Australia — Stephen Smith on NATO / ISAF Defence Ministers’ Meeting

Inter­ven­tion by Stephen Smith MP Min­is­ter for Defence
NATO / ISAF Defence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing
NATO Head­quar­ters Brus­sels, Bel­gium 9 June 2011

This NATO/International Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force (ISAF) Defence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing comes at a dif­fi­cult time for Aus­tralia with the trag­ic deaths of four Aus­tralian sol­diers over the past two weeks.

This will not weak­en Australia’s resolve to see our mis­sion through in Uruz­gan Province, nor cast doubt on Australia’s view that progress is being made. 

It has tak­en us too many years to get to this point, but the surge, and our spe­cial forces oper­a­tions, are working. 

There is no doubt that addi­tion­al ISAF and Afghan resources have enabled clear and hold oper­a­tions to occur with more con­fi­dence and to greater effect. 

Aus­tralia is the tenth largest troop con­trib­u­tor in Afghanistan with around 1550 personnel. 

Impor­tant­ly in our cur­rent con­text, Aus­tralia is the third largest con­trib­u­tor of Spe­cial Forces to Afghanistan, with per­son­nel deployed to the Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Task Group based in Tarin Kot, and oper­at­ing in Uruz­gan and adjoin­ing provinces, includ­ing Hel­mand and Kandahar. 

Part­nered Spe­cial Forces oper­a­tions have killed or cap­tured insur­gent lead­ers, tak­ing them off the bat­tle­field, dis­rupt­ing insur­gent activ­i­ty across Afghanistan. 

Aus­tralia remains con­fi­dent that between now and the end of 2014, we will effect a tran­si­tion to Afghan-led respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty in Uruzgan. 

Part­ner­ing, train­ing and men­tor­ing – repli­cat­ed as it is across the coun­try — is build­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. 

The ISAF surge has been more than matched over the same peri­od by a surge of 80,000 in the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces, which now num­ber some 300 000. 

There are more Afghan sol­diers and police offi­cers and they are more capable. 

As Afghan forces take on more front line roles, this allows us to per­form oth­er tasks, includ­ing insti­tu­tion­al or niche high­er lev­el training. 

But while the nature of Australia’s com­mit­ment will evolve, it will not diminish. 

We can­not risk the recent gains so hard fought for. 

Our objec­tive in Afghanistan will not be achieved by a mil­i­tary solu­tion alone, but these mil­i­tary gains are essen­tial in build­ing the pres­sure on the Tal­iban to open up pos­si­bil­i­ties for rein­te­gra­tion, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and polit­i­cal settlement. 

Only by keep­ing the mil­i­tary pres­sure on will Tal­iban insur­gents con­cede they can’t win mil­i­tar­i­ly, that time is not on their side and they can’t wait out the inter­na­tion­al community. 

At the same time, bet­ter secu­ri­ty must enable bet­ter governance. 

In Uruz­gan, bet­ter secu­ri­ty is enabling our Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team to increase its efforts to build the Afghan Government’s capac­i­ty to deliv­er basic ser­vices and pro­vide eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties to its people. 

Our imme­di­ate chal­lenge in Uruz­gan is sup­port­ing new Gov­er­nor Shirzad’s efforts to improve gov­er­nance and ser­vice deliv­ery through the appoint­ment of com­pe­tent dis­trict gov­er­nors and directors. 

In this respect, I wel­come the estab­lish­ment of the NATO Rule of Law Field Sup­port Mission. 

NATO and ISAF mem­bers made the impor­tant long-term com­mit­ment at the Lis­bon Sum­mit last year to sup­port Afghanistan beyond the tran­si­tion of secu­ri­ty responsibility. 

I agree with Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ras­mussen that it is now time­ly to start a con­ver­sa­tion about our post-tran­si­tion objec­tives, man­date and structure. 

For Australia’s part, as Prime Min­is­ter Gillard has made clear, fol­low­ing the tran­si­tion to Afghan-led respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty in 2014 Aus­tralia expects to remain in Afghanistan in some form, such as Spe­cial Forces oper­a­tions, secu­ri­ty over-watch, capac­i­ty build­ing, insti­tu­tion build­ing or train­ing roles. 

We look for­ward to work­ing through the details of that pres­ence in due course with the Afghan Gov­ern­ment and our ISAF partners. 

Aus­tralia remains com­mit­ted to sta­bil­is­ing the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan and to men­tor­ing and train­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces to enable them to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for security. 

There will be bad days, set­backs and hard times as we have seen recently. 

The Tal­iban will strike back and try to recov­er ground, and they will also, as we know, try to use high-pro­file inci­dents as pro­pa­gan­da events to under­mine confidence. 

There is still a way to go and there will be more fatalities. 

But Aus­tralia believes we have the mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal strat­e­gy in place and the resources and the peo­ple on the ground to deliv­er it. If the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­ues on this, our agreed path, we will pre­vent Afghanistan from again becom­ing a breed­ing ground for inter­na­tion­al terrorism. 

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

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