Afghanistan/Australia — Paper presented by the Minister for Defence on casualties, procedural issues etc.

Paper pre­sent­ed by the Min­is­ter for Defence, Stephen Smith, MP on Afghanistan Tabled in con­junc­tion with a Min­is­te­r­i­al State­ment on 23 March 2011
As I said dur­ing last year’s Par­lia­men­tary debate on Afghanistan, “there can be no more seri­ous endeav­our for any coun­try or Gov­ern­ment than to send its mil­i­tary forces into con­flict”.
That is why it is appro­pri­ate that Australia’s com­mit­ment to Afghanistan is the sub­ject of ongo­ing Par­lia­men­tary and pub­lic scruti­ny.
As part of this, the Gov­ern­ment and I are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing reg­u­lar reports and updates on Afghanistan, includ­ing to the Par­lia­ment.
My report on this occa­sion includes the recent NATO and Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force (ISAF) Defence Min­is­ters’ meet­ing in Brus­sels, which I attend­ed ear­li­er this month.

Why we are there

It is worth remind­ing our­selves why we are in Afghanistan and what our goal is.

The Government’s strong view is that it is in our nation­al inter­est to be in Afghanistan, not just with our Alliance part­ner the Unit­ed States, but also with 46 oth­er mem­bers of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty act­ing under a Unit­ed Nations man­date.

Aus­tralia has a respon­si­bil­i­ty to help stare down inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism and ensure sta­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan.

Our fun­da­men­tal goal is to pre­vent Afghanistan from again being used by ter­ror­ists to plan and train for attacks on inno­cent civil­ians, includ­ing Aus­tralians in our own region and beyond.

To achieve that goal we must help pre­pare the Afghan Gov­ern­ment to take lead respon­si­bil­i­ty for pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty for the Afghan peo­ple.

We must sta­bilise the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion and men­tor and train the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces.

Progress

There are signs that the inter­na­tion­al community’s recent troop surge, com­bined now with a strong mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal strat­e­gy, has reversed the Taliban’s momen­tum.

This progress is incre­men­tal and hard-won, but it is appar­ent.

As Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Com­man­der Gen­er­al Petraeus told the US Con­gress on 15 March, dis­tricts west of Kan­da­har city – the birth­place of the Tal­iban – have recent­ly been cleared by ISAF and Afghan troops.

In recent months, there has been a four­fold increase in the num­ber of weapons and explo­sive caches turned in and found.

Around 700 for­mer Tal­iban have now offi­cial­ly rein­te­grat­ed with Afghan author­i­ties, with some 2,000 more in var­i­ous stages of the rein­te­gra­tion process.

But I do urge cau­tion.

Unit­ed States Defense Intel­li­gence Agency head, Gen­er­al Ron Burgess, has cau­tioned that “the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion remains frag­ile and heav­i­ly depen­dent on ISAF sup­port” and that the Tal­iban “remain[s] resilient and will be able to threat­en US and inter­na­tion­al goals in Afghanistan through 2011”.

We must expect push back from the Tal­iban, par­tic­u­lar­ly in areas recent­ly claimed by ISAF and Afghan troops, when this year’s fight­ing sea­son com­mences in April or May.

We do need to steel our­selves for a tough fight­ing sea­son.

Unit­ed States Sec­re­tary of Defense Gates was cor­rect when he said in Afghanistan on 8 March that the com­ing spring and sum­mer fight­ing sea­sons would present an ‘acid test’ of whether our gains could hold.

As well, the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty must con­tin­ue to press Pres­i­dent Karzai and his Gov­ern­ment to deliv­er on his under­tak­ings at the Lon­don Con­fer­ence in Jan­u­ary 2010 to improve gov­er­nance, pur­sue elec­toral reform, take effec­tive anti-cor­rup­tion and anti-nar­cotics mea­sures and cre­ate social and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties for all the Afghan peo­ple, includ­ing Afghan women and girls.

As Unit­ed States Nation­al Intel­li­gence Direc­tor Jim Clap­per advised the Unit­ed States Con­gress recent­ly, which he repeat­ed to me when I met him in Aus­tralia recent­ly, there remains con­cern about the abil­i­ty of the Afghan Gov­ern­ment to deliv­er on gov­er­nance.

With­out progress on gov­er­nance, secu­ri­ty gains will remain frag­ile.

Inter­na­tion­al com­mit­ment

Lead­ers of the 48 ISAF coun­tries met at the Lis­bon Sum­mit last Novem­ber and resolved that a con­di­tions-based tran­si­tion to Afghan led secu­ri­ty begin in 2011, with the aspi­ra­tion of com­plet­ing tran­si­tion by the end of 2014.

NATO and ISAF mem­bers also made an impor­tant long term com­mit­ment to sup­port Afghanistan beyond the tran­si­tion of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty.

Good progress has been made since the Lis­bon Sum­mit, with the first Joint Afghan-NATO Inte­qal Board report on tran­si­tion and the devel­op­ment of ISAF Tran­si­tion Imple­men­ta­tion Prin­ci­ples.

Aus­tralia endors­es the first Inte­qal report and its rec­om­men­da­tion to begin tran­si­tion, as the Brus­sels NATO-ISAF Defence Min­is­ters also did, and as announced by Pres­i­dent Karzai on 22 March, which I will refer to short­ly.

The Inte­qal report’s com­mit­ment to coor­di­nate tran­si­tion plan­ning with both Afghan and ISAF stake­hold­ers will ensure all part­ners are con­sult­ed through­out the tran­si­tion process, includ­ing on future tranch­es for tran­si­tion.

It is essen­tial to get this right, to ensure the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the tran­si­tion process.

As the Prime Min­is­ter said at the Lis­bon Sum­mit, there is no point tran­si­tion­ing out only to have to tran­si­tion back in lat­er.

The ISAF Tran­si­tion Imple­men­ta­tion Prin­ci­ples empha­sise a shared, long-term com­mit­ment, a prop­er­ly resourced mis­sion, and invest­ment and rein­vest­ment in train­ing.

I attend­ed the recent NATO-ISAF Defence Min­is­ters’ meet­ing in Brus­sels.

Build­ing upon the Lis­bon Sum­mit, this meet­ing deliv­ered the mes­sage that ISAF part­ners are com­mit­ted to achiev­ing a con­di­tions based, irre­versible and sus­tain­able tran­si­tion of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces.

Work­ing hand in hand with the Afghan Gov­ern­ment, ISAF intends to com­plete the hand­ing over of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan author­i­ties by the end of 2014.

This is an achiev­able task, and it has already start­ed.