Australia — Stephen Smith on Afghanistan, progress and troop withdrawals

Min­is­ter for Defence — inter­view with Fran Kel­ly, Break­fast, Radio Nation­al
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith joins me now. Min­is­ter, wel­come to Break­fast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Min­is­ter, four Aus­tralian deaths in the past week or so, six fatal­i­ties this year in the Aus­tralian forces yet the CDF says we have the Tal­iban on the back foot. Why do more Aus­tralian deaths sig­nal we are win­ning this war?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we’ve always known that at the start of this fight­ing sea­son the Tal­iban would fight back and we’ve had a ter­ri­ble cou­ple of weeks for trag­ic deaths. That’s rever­ber­at­ed through the Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty and also through the Defence Force. 

But the assess­ment that the Chief of the Defence Force and I had when we returned from Afghanistan after Anzac Day was that for the first time we used the word opti­mism and Afghanistan in the same sen­tence, that we believed that we had made ground, we believed that we had start­ed to [indis­tinct] the capac­i­ty of the Tal­iban and we believe that con­tin­ues to be the case. 

But they will fight back and we have to steel our­selves for fur­ther casu­al­ties and fur­ther fatal­i­ties but we very strong­ly believe we’re on the right track and that’s cer­tain­ly the shared assess­ment that I’ve had in the course of my meet­ings here today in Brus­sels in advance of our for­mal meet­ing tomorrow.

FRAN KELLY: So that’s your mes­sage to your NATO coun­ter­parts that the Aus­tralian assess­ment is, in the Uruz­gan province, we’re winning?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we believe that through our Spe­cial Forces and Aus­tralia, of course is the tenth largest con­trib­u­tor to Afghanistan, but we’re the third largest Spe­cial Forces con­trib­u­tor — that through our Spe­cial Forces oper­a­tion we have severe­ly erod­ed the capac­i­ty of the Tal­iban to take action in Uruz­gan and that’s the con­sis­tent advice that we have from our NATO and Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force counterparts. 

Now that does­n’t mean that it’s all over. We’re a long way from that but I do believe we’ve got our­selves into a posi­tion where with anoth­er suc­cess­ful fight­ing sea­son in the course of this north­ern hemi­sphere sum­mer we may well start to put pres­sure on the Tal­iban where they come to the con­clu­sion that they can’t win a mil­i­tary con­flict and that will then start to put pres­sure on the notions of rein­te­gra­tion, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and polit­i­cal rap­proche­ment which in the end is what will bring an endur­ing solu­tion to Afghanistan.

FRAN KELLY: Do you think the Aus­tralian pub­lic is los­ing patience? A Galaxy poll this week on Australia’s com­mit­ment says 62 per cent of us want Aus­tralian troops brought home, 35 per cent said they should stay for as long as nec­es­sary. What’s your polit­i­cal take out on this issue?

STEPHEN SMITH: That does­n’t sur­prise me. I think there are two fac­tors. First­ly there’s always going to be an ebbing or a less­en­ing of sup­port for a con­flict in the face of the ter­ri­ble human and fam­i­ly tragedy that fatal­i­ties bring. 

Sec­ond­ly, as I’ve said on your show before and said to the par­lia­ment, regret­tably it has tak­en the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty far too long to get us in the posi­tion that we are in now. We saw for example-

FRAN KELLY: So we wast­ed years and lives?

STEPHEN SMITH: We have wast­ed, in my view, and by we I mean the roy­al we so to speak-


STEPHEN SMITH: ‑the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. It’s tak­en the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty five or six years too long to get to a posi­tion where we’ve got a decent mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal strat­e­gy with the resources and the per­son­nel on the ground to affect it. 

The regret­table truth is that we’ve made more ground up in the last 18 months to two years than we had pre­vi­ous­ly. We’ve seen the surge — now the surge is both a Unit­ed States and NATO surge of some 30,000 to 40,000 troops but we’ve also seen which is under-appre­ci­at­ed and in very many respects, an unno­ticed surge of Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces as well. We’ve now got about 300,000 Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces, more army than local and nation­al police and over the peri­od of the surge where we’ve seen an increase of about 40 Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force troops we’ve seen an increase of Afghan troops with­in the order of 70,000 to 80,000 and that’s — that is con­sis­tent with the approach that we’ve tak­en over the last cou­ple of years which is we have to tran­si­tion to Afghan-led secu­ri­ty responsibility. 

We don’t want to be in Afghanistan for­ev­er, we have to tran­si­tion the respon­si­bil­i­ty and the role to them and that’s why our focus now in addi­tion to the com­bat and the Spe­cial Forces oper­a­tions is the train­ing and men­tor­ing role and we believe we’re on track to com­plete that in the course of 2014. 

FRAN KELLY: Well Greens leader Bob Brown has again called for Aus­tralian troops to be with­drawn from Afghanistan, point­ing to the Cana­di­an expe­ri­ence. Let’s have a listen. 


BOB BROWN: Cana­da is with­draw­ing its troops after 156 deaths of young Cana­di­ans in Afghanistan, on the oth­er side of the world. I don’t want to see Aus­tralia hav­ing a death toll of that order.

[End of excerpt]

FRAN KELLY: Min­is­ter, will the timetable for Australia’s with­draw­al be linked to the num­ber of Aus­tralians killed?

STEPHEN SMITH: No and I cer­tain­ly don’t want to see a ter­ri­ble fatal­ly list in the order of the Canadians. 

The Cana­di­ans suf­fered ter­ri­ble fatal­i­ties and it’s to their great cred­it that they stayed and when they deter­mined as a result of their polit­i­cal process­es to with­draw their com­bat troops they decid­ed at the same time that they would con­tin­ue their pres­ence in Afghanistan with a 1000-strong train­ing role.

That’s very impor­tant because what that has effec­tive­ly enabled to occur is that as 1000 Cana­di­an train­ers come on stream it’s released a com­pa­ra­ble num­ber of Unit­ed States com­bat troops to per­form a com­bat or an enforce­ment role. 

So yes we’ve seen some coun­tries with­draw or change their con­tri­bu­tion, the Cana­di­ans and the Dutch in par­tic­u­lar giv­en that we work very close­ly with the Dutch in Uruz­gan province but the Dutch are now con­tribut­ing by way — propos­ing to con­tribute by way of a police train­ing role which is very important. 

So, yes, we’ve seen some coun­tries change or with­draw their con­tri­bu­tion but we still have a Unit­ed Nation’s man­date which sees 48 coun­tries in an Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force seek­ing to pre­vent Afghanistan and in par­tic­u­lar the Afghanistan/Pakistan bor­der area from again becom­ing a breed­ing ground for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ists and Aus­tralians have been regret­tably on the receiv­ing end of that as well. 

FRAN KELLY: Min­is­ter, in all coun­tries con­cerned and in Amer­i­ca par­tic­u­lar­ly at the moment the debate is all about how far and how fast to pull out troops from Afghanistan. 

The US Pres­i­dent said this week and I quote it’s time to recog­nise we have accom­plished a big chunk of our mis­sion, we have sta­bilised much of the coun­try and yet the US Sec­re­tary of Defense Robert Gates said from Kab­ul this week I think we should­n’t let up on the gas too much at least for the next few months. 

What mes­sage are you get­ting from Wash­ing­ton sources there in Brus­sels about plans for the timetable and inten­si­ty of the US [indis­tinct]-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I met for­mer­ly with Sec­re­tary Gates today and I’ve met with oth­er US offi­cials in the course of the last cou­ple of days. I think a num­ber of points first­ly we have to wait for the Unit­ed States Admin­is­tra­tion to make its deci­sion in terms of the imme­di­ate draw­down but Pres­i­dent Oba­ma made it clear when he com­mit­ted to an addi­tion­al 30,000 troops that he want­ed to see a draw­down com­menc­ing in the mid­dle of this year. 

Now he also indi­cat­ed that would effec­tive­ly be to use the jar­gon con­di­tions-based. And it’s a mea­sure of the suc­cess that we’ve been hav­ing which has enabled the Unit­ed States to say in the face of an increase of com­bat con­tri­bu­tion in the order of 30,000 and a NATO increase of 40,000 and an Afghan Nation­al Army increase of between 70,000 and 80,000 that they can effect a drawdown.

Now we’ll wait and see what the detail of that is but two points; first­ly my impres­sion here from dis­cus­sions is that will be mod­est rather than large or sig­nif­i­cant, firstly. 

Sec­ond­ly from our per­son­al per­spec­tive if you like if I can put it that way we don’t believe there is any risk or dan­ger that the draw­down will have any adverse impli­ca­tions for what we’re doing in Uruz­gan giv­en that in Uruz­gan we work under what is described as com­bined-task­force Uruz­gan effec­tive­ly in part­ner­ship with the Unit­ed States. 

FRAN KELLY: Min­is­ter thank you very much for join­ing us on Breakfast.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran. Thanks very much. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →