza district, UNHCR have never been able to go there. They have no clue where these villages are where people have been displaced. But the diaspora communities have the knowledge of the area and how this aid could go. In this particular case, I would say even though the diaspora groups may lack this organisational knowledge and power to take big or massive

92 Dr Louise Olliff, Senior Policy Adviser, Refugee Council of Australia, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 21.

93 The Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination is a global initiative aimed at enhancing

mutual knowledge and coordination, communication and coherence between diaspora humanitarian actors and the institutional humanitarian system. See: www.demac.org/about-us (accessed 18 November 2021).

94 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 26.

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humanitarian aid to a large number of people, they are more effective in delivering the little items to really needy people up there…95

8.90 Mr Ali also made another suggestion of how diaspora communities could provide assistance:

…include diaspora communities to help the department or the authorities to identify…individuals. The country of Afghanistan is diverse and sometimes it is so interconnected or complex that it is very hard, even for UNHCR, who has been dealing with these cases and issues for a long time. They make mistakes in their judgement.96

8.91 AADO suggested DFAT engage further with NGOs such as AADO ‘who have contacts in Afghanistan and deliver programs through local Afghan personnel using informal networks’. It was noted that ‘NGO organisations like AADO, despite their substantial expertise, on-ground knowledge, proven programs, and significant potential to support Australia’s national interests in development, do not fit into any dedicated DFAT funding category’. It was suggested that DFAT establish:

a funding stream for NGO organisations involved in delivering international development in furtherance of development objectives for Afghanistan. Australia’s international reputation and the capacity to deliver programs in such development would be enhanced by this new funding stream for development aid.97

8.92 Noting that there are currently a range of Australian NGOs operating in Afghanistan and that they are ‘an important part of the humanitarian and development landscape’, ACFID was of the view that ‘Australia should leverage its existing networks on the ground to support local NGOs and civil society during this critical time’. ACFID suggested that the government ‘fund Australian NGOs and Afghan civil society to implement a multi-year locally led development program that focuses on advancing the rights of women and girls’.98

8.93 Mr Nyamandi, Save the Children, also indicated that while ‘multilaterals are important for the work that's happening in Afghanistan…it is important that aid comes as directly as possible to the NGOs and civil society organisations that are in Afghanistan’. Mr Nyamandi added:

We…have the capacity. We have a record of doing this kind of work, including in Taliban controlled areas, for the past 40 years. I really would encourage the Australian government to consider the efficiency and

95 Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative, Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 26.

96 Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative, Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre,

Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 23.

97 AADO, Submission 38, pp. 7-8.

98 ACFID, Submission 53, p. 13.

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effectiveness of working directly with NGOs and civil society organisations or the like.99

8.94 The RCA recommended that the Australian Government ‘should increase funding to humanitarian organisations that are on the ground in Afghanistan to ensure adequate response to vulnerable communities in the context of heightened humanitarian needs’. The RCA also recommended that the Australian Government ‘should support the call for an independent mechanism to monitor and report on violations and abuses, to collect evidence, advance accountability and deter further crimes in Afghanistan’. 100

8.95 When asked about engagement with diaspora-run charities that are operational on the ground, Mr Newnham, DFAT responded:

…I know they are groups with which we have engaged a great deal over time and continue to, including as part of the evacuation process. They are well known to us and have an important role to play. I would defer to colleagues but what I would say is we are in the early stages of managing a very fraught set of circumstances in Afghanistan. We're highly acutely aware of the food shortages, the humanitarian crisis that is prevailing, the health system, the threats to human rights, women and girls' empowerment issues.101

Provision of aid and the interaction with sanctions regime 8.96 Mr Newnham, DFAT, stressed the need to be cognisant of sanctions obligations:

…we have trusted partners, UN World Food Programme and others, that we know have safeguards in place with respect to their own personnel, the expenditure of capital and resources for their projects, as well as widespread remit and influence. It's not to say that those other groups have not been ones we have lent on in the past or may in the future. At this stage, navigating these circumstances we currently have, that's the footprint we have, using those major trusted partners…102

8.97 The AFP spoke about the sanctions regime in relation to sending aid to Afghanistan noting it is still ‘a very fluid situation…’. When asked about sending aid money, the AFP indicated that it would depend on the

99 Mr Christopher Nyamandi, Country Director, Save the Children, Committee Hansard,

8 November 2021, p. 43.

100 RCA, Submission 59, p. 3.

101 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, International Security, Humanitarian and

Consular Group, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 45.

102 Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, International Security, Humanitarian and

Consular Group, DFAT, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 45.

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circumstances but they would need to seek advice via DFAT who manage the sanctions scheme.103

8.98 In relation to concerns about aid funding finding its way to the Taliban, Ms O’Farrell, ACFID, added:

…the international aid and development community has no interest [in money finding its way to the Taliban]. There is zero tolerance for any kind of diversion, and there are really robust mechanisms in place. This is a concern for all agencies—for the UN as much as international NGOs—to prevent that money from benefitting the Taliban. We do understand that there have been conversations about that trust fund and ways that that could be managed by an independent third party ...104

8.99 Mr Tinkler, Save the Children Australia, added:

The thing I would like to emphasise is that independent civil society and humanitarian organisations are your friend in this scenario. Organisations like the Red Cross, World Vision and Save the Children are independent of the Taliban government but have negotiated safe access to deliver principled humanitarian assistance to the population. We have been doing this for many dozens of years. We're doing it now, from donors including Australia and other multinational organisations. There are ways to make sure that funding goes in the hands of the people of Afghanistan—the people that need it—and I really encourage government to consider those options.105

Assisting Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans 8.100 The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has naturally had an impact on the veterans who served there on a number of fronts. Some have found the events disheartening, wondering if their efforts in Afghanistan were in vain.106

8.101 Major Heston Russell (Retd), Managing Director, Veteran Support Force Ltd, spoke of the government ‘failing to set the conditions to better support veterans once we returned from this conflict’.107 Dr Jason Barnett spoke about his experience in seeking support:

103 Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner, AFP, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 15.

104 Ms Brigid O’Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, ACFID, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 43.

105 Mr Mat Tinkler, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, International Programs,

Save the Children Australia, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, pp. 43-44.

106 See for example: Kate Banville, ‘‘A distressing time’: end of Afghanistan war takes emotional toll

on Australian veterans’, The Guardian, 17 August 2021; Daniel Hurst, ‘’We lost our way’: ex-soldiers regret how Australia got bogged down in Afghanistan’, The Guardian, 18 April 2021; Hamish Cole and Peter Riley, ‘Mental health concerns for veterans due to Afghanistan turmoil’, ABC News, 20 August 2021.

107 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 9

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Having experience with the DVA system, I can attest to the fact that it is next to impossible to have a claim approved without it taking years. Thankfully, when I lodged my claim, I did not have any financial or mental health issues. I cannot see how this [extending immediate mental health support] will be made possible under the current framework within which DVA and Defence operate. I have colleagues who have experienced the same issues. They make you feel like a liar, a fraud, and a malingerer, psychologically the worst of all for a defence force member.

Mental health starts with physical health, there needs to be a complete change in the way DVA deals with claims. There needs to be a review of how the defence department communicates requirements to DVA, as it is essentially the Defence Department who dictate the terms of veterans to the DVA, i.e. DVA can only do what the Defence Department says and there are inconsistencies with wording in medical records which DVA does not recognise and for which the Defence Department will not take responsibility. The…system is rigged against the veterans.108

8.102 Many veterans are also concerned for the welfare of locally engaged Afghans who served alongside them, including interpreters and security guards. As Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, some veterans burned their military decorations to protest what they saw as the government’s slow response in granting refuge to locally engaged Afghan staff likely to face reprisals from the Taliban.109

8.103 The committee heard from veterans who have dedicated significant time and resources to assisting Afghan nationals who worked with them after they reached out for assistance.110 For example, Mr Jason Scanes, Founder, Forsaken Fighters Australia told the committee:

I have nothing else to gain from this process other than wanting to help those that helped us in Afghanistan, and there are many other veterans that feel exactly the same way.111

8.104 Mr Scanes added:

This issue is having a profound effect on the mental health and wellbeing of many veterans, not just me. They're trying to provide assistance to their interpreters who they still have contact with who have been abandoned in Afghanistan. They have no answers for them. There's no transparency from government. They're trying to provide financial assistance to their interpreters. This is a burden that shouldn't be carried by our veterans.

108 Dr Jason Barnett, Submission 10, p. 4.

109 Mr Andrew Greene, ‘Veterans burn medals to protest Australia’s ‘failure’ to protect Afghan

translators from the Taliban’, ABC News, 19 July 2021.

110 See for example GAP Veteran and Legal Services, Submission 18; Veteran Support Force,

Submission 27; Forsaken Fighters, Submission 58.

111 Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 9.

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This is a burden for the Australian government. We see them pushing their responsibilities down onto our veterans.112

8.105 Mr Scanes highlighted that ‘the single most damaging thing that a public official can do to a veteran is ignore them’113 and summarised the effect this issue has had on veterans:

I think first of all there's a significant amount of damage being done to our veterans. We're trained not to leave our mates behind, to look after our mates and all those types of things, and the government is stonewalling us and ignoring us for wanting to try and do that. So we're doing that on our own. That is having a profound effect. We've seen veterans burning their Afghan campaign medals et cetera because their interpreters are being left behind in Afghanistan and the government wasn't doing enough ...114

8.106 Mr Hugh Poate, whose son was killed in Afghanistan during an insider attack in 2012, provided his view on how veterans are feeling about their service in Afghanistan:

They're saying they don't feel that their contribution during the war is properly appreciated.115

8.107 Additionally, ahead of these events, in November 2020, the release of the Inspector-General Australian Defence Force (IGADF) investigation report into allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan resulted in a doubling of calls to the DVA Open Arms service showing the impact of these revelations on the mental health of veterans.116 Major Heston Russell (Retd) confirmed the significant psychological impact the release of the IGADF report has had on veterans, particularly in relation to the legacy of their service in Afghanistan:

…for me and those special forces personnel who have been there—and our entire legacy is being brought down to the allegations in the Brereton report, of which some of my guys weren't even deployed during that time—it's really hard to sit down on those quiet days, on Anzac days, on Remembrance days, and connect with that identity that was the best version of us. But no-one cares about it, particularly as we face the veterans mental health crisis at the moment, when every fabric of what we should be proud of in our deployments over there is otherwise seen as something that we should keep quiet because it's immediately linked to war crimes; because we have veterans unable to get employment if they have 'SAS' or 'commando' listed on their CV going for a job; because we, back here in Australia, have allowed that to be become the legacy of our operations.

112 Mr Jason Scanes, Founder, Forsaken Fighters Australia, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 9.

113 Mr Jason Scanes, Founder, Forsaken Fighters Australia, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 7.

114 Mr Jason Scanes, Founder, Forsaken Fighters Australia, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021,

p. 14.

115 Mr Hugh Poate, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 8 November 2021, p. 4.

116 Mr Matthew Doran, ‘Calls for support from ADF personnel and veterans double in days after

Justice Paul Brereton’s findings about alleged war crimes’, ABC News, 24 November 2020.

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You could just imagine the mindset, let alone the emotional impact, that has had on so many of our veterans.117

8.108 The Australian Psychological Society (APS) was of the view that the Australian Government ‘must respond urgently to the mental health support needs of current and ex-serving Australian defence force personnel and their families. That assistance needs to be made available, without limit, via public, NGO and private-sector services’.118 The APS added:

Given the internecine and traumatising nature of the events that have occurred in the guerrilla warfare style conflict of the Afghanistan crisis (e.g., through the horror created by the Taliban in its use of suicide bombers), it is important that the Government provides appropriate and

high quality evidenced-based psychiatric and psychological care, support and interventions, to those affected.119

8.109 The APS indicated that it would ‘be pleased to partner with the government to develop a systematic quality assurance program for the services being provided to Australian defence force personnel and veterans’.120

Defence 8.110 These events highlight the need to support the mental health of current and former ADF personnel. Defence advised the committee of the support it provides:

Defence is committed to supporting ADF personnel who served in Afghanistan over the twenty-year history of our engagement, including those who delivered the successful evacuation from Kabul. This includes prioritising the mental health of serving personnel and veterans, and preserving the legacy of their achievements. We welcome the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide as an opportunity to learn and strengthen our approach to the mental health and welfare of our people.

Defence continues to provide ADF members access to the most comprehensive mental health care services in Australia, and has invested heavily in research, education, awareness, and improving access to mental health care.

Our demand-driven health system is command-responsive and member-centred. Mental health services that we provide range from education and awareness programs, to treatment and rehabilitation. We utilise a comprehensive network of mental health providers as well as access to specialist mental health services (e.g. psychiatrists) to ensure the needs of

117 Major Heston Russell (Rtd), Managing Director, Veteran Support Force Ltd, Committee Hansard, 15

November 2021, p. 12.

118 APS, Submission 48, p. 2.

119 APS, Submission 48, p. 2.

120 APS, Submission 48, p. 2.

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serving members are met. This means serving ADF members have access to the right support, especially to those who are vulnerable or at risk.

Non-liability health care is also provided through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for anyone who has served for at least one day in the ADF. This is also available for Reservists who have been on Continuous Full Time Service, or provided service during disaster relief, border protection services or been involved in service related accidents.

In response to the recent developments in Afghanistan, Defence has developed a set of specific mental health resources to support ADF members and Defence Australian Public Service (APS) employees. These resources include a guide for commanders, managers and peers outlining the range of support and resources that can be accessed, including mental health awareness packages and programs, mental health screening options, and the contact details for routine support.121

8.111 At a hearing, Major General Natasha Fox AM, CSC, Head People Capability, Defence, provided further detail on the support available for those currently serving:

For our current serving members, we have a number of support programs available through the Defence Member and Family Support Branch, which was formerly the Defence Community Organisation. We have a 24-hour helpline that members and families can call. That helpline is staffed by qualified human services professionals—social workers and psychologists—who are able to deal with whatever crisis or conversation might be had at that point in time to a point of stability and can then refer them to an appropriate service. That's whether that be a referral into Open Arms in the Department of Veterans' Affairs or whether there's then a requirement for our health system, where we have more specialised support for defence members, which the Surgeon General can go through. With our family support programs, we can engage our social workers to do compassionate family circumstances assessments to then have more interventions applied for families as might be required. I'll hand now to my colleague the Surgeon General.122

8.112 Specific engagement for those who served in Afghanistan was also outlined by Major General Fox:

There have been over 39,000 defence members and APS personnel deployed to Afghanistan. That's a substantial population, of which we have quite a number still serving. Programs are in place through the Defence Member and Family Helpline, and that branch. When the evacuation commenced, we did receive a small increase in telephone contacts to the helpline, and we did make proactive calls to the families of members who were deployed during that evacuation to check that the families were okay while the members were deployed. That's part of our normal proactive support arrangements. We worked with DVA, as well, who could talk about the process of triaging support and claims in order to

121 Department of Defence (Defence), Submission 20, p. 4.

122 Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 44.

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prioritise support to our Afghanistan veterans during this period of time as required…123

8.113 Rear Admiral Sarah Sharkey, AM, CSC, Surgeon General, ADF, Defence, told the committee about the available mental health support and psychology services:

…in addition to the comprehensive health support, including mental health support, that we provide to ADF members through the continuum of their service—pre deployment, deployment and post deployment—in relation to the Afghanistan campaign in particular, and noting the particular impact on and vulnerability of that cohort of serving veterans in relation to the context of the Afghanistan withdrawal and NEO [non-combatant evacuation operation], we did develop a very comprehensive commanders and managers' guide. That guide provided commanders, managers and defence personnel with a whole raft of resources and advice in relation to the spectrum of unique challenges that were being faced in that context, in particular acknowledging that COVID imposed some unique constraints on the ability to easily access the normal, face-to-face health resources that that cohort might ordinarily avail themselves of. We distributed that package in early September, informed by our psychology experts et cetera, to provide that really expert advice and the guidance and resource pack to members.

The other thing that I would draw your attention to is that every deploying member that has been to Afghanistan—over the entirety of that campaign but also more recently—is subject to some operational mental health screening through our RtAPS [Return to Australia Psychological Screen] and POPS [Post Operational Psychological Screen] programs, which are also opportunities for individuals to be provided one-on-one counselling and specific advice and resources in terms of mental health support and psychology services. That is delivered to every single member who deploys.124

8.114 The committee asked Defence to share the support mentioned at the hearing which was provided on notice.125

Department of Veterans’ Affairs 8.115 The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) acknowledged the ‘profound effect that the recent situation in Afghanistan may be having on members of our defence and veteran community, including their family and friends’.126

Ms Liz Cosson AM, CSC, Secretary, DVA, took the opportunity at recent supplementary budget estimates hearings to reinforce this:

123 Major General Natasha Fox AM, CSC, Head People Capability, Defence, Committee Hansard,

11 October 2021, pp. 44-45.

124 Rear Admiral Sarah Sharkey, Committee Hansard, 11 October 2021, p. 45.

125 Defence, Answers to question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021 (received

22 October 2021), pp. 21-25.

126 DVA, Submission 21, p. 1.

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I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the service, sacrifice and loss as a result of Australia's over 20-year commitment in Afghanistan. The recent situation in Afghanistan has impacted the veteran community. I want to reinforce the message to all veterans that their service is greatly valued and to all veteran families that their sacrifice is especially acknowledged and, if needed, support is available …127

8.116 DVA reported that as part of the Australian Government response to support the defence and veteran community it ‘reached out to the families of the 41 Defence personnel who tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan’. DVA also ‘reached out to around 600 veterans and families identified as being particularly vulnerable’. In addition, ‘around 320,000 SMS messages were sent to DVA clients to ensure they are aware of the significant support available to them and how to access it’. As part of this outreach:

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Andrew Gee MP, also encouraged Australians to connect with a veteran in recognition that as a nation, we must all play our part in ensuring our veterans and their families are supported. The Minister also convened two meetings with ex-service organisations, family and veteran support representatives to seek their feedback on ways to better connect with the community.128

8.117 At estimates hearings Ms Cosson reported on the feedback received in relation to the text messages:

Certainly, when we sent out the text message to the whole community when we had concerns with how the veteran community was feeling as a result of the emerging issues in Afghanistan, the majority of veterans were very grateful for that…129

8.118 DVA advised that it ‘continues to work with the media and ex-service organisations in particular, to reinforce the message that ‘support is available’ to any veteran or their family if they need it, as well as engaging with the education sector to ensure children of veterans have appropriate support’. DVA added that it also ‘engaged across the Australian Public Service to ensure all agencies with veteran and family staff were aware of the support that is available’.130

127 Ms Liz Cosson, DVA, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee,

Estimates Hansard, 27 October 2021, p. 95.

128 DVA, Submission 21, p. 1.

129 Ms Liz Cosson, DVA, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Estimates

Hansard, 27 October 2021, p. 108.

130 DVA, Submission 21, p. 1.

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Australian Federal Police 8.119 The committee also spoke with the AFP which confirmed that over 140 members served in Afghanistan during the seven-year period. Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner, AFP, advised the committee:

…members who are still within the AFP can receive significant welfare support within the organisation. When the events occurred in Kabul, the commissioner sent personal correspondence to each of those 140, including members who had left the organisation. That was an offer of assistance if they required any support, and I note that a number of those officers have reached out to the AFP and it's providing support.131

8.120 Mr Geoffrey Turner, Commander, AFP, added:

…I think it's fair to say that people have an informal network around how they're coping. Obviously, there are processes in place to support those members who have either left or are still with the AFP. But it's fair to say that these things are kept reasonably personal. They don't really talk about these things in an open forum. They probably talk more amongst themselves, those who have actually sought that level of assistance.132

8.121 Mr McCartney confirmed that the AFP is aware of criticism in relation to the claims process through Comcare and is working with Comcare to streamline the process and to ensure their members are receiving the support they require.133

Recognition of service 8.122 Aware of the importance to veterans, at recent Senate supplementary budget estimates hearings, there was discussion regarding plans to reflect the experience of Afghanistan veterans following the end of the 20-year mission.

Mr Matt Anderson PSM, Director, Australian War Memorial, told the committee:

The memorial act that governs us says that we need to do three things. We need to speak to the causes, the conduct and the consequences or the aftermath of all of the campaigns that we have been involved with. Right now our gallery development team are in the process of wanting to speak to those who were involved in the evacuation of locally engaged staff and others just as recently as last August, because there's every expectation that that's an important part of the story and that story will be told. We want to make it as expansive and as inclusive as we possibly can, so that it represents the breadth and the depth of the Australian service men and

131 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 17. See also AFP, Submission 34, p. 10.

132 Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021, p. 17.

133 Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner, AFP, Committee Hansard, 15 November 2021,

p. 18.

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women's experience in Afghanistan and that includes up to and including the evacuation in August.134

8.123 Noting the intention to take a broad approach, when asked about whether the Afghan interpreters and security guards would be included in the story, Mr Anderson replied:

I think it's being considered. We're not into that level of detail yet. Having had the honour of spending some time in Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016, I don't think you can tell that story without the support that was provided. A large part of the story, for example, is train, advise and assist. What we were doing since 2015 in Afghanistan was training, advising, assisting the Afghan national defence and security forces. The work that we were doing mentoring liaison in the provinces involves Afghans. So you can't tell the story of Afghanistan without speaking to the way in which we conducted it, who we conducted it with, the impact of our service on them and the way in which they've supported and facilitated us. It's an important part of the story. It's not the whole story. We're the Australian war memorial, but it is important to tell that story where it's relevant to what we did on the ground.135

134 Mr Matt Anderson, AWM, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Estimates

Hansard, 27 October 2021, p. 94.

135 Mr Matt Anderson, AWM, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Estimates

Hansard, 27 October 2021, p. 94.

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Chapter 9

Conclusions and recommendations

9.1 This chapter outlines the committee’s conclusions and recommendations, drawing on the evidence outlined in previous chapters.

9.2 Australia’s engagement in, and withdrawal from Afghanistan, will continue to be analysed in the months and years to come. This report does not seek to provide a comprehensive history of these matters. Rather, it provides a point-in-time assessment of some of the crucial elements of what has occurred, and outlines actions that the Australian Government can take now to assist the Afghan people, protect Australia’s national interests, and support Australian Defence Force (ADF) veterans who served in Afghanistan.

9.3 The committee has chosen to release this substantive interim report now, less than six months following the collapse of the former Afghan government, so that its recommendations can influence the ongoing efforts and decisions being taken by the Australian Government. This includes efforts being undertaken to bring Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and visa applicants out of Afghanistan, as well as Australia’s decisions around further humanitarian visa and other responses to the crisis, and Australia’s ongoing engagement with Afghanistan.

9.4 Following the release of this report, the committee will assess in the coming months what further work it can usefully undertake in relation to these issues, and what areas of focus may be necessary for the committee’s final report.

Australia’s military, diplomatic and development engagement in Afghanistan 9.5 Australia’s military engagement in Afghanistan represents the longest conflict zone commitment since Federation. The committee thanks all those who were

deployed to Afghanistan over Australia’s twenty years of engagement for their service, and acknowledges their achievements and commitment to improving the lives of Afghans. Importantly, the committee also wishes to honour the 41 soldiers who lost their lives whilst serving in Afghanistan and to those who returned with physical and mental injuries.

9.6 As well as its military contribution, Australia’s diplomatic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan during the last two decades has also been significant. The committee wishes to recognise the contribution made by Australian diplomatic and consular staff, other government personnel and humanitarian workers in Afghanistan. These individuals also faced significant risks in the course of their work, and have delivered significant outcomes for Australia and for the development of Afghanistan.

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Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan 9.7 It was clear from the evidence received by the committee that Australia’s objectives shifted over the twenty-year period it was engaged in Afghanistan. The committee notes that conflicts, by nature, involve ever-evolving situations

that necessitate the adjustment of objectives over time. Following the defeat of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in March 2002, the mission required a shift to a combined effort of military, police and civilian assistance to help stabilise and prepare the Afghan government and its defence and security forces to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a training ground and operating base for international terrorists—which was in Australia’s national interest.

Assessing the achievement of Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan 9.8 The committee recognises that the assessment of what Australia achieved through its engagement in Afghanistan is open to debate and interpretation.

9.9 Many witnesses and submitters acknowledged the success of Australia’s initial objectives to drive al-Qaeda and Taliban forces out of Afghanistan and to destroy their bases. The valuable experience and expertise gained by the ADF through its engagement in Afghanistan was also noted. Additionally, the achievements of Australia’s development and humanitarian engagement in Afghanistan was also acknowledged as contributing to significant development gains for the Afghan people, in particular for women and girls.

9.10 However, the committee also received a range of criticisms of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, regarding whether the root cause of terrorism was ever adequately addressed, the perceived lack of clarity of objectives, the influence of the United States (US) on Australia’s decision-making, and the phenomenon of ‘mission creep’. Submitters also voiced concerns regarding the potential for Afghanistan to lose many of the development gains achieved through the 20 years of Australia’s engagement due to the resurgence of the Taliban. There were mixed opinions on the viability of establishing democracy in Afghanistan and its future prospects.

9.11 Australia’s two-decade engagement in Afghanistan can be characterised as a whole-of-government exercise which involved the ADF, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), as well as a number of Australian public service departments and agencies, operating in a highly complex environment. It has had an enduring impact on Australia’s ADF and veteran community, as well as on the Australian public at large.

9.12 In this context, the committee sees a formal review of lessons learned as a vital part of analysing Australia’s mission in Afghanistan and assisting in developing our ability to successfully coordinate whole-of-government responses in future conflicts. The committee notes that such a report was published by the Australian Civil-Military Centre in November 2016, which considered Australia’s mission from 2001 to 2014. A further analysis of

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Australia’s engagement from 2015 to 2021 would be a welcome complement to this work.

Recommendation 1

9.13 The committee recommends that an assessment of Australia’s whole-of-government mission in Afghanistan be commissioned and conducted by an appropriate entity, which follows an initial report on the 2001-2014 period which was released in November 2016.

Role of Australia’s alliance with the US in assessing objectives in Afghanistan 9.14 The committee received commentary on the value of the alliance between Australia and the US, while some questions were raised as to whether the right balance between meeting Australia’s sovereign national interests and

maintaining the alliance for capability and security reasons was met during the Afghanistan engagement.

9.15 The committee considers that the US is a vital ally and friend of Australia with whom we share core interests including freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Australia’s alliance with the US is central to ensuring the peace and stability both in Australia’s immediate region, but also around the world, and the ANZUS Treaty underpins this important security relationship. Australia’s decision to assist the US-led response to the 9/11 terror attacks reflects the importance of the US as an ally to Australia, but also Australia’s commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security by denying Afghanistan as a safe haven for international terrorism, noting 22 Australians were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

9.16 The committee notes that Australia’s national interest was at the forefront of the decision to conduct military operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and must be at the forefront of Australia’s strategic thinking and decision-making.

Clear communication with the public and parliament 9.17 Some submitters expressed the view that there was a lack of clarity about the nature and intent of Australia’s objectives in Afghanistan, particularly over time, and called for more transparency when committing Australia to war as

well as in reporting on the progress and future direction of conflicts in which Australia is involved. The committee notes that this would be possible where national security implications did not prevent doing so.

9.18 The committee acknowledges the gravity of committing Australia and its forces to conflict, and recognises the importance of parliamentary and public scrutiny which forms a key part in the ongoing assessment of Australia’s engagement in a conflict.

9.19 The committee notes that the issue of parliamentary approval of overseas service by members of the ADF was raised in the evidence received by the

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committee as part of this inquiry, and notes that the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee recently concluded an inquiry into the Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2020 with a report tabled in the Senate on 30 November 2021.

Assessing the costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan 9.20 The committee acknowledges the significant human cost of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan which included the loss of 41 Australian lives, and the suffering of many more who have returned home with mental and

physical injuries.

9.21 Submitters also commented on the overall human cost to the Afghan people of the conflict, with estimates of over 47,000 Afghan civilians killed and many more wounded, as well as over 66,000 Afghan national military and police personnel killed. The committee notes that United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributes a majority of civilian casualties from 2009 to 2020 to Anti-Government Elements, often conducting deliberate attacks, with indiscriminate effects that led to significant civilian casualties. Others also noted the ongoing mental impact and trauma experienced by the Afghan people, as well as the humanitarian and economic crises they now face as a result of the Taliban takeover.

9.22 The evidence received by the committee in relation to the financial costs of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan was incomplete. Witnesses and submitters reported a range of estimates from $7.8 billion to $13.6 billion. The estimates are largely pieced together from the Department of Defence (Defence) annual reports, portfolio budget statements and some North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) figures. Defence reported to the committee that it spent $8.4 billion on Operations Slipper and Highroad between 2001 and 2021 and noted that this did not include other costs incurred on other operations in the Middle East, including in Iraq and in supporting its presence in the region. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reported the operating cost of its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2021 cost approximately $566 million. The committee notes that it did not receive specific figures from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) regarding the cost and projected future costs as a result of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.

9.23 The committee considers that a formal breakdown of these costs provided publicly by the Australian Government would be beneficial in assisting further analysis of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan and assist in planning for future conflicts.

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Recommendation 2

9.24 The committee recommends that the Australian Government publish, where there are no national security implications, a breakdown of the total cost of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan across each year of its engagement, as well as a breakdown of costs across departments. These figures should also include the costs incurred and estimated ongoing costs associated with services provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs supporting veterans who served in Afghanistan.

9.25 Some submissions provided perspectives on the impact that Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan had on its international reputation. Points of concern raised included: the perceived de-prioritisation of Australia’s immediate regional concerns in favour of engagement with the US alliance in the Middle East; criticisms relating to the number of humanitarian visas allocated and Australia’s responsibility to do more; as well as the impact of the ongoing investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, including the Government’s response to the investigation.

9.26 The committee notes the ongoing processes underway in relation to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry Report which investigated alleged war crimes. In response to that report, on 30 July 2021, Defence released a four-year reform plan to address the report’s allegations. The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) is also continuing its investigations into potential criminal matters. It is important that the OSI is supported to continue its work as expeditiously as possible, given the changed security situation in Afghanistan. As these processes are ongoing, the committee has chosen not to focus extensively on these matters at this point in the inquiry.

The collapse of the Afghan government and Afghan National Army 9.27 The committee notes that the factors that contributed to the fall of the Afghan government and its forces will be an event that is debated, analysed and reflected on long into the future.

9.28 The committee received a range of explanations that canvassed a number of factors that led to the collapse of the Afghan government and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Some submitters identified that there were fundamental issues with the long-term viability of the Afghan government and the ANDSF to sustain itself without the ongoing support of allied forces.

9.29 The committee commends the efforts of the ADF to mentor and train the ANDSF as well as in the provision of protection for the military and civilian personnel who were involved in reconstruction activities. The committee also

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notes the important contribution by the AFP in mentoring, training and developing the Afghan National Police.

9.30 Other evidence received suggested that the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan (the Doha agreement)—an agreement that was made between the US and the Taliban—delegitimised the Afghan government due to its exclusion, elevated the legitimacy of the Taliban and strengthened its forces.

9.31 The committee notes that the intention of the Doha agreement was to reduce conflict and attempt to bring peace to Afghanistan. However, the Taliban did not honour their commitments under the Doha agreement which subverted plans for subsequent intra-Afghan peace negotiations and ultimately undermined the stability of the Afghan government.

9.32 Defence informed the committee that the speed of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in July and August 2021 took some parties by surprise, with all of the provincial capitals and major cities in Afghanistan falling under Taliban control within a period of less than a fortnight, from 6 August to 15 August 2021. While this view was shared by the majority of witnesses, several academics also expressed the view that the factors that led to the sudden collapse of the former Afghan government should have been better appreciated by coalition parties and led to different strategic decisions being taken during the withdrawal phase.

9.33 The role of Pakistan was also presented as an important factor in understanding the Taliban’s rise to power in the evidence received throughout the inquiry.

9.34 The committee acknowledges the important role that Pakistan will play as a regional actor in the crises facing Afghanistan. Australia, and the broader international community, will need to work cooperatively and productively with Pakistan to facilitate the evacuation of people wishing to leave Afghanistan, assisting the flow of humanitarian aid, and ultimately working towards the stability of the region.

9.35 The committee notes that witnesses also raised doubt about the capability of the Taliban to form government and to govern effectively, and others expressed hope about the ongoing presence and persistence of resistance within Afghanistan.

Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan 9.36 The committee took evidence from a range of sources on the military, diplomatic and humanitarian elements of Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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Closure of the Australian embassy in Kabul 9.37 The committee took detailed evidence from DFAT, Defence and the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) about the decision to close the Australian embassy in Kabul in May 2021, and the impact this had on

individuals and organisations in Afghanistan.

9.38 The closure of the embassy made consular assistance for Australians in Afghanistan significantly more difficult. It also complicated the process for Afghans with applications underway for Australian visas, including those in the Locally Engaged Employee (LEE) program. It also made Australia more reliant on other countries for on the ground information about events in Afghanistan as they were unfolding over subsequent months.

9.39 The committee accepts evidence from departmental officials that the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated by mid-2021 to the point where the security of the embassy was challenging to maintain under existing arrangements. Despite this, the committee notes the decision to close the Australian embassy was taken earlier than the embassies of other coalition partners such as the US and the United Kingdom (UK), which remained operational until August 2021.

9.40 The committee notes that the Government chose not to co-locate the Australian mission in Kabul with the embassies of other countries such as the US.

9.41 The embassy closed in May 2021 and the evacuation occurred in August 2021. It is impossible to determine the exact number of additional Australian visa holders and applicants that may have been able to leave the country successfully prior to August 2021, if Australia had maintained its diplomatic footprint in Kabul during June and July 2021. However, given the subsequent scramble to evacuate people from Afghanistan, Australia’s reduced in-country capacity during those two months may have played a role in the difficulties many people ultimately faced in attempting to leave Afghanistan.

Evacuation planning and operations following the fall of the Afghan government 9.42 Officials from Defence and DFAT outlined that a range of contingency planning options regarding the situation in Afghanistan were under review in

the early part of 2021. Defence informed the committee that detailed planning for a non-combatant evacuation operation from Afghanistan then commenced in May 2021.

9.43 While the speed of the Taliban takeover was not widely anticipated by allied and NATO forces, the ability to assist Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders to leave Afghanistan in June and July 2021 was prejudiced. Would more visa holders have been expatriated had the embassy remained

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open? The committee notes that DFAT made clear and regular updates to its travel advice for citizens and permeant residents, including direct contact.

9.44 In July 2021, the Biden Administration announced that it would begin Operation Allied Refuge flights out of Afghanistan during the last week of July for US visa holders. Defence informed the committee that it was not asked for advice from the Australian Government, nor did it provide advice, on how Defence could assist the US operation, including to enable the inclusion of Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and applicants in the program. While DFAT spoke with the US in mid-July about US evacuation planning, it would appear no effort was made to request or explore options for including Australians or coordinating efforts at that time.

9.45 In the committee’s view, not including Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and applicants in the US operation in July 2021 was detrimental to Australia’s subsequent evacuation efforts. Relying on commercial flights during a period when coalition partners were actively establishing evacuation programs was short-sighted due to the escalating risks faced by Australian visa holders and applicants.

9.46 The committee also heard that legal and veterans’ groups in Australia advocating for the evacuation of at-risk Afghans, including locally engaged employees, were increasingly attempting to raise concerns with the Australian Government through early-to-mid 2021. Meaningful engagement with these groups during this time could have helped the Government assist more individuals to leave Afghanistan sooner. This would also have been beneficial to Australia’s subsequent evacuation efforts in August 2021.

Evacuation operation in August 2021 9.47 The committee recognises the immense and heroic efforts undertaken by Australian officials and ADF personnel to give effect to the airlift evacuation operations that took place from 18 to 26 August 2021 from Hamid Karzai

International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul, directly following the fall of Kabul to Taliban forces.

9.48 Around 200 personnel from DFAT, the ADF, Home Affairs and Australian Border Force were deployed to Kabul during the evacuation operation, supported by hundreds of other officials in Australia’s regional logistics hub in the United Arab Emirates, other regional posts, and in Australia.

9.49 Successfully evacuating 4,168 people from Kabul across 32 flights over this nine-day period, under significant pressure due to the situation on the ground at the airport, is a significant achievement. The committee expresses its gratitude to those involved in the evacuation effort.

9.50 The committee acknowledges the incredibly difficult circumstances faced by Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders attempting to access

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the Australian evacuation operation at the airport. The dangerous and chaotic nature of the environment surrounding Kabul airport during evacuation operations was highlighted in evidence to the committee, underscored ultimately by the horrific suicide attack on the airport that happened on 26 August, resulting in the death of 13 American service members, and the death and injury of dozens of Afghan people.

9.51 While the Australian efforts did manage to evacuate a large number of people, the committee also heard distressing evidence about those who attempted to access the evacuation mission but were unsuccessful. The committee heard from advocates who were working with Australian visa holders attempting to evacuate at HKIA, including individuals associated with the Australian embassy in Kabul, that were rejected entry to the airport by Australian personnel and were unable to secure passage on the Australian evacuation flights. These Afghan people still remain at high risk from Taliban reprisals in Afghanistan.

9.52 It is clear that the communications capacity between Australian authorities and those seeking to assist evacuees was extremely strained during the evacuation operations. The committee heard that despite the significant efforts of DFAT, Defence and Home Affairs staff, numerous 449 visa holders and visa applicants were unable to contact the relevant departments when they needed to. Improved communications protocols in evacuation settings are required to maximise the effectiveness of these efforts in future crises. Surge capacity staffing may need to be added to the communications and processing efforts during significant crisis efforts.

9.53 There is also a need for greater coordination during crisis events between government and other relevant stakeholders with links on the ground, such as NGOs, legal and advocacy groups working on behalf of individuals in country. It would appear that the Afghanistan evacuation could have reached a greater number of people if these groups had been engaged with more proactively by the Australian Government in the weeks and months leading up to the fall of Kabul. The committee notes that these groups continue to work extensively to assist people to leave Afghanistan and apply for visas.

9.54 Given the significance of the issues identified, the committee considers that an independent review of the Australian Government’s procedures for dealing with overseas crises is required.

9.55 This review should cover the arrangements under the Australian Government Plan for the Reception of Australian Citizens and Approved Foreign Nationals Evacuated from Overseas (AUSRECEPLAN), as well as the protocols and procedures used by Defence, DFAT and Home Affairs relating to communications, the issuance of emergency visas, staffing arrangements, and engagement between government and relevant stakeholder groups.

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Recommendation 3

9.56 The committee recommends that the Australian Government commission an independent review into the operation of the Afghanistan evacuation effort to ensure that departmental practices and coordination are improved in future. This review should include consideration of:

 the operation of the Australian Government Plan for the Reception of Australian Citizens and Approved Foreign Nationals Evacuated from Overseas (AUSRECEPLAN) and other relevant crisis management tools during the Afghanistan crisis, and whether amendments to these frameworks are required;

 protocols for the issuance of short-term humanitarian visas during crisis situations;  the need for increased surge capacity staffing in relevant departments to assist in communications and visa processing during crisis situations; and  the development of formalised protocols for incorporating relevant

stakeholder groups into government planning and evacuation processes (for example, legal and advocacy groups working with affected groups and individuals in country).

Number of people left behind in Afghanistan 9.57 It is unclear exactly how many people were left behind in Afghanistan following the Australian airlift evacuation operation that took place in August 2021.

9.58 The committee was encouraged to hear that, in addition to the 4,168 people evacuated during the airlift operation from 18-26 August, more than 1,700 additional people were able to leave Afghanistan and travel to Australia between the end of the airlift evacuations and 22 November 2021.

9.59 Home Affairs and DFAT did not have an estimate nor a precise figure for the number of Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders still remaining in Afghanistan.

9.60 The committee did receive some figures from the relevant departments that give some picture of the current situation:

 DFAT informed the committee that 169 Australian citizens and permanent residents were registered on DFAT’s Consular and Crisis database in Afghanistan at 12 November 2021. The exact number of additional citizens and permanent residents who may still be in Afghanistan without having registered (or being able to register) with DFAT is unknown; and

 Home Affairs informed the committee that as at 12 November, 2,086 individuals who had been issued subclass 449 visas during the evacuation had not arrived in Australia. It is unclear whether these visa holders remain in Afghanistan or elsewhere; and

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 Additionally, it is known that, as at 11 October, there were nearly 400 Afghan partner visa holders outside of Australia, as well as 7,500 Afghan partner visa applicants located outside Australia in mid-November 2021. Home Affairs was unable to confirm the number of individuals located in Afghanistan.

9.61 The committee understands that individuals continue to leave Afghanistan through a variety of means, and that it is not possible to keep track of the location of Australian visa holders and applicants overseas at all times. The committee notes that Home Affairs and DFAT did not present an estimate of how many people have been left behind in Afghanistan following Australia’s evacuation efforts.

9.62 The committee notes additional work will need to be done to establish the number and location of all relevant persons that may need to be evacuated by Australia and keep in touch with those granted visas.

Recommendation 4

9.63 The committee recommends that the Australian Government develop and implement more accurate measures and methodologies for assessing and keeping track of the number of Australian citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and visa applicants at risk during crisis situations overseas.

Use of temporary subclass 449 visas during the evacuation efforts 9.64 The committee notes the necessity of using temporary emergency humanitarian (subclass 449) visas during the evacuation operations from Kabul. This enabled 5,636 individuals to be granted visas to travel to Australia,

of which 3,568 had successfully arrived in Australia as at 12 November 2021.

9.65 The use of subclass 449 visas has, however, created significant issues in relation to consistency and availability of visas during the evacuation efforts. Numerous stories have come to light of cases where the issuance of 449 visas has resulted in incomplete or confused outcomes, with potentially dire consequences for the individuals involved.

9.66 For example, the committee heard from one prominent NGO working in Afghanistan with strong links to Australia which sought visas for approximately 200 highly vulnerable individuals, predominantly women and children, and ultimately only received 449 visas for 17 of these individuals during the evacuation, with no explanation of why these visas had been granted while the remaining requested visas had not. As a result, the committee heard that approximately 180 highly vulnerable people were left in Afghanistan after the evacuation phase at significant risk of being targeted by the Taliban.

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9.67 Other disturbing cases have emerged, including an interpreter who worked with Australian forces but was unable to access the Australian evacuation flights, and then after fleeing overland to Pakistan, had his immediate family members denied processing by the Australian embassy in Islamabad because his family members’ details had been mistakenly omitted from his initial 449 visa.1

9.68 The committee recognises that Australian officials sought to, and did, issue a large number of subclass 449 visas in a short period of time to maximise the evacuation efforts. The committee considers that, in many cases, these issues could have been avoided if more work had been done earlier to identify and prioritise at risk individuals following the announcement of the ADF withdrawal from Afghanistan in April 2021.

9.69 Given the number of individuals associated with Australia still remaining at risk in Afghanistan, it is imperative that the Australian Government, in conjunction with relevant stakeholders, continue to make every possible effort to maximise the ability of people to leave the country and safely travel to Australia.

Issues relating to the Locally Engaged Employee program 9.70 The committee heard serious concerns about the way the Afghan LEE program was managed, both during the evacuation and withdrawal phase of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, and in relation to broader issues

identified around timeliness, communication to applicants and departmental resourcing.

Evacuation of Afghan LEE during Australia’s withdrawal 9.71 At the time of the evacuation operation in August 2021, there were around 425 Afghan LEE with visas or on-hand visa applications in Afghanistan. It is unclear how many of these individuals managed to secure places in the

Australian evacuation effort to leave the country. What is clear is that a significant number of individuals who had worked in association with Australia during its engagement in Afghanistan and were ultimately unable to secure a visa during the Australian evacuation operation.

9.72 Tragically, there have now been reports that some of LEE applicants have been injured or killed by the Taliban, with others currently in hiding due to their association with Australia.

9.73 The committee was shown evidence that, in July 2021, Defence was still issuing rejection letters to LEE applicants due to technicalities (such as applicants not

1 See: Katie Hamann, ABC News Online, ‘Former Afghan interpreters for ADF leave families behind

after their names were missing from visa’, 22 November 2021, Former Afghan interpreters for ADF leave families behind after their names were missing from visas - ABC News

[accessed 24 November 2021].

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having applied within six months of ceasing employment) despite the dire security situation. As at 21 August 2021, the committee heard evidence that some LEE applications were rejected by DFAT due to its approach to the eligibility criteria relating to the private contractors, without any recourse for these at-risk individuals other than joining the general humanitarian visa application process.

9.74 It was not until 22 August 2021, five days into the Australian evacuation operation at HKIA, that the Government decided to consider emergency subclass 449 visas for those who had applied for the LEE program but were not certified. Because of these delays, many who were issued 449 visas were ultimately unable to access the Australian evacuation effort.

9.75 These issues resulted in the inevitable situation that a large number of individuals and their families remain in Afghanistan, at high risk of brutal reprisals from the Taliban because of their association with Australia.

9.76 For those associated with the LEE program who were issued subclass 449 visas but are still in Afghanistan, the Government delayed announcing extensions to the 499 visas, with extensions being announced on 18 November, the day before these visas were due to start expiring.

9.77 The committee notes that the Afghan LEE program is still ongoing, with Defence informing the committee that it was still processing 70 LEE certification applications as of late October 2021. It is imperative that LEE certifications and visa applications are finalised as quickly as possible, and viewed favourably given the likely impossibility that LEE will be able to remain safely in Afghanistan. There is no excuse for bureaucratic delays when lives are literally at stake.

9.78 Essential to the Australian ethos is loyalty to mates, exemplified by the shared sacrifice and mutual commitment of Australian diggers to each other at Gallipoli and in so many other contexts at home and distant from our shores. Australian policy makers need to keep true to that ideal, lived every day by the heroes who risk everything to defend us. There is an enduring duty of loyalty owed by Australia to the interpreters and other Afghans who risked their lives in the service of the ADF when they were in Afghanistan. That loyalty was shown by the brave Australian men and women who served in Afghanistan. It must be shown by the government that sent them there.

9.79 The question of how we treated those who risked all to help us in Afghanistan relates to who we are as Australians and what we value. We asked these people to stand in harm’s way with Australian personnel. We have left them standing in harm’s way. It is dishonourable. Offering sanctuary to those whose service to Australia imperiled their lives and the lives of their loved ones, and of course, after appropriate and rigorous security assessments, is well within the expectation of the Australian public.

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9.80 Beyond the moral imperative, it is also in the vital national security interest of Australia. When we are called to serve in foreign lands in the future, Australian servicemen and women will no doubt call upon local help. A reputation for caring for those who were willing to help Australia will be of the most critical importance to helping Australia achieve its military goals and in keeping Australian safe from harm.

Broader issues identified with the LEE program 9.81 The committee also considers that the LEE program, more broadly, requires an urgent review to address a range of issues raised with the committee.

9.82 The committee heard that the LEE application process was unwieldy, difficult for applicants to understand (with more than 60 pages of documentation required to be completed across the application processes), and was made harder following the closure of the Kabul embassy in May 2021. Prospective applicants were not always given adequate information. Timeframes for providing certification by Defence and DFAT, and subsequent visa processing by Home Affairs, were excessive, with some individuals waiting several years to have their certification processed and visa granted, despite being at risk of harm in Afghanistan.

9.83 The use of screening tools in application processing has been questioned in evidence to the committee. While Home Affairs have stated that no inappropriate methodologies were utilised, this is difficult to reconcile with the evidence provided by other witnesses, and thus questions remain unanswered.

9.84 Record keeping relating to the scheme appears to be inadequate, with the relevant departments failing to keep a ‘master list’ of those with whom Australian forces worked in Afghanistan. While Defence maintained some employment records for those directly employed by Defence, it appears that little attempt was made to maintain adequate records for others who had worked alongside the ADF and who may subsequently have become eligible for the LEE program. There is a clear need for better record keeping relating to local nationals who provide assistance to Australia in areas of conflict and instability.

9.85 Inconsistencies between how Defence and DFAT applied eligibility criteria for the LEE scheme also needs to be analysed. The evidence shows that DFAT took a particular approach to the exclusions set out in the instrument that governed LEE certification, even in the leadup to the evacuation in August 2021. The relevant legislative instrument governing eligibility for the LEE program has also not been amended since 2012, despite it being the source of significant confusion about the operation of the scheme. A review of the LEE program should consider whether this instrument should be amended.

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9.86 The committee heard that departmental resourcing for processing LEE certifications and visas was insufficient, and there was a decided lack of urgency in relation to what should have been a priority program. Instead of taking a proactive approach, for much of the program’s history the departments have been reactive and slow-moving in handling LEE claims. It was only in the leadup directly prior to evacuation efforts in August 2021 that departmental resourcing was belatedly increased to attempt to deal with the problems associated with the program.

9.87 The evidence before the committee was that requests from veterans and other representatives of LEE in Australia to meet with Ministers to discuss concerns and provide relevant information were largely ignored. If these groups had been listened to in early 2021 when the urgency of the situation for LEE in Afghanistan was already apparent, it would have been possible for a much higher number of at-risk individuals to be brought to safety in Australia. Communication protocols between applicants, government departments and stakeholders advocating for LEE staff must be improved.

9.88 Given the number and seriousness of the problems identified, an immediate and thorough review of the LEE program is required both to assist the existing Afghan cohort, and to ensure that in any future military engagements the process relating to locally engaged staff is much clearer and can be implemented expeditiously.

Recommendation 5

9.89 The committee recommends that the Australian Government extend all available effort to finalising certifications and visa applications for Afghan Locally Engaged Employees (LEE) and their families as quickly as possible, and extending assistance to those still eligible in Afghanistan to make their way to Australia.

9.90 The committee further recommends that the Australian Government commission a full and thorough review of the operation of the Afghan LEE program to analyse and appropriately address concerns raised in evidence to the committee and ensure that programs of this nature are improved.

Australia’s ongoing response to recent developments in Afghanistan 9.91 Now that Australian military and diplomatic personnel have withdrawn from Afghanistan, Australia must continue to support the Afghan people, both through humanitarian visa and support services here in Australia, and

through ongoing engagement with Afghanistan itself, particularly in the delivery of humanitarian assistance on the ground.

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Visa pathways and settlement arrangements for Afghan arrivals in Australia 9.92 Several issues require the action of government in relation to visa pathways and settlement arrangements for Afghan arrivals in Australia, and visa holders still remaining in Afghanistan.

Subclass 449 visa holders remaining in Afghanistan 9.93 The committee notes that a cohort of individuals in Afghanistan who were issued with subclass 449 visas during the evacuation are not covered by the Minister’s 18 November announcement, and are now left in Afghanistan

without an Australian visa. The committee urges the Government to assess this decision and reinstate subclass 449 visas for all individuals remaining outside of Australia who were initially issued these visas during the evacuation.

Australia’s humanitarian visa intake arising from the Afghanistan crisis 9.94 Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis with more than half a million Afghans having become internally displaced so far in 2021 as a result of the Taliban gaining ascendancy in the country. Many vulnerable

groups in the country, including women and minority ethnic and religious groups, now face extreme threat.

9.95 The Australian Government announced in August 2021 that an initial 3,000 places have been allocated to Afghan nationals for humanitarian visas, from within the Government’s annual humanitarian intake cap of 13,750 places. This figure of 3,000 has repeatedly been described as ‘a floor, not a ceiling’, however the Government is still yet to make any further announcements about the allocation of additional humanitarian visas.

9.96 Furthermore, the committee heard that none of these 3,000 visas have yet been allocated with Home Affairs stating that it will likely take until the end of the year to certify the validity of applications that have been received, before final visa decisions start being made.

9.97 With over 100,000 individuals from Afghanistan now having applied for humanitarian visas in Australia and the situation in the country verging towards an economic and humanitarian catastrophe, it is incumbent on the Australian Government to act decisively in relation to these matters.

9.98 A wide range of submitters and witnesses called for the Australian Government to commit formally to a higher humanitarian visa intake for individuals affected by the Afghanistan crisis. Advocacy groups have called for a one-off additional intake of 20,000 humanitarian visa holders from Afghanistan, in addition to Australia’s existing annual cap of 13,750 places.

9.99 Other coalition partners have already announced significant humanitarian programs; for example, Canada has committed to taking 40,000 additional Afghan refugees, while the UK has announced a program for Afghan refugees

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with 5,000 initial places and up to 20,000 places over the longer term. The US is accepting 125,000 Afghan refugees in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

9.100 Some submitters noted that Australia has responded to past humanitarian crises with additional one-off humanitarian visa places; for example, in 2015 an additional 12,000 places were made available for individuals affected by the crisis occurring in Syria and Iraq at that time.

9.101 Given the scale of the crisis in Afghanistan, the history of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan over a period of decades, and past precedent for Australia offering additional refugee places in response to crisis events, the committee considers that Australia should match its coalition partners in committing to a substantial intake of Afghan refugees. In the committee’s view, this would be a commensurate response to the crisis and Australia’s international standing as a country with a significant permanent humanitarian resettlement program. The committee notes that the Government can utilise the thousands of unallocated humanitarian places unused due to the COVID-19 pandemic for this purpose. The committee also believes that Australia should play a global leadership role in the resettlement of Afghan nationals given Australia’s role in the conflict and the scale of the humanitarian need.

Recommendation 6

9.102 The committee recommends that the Australian Government work with coalition partners and international organisations to support the resettlement of Afghan nationals globally, with Australia making a contribution of places within the humanitarian, family, skilled and other permanent visa categories to help resettle those Afghan nationals displaced by the crisis.

Afghan temporary visa holders already in Australia 9.103 A number of submitters and witnesses to the inquiry urged the Australian Government to grant pathways to permanent protection for refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan already living in Australia, and those in our

immediate region. These requests included that the Government should:

 provide pathways to permanent residency for Afghan nationals currently in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs);  prioritise family reunification for Afghans in Australia who have been previously unable to sponsor family members to come to Australia due to

their TPV status, or who have had their claims de-prioritised due to Ministerial directives;  immediately review the cases of Afghans whose applications for protection are currently before the Department, the Immigration Assessment Authority

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(IAA) or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), given the changed security situation in Afghanistan; and  review policy decisions in relation to Afghan refugees currently located in Indonesia and Malaysia.

9.104 The committee welcomes the Government’s assurances that Afghans currently in Australia will not be forced to return to Afghanistan while the security situation remains as it currently is. It is clear that with the Taliban in power, the calculus for many people ever being able to return safely to Afghanistan has changed irreversibly.

9.105 In this context, the Government should work to abolish Temporary Protection Visas and prioritise family reunification in processing humanitarian visa applications from Afghanistan. Clear avenues for review should also be open for cases that are currently before the immigration authorities and the AAT, given the changed security circumstances and the inability of many to return.

Recommendation 7

9.106 The committee recommends that, in light of the changed security circumstances in Afghanistan, the Australian Government review its policies for pathways to permanent protection visas for Afghan asylum seekers and refugees currently in Australia, and prioritise family reunification when processing humanitarian visa claims from Afghan nationals.

Settlement services for Afghan arrivals in Australia 9.107 The committee welcomes the Government’s establishment in August 2021 of a Panel on Australia’s Resettlement of Afghan Nationals. The committee further welcomes the announcement on 14 October 2021, of an Afghan Settlement

Support Package, worth $27.1 million over two years, to help recent evacuees from Afghanistan settle successfully into their new lives in Australia.

9.108 It is critical that this funding is delivered promptly and in line with the real needs and priorities of the Afghan community in Australia. The Government should be open to increasing the level of funding support provided if necessary.

9.109 In particular, the committee heard from legal groups and advocacy organisations undertaking crucial work to assist Afghan nationals to lodge visa applications and offer other assistance and support services to recent Afghan arrivals in Australia. It is critical that these organisations receive appropriate funding through the Government’s support package. Culturally appropriate and targeted mental health support programs were also highlighted as a key need of Afghan community in Australia, and need to be funded appropriately.

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Ongoing engagement with Afghanistan 9.110 The committee supports the close coordination with Australia’s partners and allies in relation to Australia’s engagement with Afghanistan. It is vital that the international community hold the Taliban to account for its commitments and

actions, especially in the areas of safe passage, counterterrorism and human rights.

9.111 The Australian Government should continue to use bilateral diplomatic channels and its voice at multilateral fora such as the UN to call for safe passage for Afghans seeking international protection and asylum, and protection for vulnerable groups including women and girls, children and ethnic and religious minorities. The Taliban must end its barbaric behaviour.

Humanitarian and development assistance 9.112 The future for Afghanistan is uncertain and while the full impact of recent events is taking time to emerge, the current humanitarian outlook is dire. The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is deeply

concerning with the lives of many at risk. As the humanitarian need escalates this should be matched by a strong humanitarian and development response from the international community. It is important that governments, including Australia, take a principled humanitarian approach to providing urgent assistance to the Afghan people, cognisant of sanctions obligations, while developing a longer-term strategy for engagement.

9.113 Noting that Afghanistan’s economy, health and education systems are almost entirely dependent on aid, the committee supports the Australian Government providing assistance to the Afghan people, particularly at-risk and vulnerable groups. Australia should continue to engage with Afghanistan and the international community to address the urgent humanitarian situation and to protect the significant development gains made over the last two decades.

9.114 The committee notes that a generation of Afghans have grown up in a world where women and girls have access to education and employment opportunities and the ability to participate in public life. While this progress is at risk, Australia must work with the international community to protect the gains made.

9.115 Australia has a long history of funding humanitarian and development programs in Afghanistan and the committee welcomes the Government’s recent funding announcements in this area. The committee supports DFAT continuing to ensure that Australia’s aid has had a focus on women and girls. It is important that as the crisis develops there is sufficient flexibility to ensure the Australian contribution is channelled effectively and appropriately to reach those in need and to also increase should the situation deteriorate further.

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Delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan 9.116 The committee acknowledges the need to be cautious of sanction regimes obligations in providing aid. It understands that in navigating the current circumstances that DFAT would rely on major trusted partners to ensure aid is

getting to its intended destination.

9.117 However, the committee heard of the important work of a number of NGOs and diaspora run charities with established track records providing assistance on the ground, particularly to areas which the larger aid organisations have trouble reaching.

9.118 The committee also heard about the European Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination (DEMAC) project which is an initiative to better coordinate diaspora organisations and the humanitarian system.

9.119 The committee would like to see more done to foster further engagement with local NGOs and diaspora groups with established track records and robust accountability systems in place which can help facilitate the provision of aid to the local level and most vulnerable.2 The committee will be examining this issue further in its final report.

Recommendation 8

9.120 The committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other Australian agencies providing development assistance foster further engagement with local NGOs and diaspora groups which can assist with the provision of aid to the local level and most vulnerable.

Assistance to ADF personnel and veterans 9.121 The committee acknowledges the importance of providing ongoing support to veterans and their families, particularly at this time. Veterans have been affected not only by the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the effects of this

on the Afghan people, but have also been concerned about, and some involved in, assisting those who worked alongside them as interpreters and security guards to leave.

9.122 The committee was pleased to hear that, at the time of the Taliban takeover, relevant agencies were proactive in reaching out to advise affected veterans and families of services that are available.

2 The committee notes that it made a similar recommendation to this effect in its 2013 report on

Australia’s overseas development programs in Afghanistan. The government response noted the recommendation stating that ‘Australia’s aid program makes significant use of civil society and NGOs that are effective in achieving results and delivering value for money’. See: Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Australia’s overseas development programs in Afghanistan, Report, May 20213, Recommendation 22, p. xxiii.

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9.123 Importantly, the committee notes that these matters have had a backdrop of the lengthy IGADF Afghanistan inquiry report and now Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) which will address potential criminal matters raised in the IGADF report.3 In addition, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, which will focus on defence and veteran mental health, has now commenced public hearings.4 The lack of clarity about the evolving situation in Afghanistan along with the work of the OSI and Royal Commission outlined above highlight the importance of ensuring support for veterans and families is ongoing.

9.124 The committee, however, has some concerns over the Government’s ability to follow through and provide appropriate ongoing support for veterans and their families. Accessing suitable support when needed has been an issue raised during this and other inquiries conducted by the committee. The Government’s reluctance to instigate the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide only adds to the committee’s concerns regarding the ability to ensure timely and ongoing support for veterans. Progress in this area will take time to assess which will likely to be outside the current timeline for this inquiry but the committee intends to follow up this matter during estimates hearings.

9.125 The committee supports the work underway at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) to make the story of Afghanistan told at the AWM and recognition of service as broad and inclusive as possible.

Senator Kimberley Kitching Chair

3 See: www.osi.gov.au/ (accessed 22 November 2021).

4 See: https://defenceveteransuicide.royalcommission.gov.au/ (accessed 22 November 2021).

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Australian Greens additional comments

It has been two decades since Australia joined in the invasion of Afghanistan. Tragically, the profound concerns raised before the invasion occurred, and throughout Australia’s involvement, have been borne out. The Australian Greens have consistently raised concerns about Australia’s role in the invasion of Afghanistan, including before the invasion even occurred and when Australia committed troops.

Midway through Australia’s involvement, Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlum spoke on this issue, highlighting the failure of a decade of Australia’s involvement, and the disasters that lay ahead:

More than 2,700 coalition dead has been the cost in lives of this war, and an uncounted number of Afghan civilian deaths. If this parliament stood in silence momentarily and acknowledged the civilian loss of life in Afghanistan, we would not have time to conduct any business at all. The estimate over the last four years is that nearly 9,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the conflict, with civilian deaths increasing each year. It is these profoundly disturbing numbers of civilian deaths that I think give the lie to the picture that is being painted that we are in this struggle for the long haul, that all we need to do is stay the course and eventually there will be some kind of happy ending, and that we will be able to depart the country with some form of democracy in place.

Tell the truth. Tell the Australian people the truth. Why is it so difficult to even have these issues debated in the Australian parliament? We would not have even had a mature debate in this parliament if Senator Brown had not got that into the agreement with the Gillard government last August. Tell the truth as to why after a decade in this quagmire there is now the strongest opposition to this war by the Australian people. A recent Essential Media poll showed that 64 per cent of Australians think that troops should withdraw-that is up from 56 per cent this March and just under half about this time last year. This is now a profoundly unpopular war.

It is justified, as we heard to some degree from some of the previous speakers, that this has been a great cause for the emancipation of women. A June 2011 Trust Law report by the Thomas Reuters Foundation found that violence, dismal health care and brutal poverty make Afghanistan the world's most dangerous country for women. After a 10-year occupation, Afghanistan has emerged as the most dangerous country for women overall and the worst in three of the six risk categories-health, non-sexual violence and lack of access to economic resources. So tell us the truth, government spokespeople and opposition spokespeople, who stand up in here and tell us that things will be fine if we simply toe the line. What if that is not true? German General Kujat told the German Daily in July 2011: The mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with United States, but if you measure progress against the goal of stabilising a country and a region, then the mission has failed.

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There has been no such honesty from Australian policymakers. We catch a glimpse, of course, of how this war is really seen in the higher levels of the United States government-again thanks to the huge release of US State Department diplomatic cables by the audacious organisation WikiLeaks. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who served in Afghanistan as a three-star general, at the end of a 9 October cable marked 'confidential' said: One of our major challenges in Afghanistan is how to fight corruption and connect people to the government, and their key government officials are themselves corrupt.

In another cable, quoted in Bob Woodward's book on the war behind the scenes, Obama's War, Eikenberry said: Right now we're dealing with an extraordinarily corrupt government.

These are our partners. That underscores the tragedy of the events we saw over the weekend. Senator Faulkner says that we are there at the invitation of the Afghan government; we are there at the invitation of the government of the United States. Let us be absolutely clear about why we are there. This is the only time in its history that the ANZUS Treaty has been invoked. Prime Minister Howard, without recourse to parliament, put us into that war, took us directly into that conflict. That, I think, tells us more than anything else.

Australia’s involvement in the invasion of Afghanistan has caused tragic deaths, with no clear purpose or benefit. Australia’s involvement should be addressed through a deep and profound examination of the factors that led to that failure. We support the work of this Committee in scrutinising Australia’s involvement, and the recommendations in the interim report that call for greater transparency and scrutiny. Australian Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Janet Rice summarised:

an invasion serving the interests of the invading powers—that imperialist war—was not the solution … It has made the world less safe. It has created more terrorism and it has meant the forces withdrawing, the government collapsing and the institutions not surviving. We could have done things differently if we had had a human rights centred approach rather than an approach of having power over and control over. But we didn't.

The Australian Greens have introduced the Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2020. That bill would provide an important measure of transparency and accountability in relation to the deployment of Australian forces overseas:

The Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2020 inserts a new section 29A into the Defence Act 1903 to require that decisions to deploy members of the Australian Defence Force beyond the territorial limits be made not by the executive alone but by Parliament as a whole. This means debate in both houses, followed by a vote.

This bill also contains a section which provides that, when members of the Defence Force are deployed overseas in the circumstances covered by the section, the Minister for Defence must report in writing to each House of

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the Parliament every two months on the status, legality, scope, and anticipated duration of the deployment, on efforts to resolve the circumstances requiring the deployment, and on any reasons why the Parliament should allow the deployment to continue. This provision is designed to ensure ongoing transparency and accountability, as well as an opportunity for the parliament to reconsider the decision should the circumstances change.

The Australian Greens believe that retaining a tradition of keeping the prerogative to deploy our defence forces within the decision-makers of the executive is antiquated and undemocratic. Instead, we must undergo a process of change that would see all elected leaders within our federal parliament accountable for this decision. The outcome of such an evolution in process is that our democracy is strengthened as the capacity for a small group of people to make erroneous and deeply consequential decisions is checked against the will of the public through robust parliamentary scrutiny and transparency.

Recommendation 1: That decisions to deploy members of the Australian Defence Force beyond Australia’s territorial limits be made not by the executive alone but by Parliament as a whole.

Australia also has a moral obligation to those in Afghanistan whose lives have been devastated by the invasion and poorly managed withdrawal. As the Australian Greens have repeatedly called for, that should include offering an additional 20,000 places in our humanitarian intake:

Australia should immediately offer permanent protection visas for up to 20,000 people from Afghanistan who are at risk of persecution from the Taliban … These places should be in addition to our regular humanitarian intake, and include protection for people like female leaders, human rights advocates, LGBTIQ+ people, alumni of Australian Universities, journalists, Afghan government workers and people from ethnic and religious minorities previously persecuted by the Taliban.

Recommendation 2: That Australia provide an additional 20,000 permanent protection visas for people from Afghanistan.

Senator Janet Rice Australian Greens

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Appendix 1

Submissions, tabled documents, answers to questions on notice and correspondence

1 Name Withheld 2 Mr Robert Heron 3 Mr Paul McKenzie 4 Name Withheld 5 Mr Phil Gorman

6 The Council on Middle East Relations 7 Maureen Keating sgs 8 Ms Ruth McColl 9 Mr Ian Sarah

10 Dr Jason Barnett 11 Ms Moira Broderick 12 Independent and Peaceful Australia Network 13 Mr Adrian Joel 14 Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan (SAWA-Australia SA Inc)

 14.1 Supplementary to submission 14

15 Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani, and Dr Srinjoy Bose 16 Name Withheld 17 SBS

18 GAP Veteran and Legal Services 19 Department of Home Affairs 20 Department of Defence  20.1 Supplementary to submission 20

21 Department of Veterans' Affairs 22 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 23 Australians for War Powers Reform 24 Rural Australians for Refugees 25 Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal 26 Major (Retired) Heston Russell 27 Veteran Support Force 28 Public Health Association of Australia 29 Ariana Australian Association 30 Professor Clinton Fernandes 31 Major (RTD) David McBride 32 Mr Benjamin Cronshaw 33 Amnesty International Australia

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34 Australian Federal Police 35 Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees 36 Mr David Mac Phail 37 Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network (AAAN) 38 Afghan Australian Development Association (AADO) 39 Community Migrant Resource Centre 40 Medical Association for Prevention of War 41 Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW 42 Name Withheld 43 Dr Sayed Amin, Zoe Safi, Naseer Shafaq, Tamkin Hakim, Raz Mohammad and

Atal Zahid Safi Response to submission 43 44 Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights 45 Mr Khalid Amiri 46 Law Council of Australia 47 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia 48 Australian Psychological Society 49 Australian Centre for International Justice 50 Mr Nematullah Bizhan 51 Name Withheld 52 Save the Children 53 Australian Council for International Development 54 Refugee Advice and Casework Service 55 World Vision Australia 56 Mr Justin Tutty 57 Mr Hugh Poate 58 Forsaken Fighters 59 Refugee Council of Australia 60 Asylum Seeker Resource Centre 61 Professor Felicity Gerry QC, Azadah Raz Mohammad, Anna McNeil and Karin

M Frodé

62 Mr Mehdi Faizy 63 Voices of influence Australia 64 Hope and Wish Foundation 65 Tara Ali

66 Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch

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Tabled Documents 1 Opening statement from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a public hearing 15 November 2021, Canberra

Answer to Question on Notice 1 Professor Craig Stockings - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 18 October 2021) 2 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing

held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 22 October 2021) 3 Department of Home Affairs - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25 October 2021) 4 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing

held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 26 October 2021) 5 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 27 October 2021) 6 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from

public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021) 7 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 1 November 2021) 8 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answer to written question on

notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 28 October 2021) 9 Department of Defence - answer to written question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 8 November 2021) 10 Mr Jason Scanes - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 8

November 2021, Canberra (received 9 November 2021) 11 Professor Theo Farrell - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 8 November 2021, Canberra (received 8 November 2021) 12 Department of Veterans' Affairs - answers to questions on notice from public

hearing held 11 October 2021 (received 12 November 2021) 13 Refugee Council of Australia - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 8 November 2021, Canberra (received 15 November 2021) 14 Law Council of Australia - answers to questions on notice from public hearing

held 8 November 2021, Canberra (received 17 November 2021) 15 World Vision Australia - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 8 November 2021, Canberra (received 19 November 2021) 16 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing

held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 22 November 2021) 17 Department of Defence - answer to written questions on notice (received 22 November 2021) 18 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing

held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 22 November 2021)

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19 Australian Federal Police - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021) 20 Department of Defence - answer to written questions on notice (received 24 November 2021) 21 Her Excellency Hasina Safi, Ms Azadah Raz Mohammad and Professor Felicity

Gerry QC - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 24 November 2021) 22 Department of Defence - answer to written questions on notice (received 24 November 2021) 23 Department of Defence - answer to written questions on notice (received 26

November 2021) 24 Department of Home Affairs - answer to spoken and written question on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 25

November 2021) 25 Department of Home Affairs - answer to written questions on notice (received 25 November 2021) 26 Department of Veterans' Affairs - written answers to question on notice

(received 26 November 2021) 27 Department of Defence - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 1 December 2021) 28 Department of Defence - answer to written questions on notice (received 25

November 2021). 29 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 3 December 2021) 30 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from

public hearing held 11 December 2021, Canberra (received 3 December 2021) 31 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answer to written question on notice (received 6 December 2021) 32 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from

public hearing held 11 December 2021, Canberra (received 7 December 2021) 33 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 9 December 2021) 34 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from

public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 13 December 2021) 35 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from public hearing held 11 October 2021, Canberra (received 20 December 2021) 36 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - answers to questions on notice from

public hearing held 15 November 2021, Canberra (received 20 December 2021)

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Correspondence 1 Correspondence from DFAT which corrects evidence given to the committee at the hearing on 11 October 2021 regarding the closure of the Australian Embassy, Kabul, received 29 October 2021

2 Correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs which corrects a response to a question on notice from Senator Wong in relation to LEE Visa applications, received by 1 July 2021. 3 Correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs which corrects a

response to a question on notice from Senator Wong in relation to LEE Visa applications, received by 14 August 2021. 4 Correspondence from Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary, DFAT, which corrects the response to a question from Senator Abetz during the public

hearing on 15 November 2021, received 24 November 2021. 5 Correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs, responding to evidence from Mr Heston Russell, Managing Director, Veteran Support Force

Ltd, at a public hearing on 15 November 2021, received 2 December 2021.

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Appendix 2

Public hearings and witnesses

Monday, 11 October 2021 Main Committee Room and via videoconference Parliament House Canberra

Australian War Memorial - Official Historian of Australian Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor  Professor Craig Stockings

GAP Veterans and Legal Services  Dr Kay Danes OAM, Humanitarian Advocate  Mr Glen Kolomeitz, Director

Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network  Ms Sitarah Mohammadi

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  Mr Simon Newnham, A/g Deputy Secretary/Crisis Coordinator  Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan (joining from Doha)  Ms Heidi Venamore PSM, Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (joining

from Abu Dhabi)  Ms Kate Logan, First Assistant Secretary, Consular and Crisis Management Division  Mr Roger Noble AO DSC CSC, Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism  Mr Geoff Tooth, Assistant Secretary, Afghanistan and Regional Branch and

former Head of Mission Kabul  Mr Brett Marshall, Assistant Secretary, Operational Security Branch  Ms Lucienne Manton, A/g First Assistant Secretary, International Security

Division and Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking

Department of Defence  GEN Angus Campbell AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force  Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary International Policy  AVM Robert Chipman AM, CSC, Head Military Strategic Commitments  LTGEN Gregory Bilton AO, CSC, Chief of Joint Operations  RADM Sarah Sharkey AM, CSC, Surgeon General Australian Defence Force  MAJGEN Natasha Fox AM, CSC, Head People Capability  Mr Steven Groves, Chief Finance Officer

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 Ms Rowena Bain, First Assistant Secretary Ministerial Executive Coordination and Communication

Department of Home Affairs  Mr Andrew Kefford PSM, Deputy Secretary, Social Cohesion and Citizenship Group  Ms Cheryl-anne Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement

Services Group  Mr Richard Feakes, First Assistant Secretary, Counter-Terrorism Coordination Centre  Mr Richard Johnson, First Assistant Secretary, Social Cohesion Division  Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian &

Settlement Division  Ms Sally Pfeiffer, Assistant Secretary, Humanitarian Program Operations Branch  Ms Lauren Monks, Commander - Australian Border Force

Department of Veterans' Affairs  Ms Liz Cosson, Secretary  Ms Vicki Rundle, Deputy Secretary  Ms Leanne Cameron, First Assistant Secretary, Mental Health and

Wellbeing Services

Monday, 8 November 2021 Committee Room 2S1 and via videoconference Parliament House Canberra

Mr Hugh Poate, Private capacity

Forsaken Fighters (via videoconference)  Mr Jason Scanes, Founder

Law Council of Australia (via videoconference)  Ms Carina Ford, Member, Migration Law Committee, Federal Litigation and Dispute Resolution  Mr David Prince, Member, Migration Law Committee, Federal Litigation

and Dispute Resolution  Mr Matthew Wood, Senior Policy Lawyer

Refugee Council of Australia (via videoconference)  Dr Louise Olliff, Senior Policy Advisor  Mr Muzafar Ali, Community Representative, Co-Founder, Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre

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Refugee Advice and Casework Service  Ms Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor and Centre Director  Mr Arif Hussein, Senior Solicitor

Mahboba's Promise (via videoconference)  Mr Nawid Cina, Acting General Manager

Australian Council for International Development  Mr Tim Watkin, Director or Policy and Advocacy  Ms Brigid O'Farrell, Policy and Advocacy Advisor

Afghan Australian Development Association (via videoconference)  Ms Jackie Fristacky AM, President  Dr Nouria Salehi AM, Executive Director

Save the Children (via videoconference)  Mr Matt Tinkler, Deputy CEO; Managing Director, International Programs  Christopher Nyamandi, Country Director, Save the Children Afghanistan  Ms Philippa Lysaght, Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Adviser

World Vision Australia (via videoconference)  Ms Nadine Haddad, Senior Policy Lead, Conflict and Fragility  Mr Patrick Thomas, Head of Fragile and Low Income Countries

Professor Theo Farrell, Private capacity

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre  Dr Carolyn Graydon, Principal Solicitor  Mr Barat Ali Batoor, Organiser

Adjunct Professor Mahmoud Saikal, Private capacity

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Monday, 15 November 2021 Committee Room 2S3 and via videoconference Parliament House Canberra

Ms Hasina Safi, Private capacity

Professor Felicity Gerry QC, Azadah Raz Mohammad, Anna McNeil and Karin M Frodé, joint submission  Professor Felicity Gerry QC  Azadah Raz Mohammad

Veteran Support Force  Major Heston Russell, Managing Director

Major (Retired) Heston Russell, Private capacity

Australian Federal Police  Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner Investigations  Mr Geoffrey Turner, Commander Crime Command

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  Ms Kathryn Campbell AO CSC, Secretary  Mr Simon Newnham, Acting Deputy Secretary  Mr Daniel Sloper, Special Representative on Afghanistan  Ms Heidi Venamore PSM, Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates  Ms Kate Logan, First Assistant Secretary, Consular and Crisis Management

Division  Mr Gary Cowan, First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division  Ms Lucienne Manton, Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human

Trafficking  Ms Minoli Perera, Chief Security Officer

Department of Defence  Mr Greg Moriarty, Secretary  GEN Angus Campbell AO DSC, Chief of the Defence Force  Mr Hugh Jeffrey, First Assistant Secretary International Policy  AVM Robert Chipman AM CSC, Head, Military Strategic Commitments  RADM Sarah Sharkey AM CSC, Surgeon General Australian Defence Force  MAJGEN Natasha Fox AM CSC, Head People Capability  Mr Steven Groves, Chief Finance Officer

Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force  Mr Michael Pezzullo, Secretary

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 Mr Andrew Kefford, Deputy Secretary, Social Cohesion and Citizenship Group  Mr Cheryl-anne Moy, Deputy Secretary, Immigration and Settlement Services Group  Ms Cheryl Pearce, Deputy Commissioner, Ports and Enforcement  Mr Richard Feakes, First Assistant Secretary/ Deputy Commissioner,

Counter Terrorism Coordination Centre  Mr Richard Johnson, First Assistant Secretary, Social Cohesion  Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Immigration Programs  Mr Phil Brezzo, Assistant Commissioner, South & Enforcement Operations  Ms Sally Pfeiffer, Assistant Secretary, Humanitarian Program Operation  Ms Lauren Monks, Commander, International Operational Coordination

Department of Veterans' Affairs  Ms Liz Cosson AM CSC, Secretary  Ms Vicki Rundle PSM, Deputy Secretary  Ms Leanne Cameron, First Assistant Secretary

Emeritus Professor William Maley, Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Dr Nishank Motwani, and Dr Srinjoy Bose, joint submission  Emeritus Professor William Maley  Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi

 Dr Nishank Motwani  Dr Srinjoy Bose

Dr Nematullah Bizhan, Private capacity

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Appendix 3 Timeline of events

This appendix provides a summary timeline of key recent events in Australia's engagement and withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Date Event

29 February 2020 US-Taliban Agreement signed in Qatar Conditions of the agreement include an initial drawdown of

US and allied forces from Afghanistan within 135 days of the agreement, to be followed by a complete withdrawal of US and allied forces by May 2021. The terms of the agreement were contingent on a number of factors, including a reduction of violence by the Taliban.1

12 September 2020 Intra-Afghan peace talks commence Peace talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and

the Taliban commence in Doha, with little progress being made in negotiations over the ensuing months.

November 2020 US announces drawdown of troop numbers The Trump administration orders a drawdown of US forces in

Afghanistan, with US forces reducing to 2,500 personnel by January 2021.

13 April 2021 US announcement of withdrawal by 11 September 2021

The Biden administration announces that all remaining US personnel would withdraw from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

On 2 July the US announced that it had vacated Bagram, its most important airfield in the country. On 8 July 2021, President Biden announces the US military mission in Afghanistan would conclude on 31 August 2021. 95 per cent of the US withdrawal process is completed by 20 July 2021.

14 April 2021 NATO commences military withdrawal

1 'Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which

is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America', 29 February 2020, www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf (accessed 15 October 2021).

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NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan commenced a full withdrawal from the country, working towards a 1 May 2021 deadline.

15 April 2021 Australia announces ADF withdrawal

Australian Government announces the withdrawal of remaining Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in Afghanistan. At this time, the ADF had already drawn down to 80 personnel. The final ADF personnel were withdrawn from Afghanistan in mid-June 2021.

28 May 2021 Closure of Australian embassy in Kabul

On 4 May 2021, DFAT recommends in a submission to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that the Australian Embassy Kabul be closed. On 13 May, the government makes the decision to close the embassy.

Embassy staff and locally engaged employees are advised of the decision on 21 May.

On 25 May the government publicly announces that the embassy would close on 28 May 2021. According to the public statement, it was intended that the closure would be an interim measure, with DFAT officials continuing to regularly visit Afghanistan from a post elsewhere in the region.

DFAT update travel advice on 25 May to advise that Australia’s ability to provide consular assistance would be severely limited after the embassy closure.

April-August 2021 Taliban resurgence across Afghanistan Between April and August 2021, the Taliban advances its

strategy to retake Afghanistan.

On 1 July 2021, DFAT strengthened its travel advice to urge Australians not to delay departing the country

By 16 July 2021, the Taliban are estimated to control just over half of all Afghanistan’s district centres.

By 21 July 2021 US military officials believed ‘a Taliban automatic military takeover’ was ‘not a forgone conclusion’, while also acknowledging the ‘strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban'.

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In early August, the Taliban launch assaults on two major Afghan cities, Kandahar and Herat.

The Taliban seize its first provincial capital, Zaranj, of Nimruz province, on 6 August. By 11 August, the Taliban have seized a further eight provincial capitals across the country. Kandahar and Herat fall under Taliban control by 13 August.

On 13 August, DFAT advise Australians to leave the country now, noting the airport may close or commercial flights may cease with little warning.

On 14 August, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and close advisers leave Afghanistan, signalling the collapse of the Afghan Government.

All 34 provincial capitals are under Taliban control by 15 August.

15 August 2021

Taliban forces enter Kabul

The Taliban enter Kabul and encounter little to no resistance in retaking the city, assuming control of the Afghan presidential palace.

18-26 August 2021 Australian evacuation operations A DFAT-chaired Inter-Departmental Emergency Taskforce to

coordinate Australia's evacuation response meets daily from 13 August 2021.

A team of DFAT, Home Affairs and ADF personnel enter Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) from 17 August 2021, under ADF force protection to ensure the safety of government personnel.

Between 18 and 26 August, over 4,100 people are evacuated from Kabul under the Australian evacuation effort, including Australian nationals, other foreign nationals, and visa holders at risk in Afghanistan.

A staging area is established at Al Minhad Air Base (AMAB) in the United Arab Emirates. Australia coordinates 32 evacuation flights from Kabul to its staging area AMAB between 18 and 26 August.

As of 8 October 2021, 27 flights have brought around 3,950

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evacuees from AMAB to Australia.

Sources:  Nicole Brangwin and Thea Gellerfy, 'Background to the Afghanistan withdrawal: a quick guide', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series 2021-22, 26 August 2021.

 Ruby Mellen, 'The shocking speed of the Taliban’s advance: A visual timeline', Washington Post, 16 August 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/16/taliban-timeline/ (accessed 20 October 2021).

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Submission 22. Department of Defence, Submission 20.