Australia’s Efforts in Afghanistan — Minister for Defence Question Without Notice

I thank the mem­ber for his question.

Our efforts in Afghanistan are of course cen­tred upon the 1,550 troop com­mit­ment we have in Uruz­gan Province, as well as the sub­stan­tial diplo­mat­ic, civil­ian and devel­op­ment assis­tance effort that we make both in Kab­ul and in Uruz­gan Province.

I know—and this was reflect­ed by the con­do­lence motion we had yes­ter­day, when the Prime Min­is­ter, the Leader of the Oppo­si­tion and the Mem­ber for Fad­den spoke—that those indi­vid­ual, per­son­al con­tri­bu­tions and sac­ri­fices are very much appre­ci­at­ed by the House.

We will, we hope in the course of this year, pro­vide the oppor­tu­ni­ty through a par­lia­men­tary debate for all mem­bers of the House to com­ment upon the strate­gic com­mit­ment that we are mak­ing to Afghanistan. I have been in dis­cus­sions with the Leader of the House about the nature and tim­ing of that debate. The Leader of the House will con­sult inter­est­ed par­ties in due course. At this stage we want to hold the debate and pro­vide that oppor­tu­ni­ty in the course of this year.

Last week I was in Kab­ul and Uruz­gan Province with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Defence. 

In Kab­ul I met with two Afghan Ministers—the Min­is­ter for Defence, Min­is­ter War­dak, and the Min­is­ter for the Inte­ri­or, Min­is­ter Moham­ma­di. What struck me was their very strong com­mit­ment to the tran­si­tion to Afghan author­i­ties of secu­ri­ty arrange­ments and their strong and deep com­mit­ment to the train­ing process now in place. Our mis­sion in Uruz­gan Province, of course, is to train the Afghan Nation­al Army and to assist in the train­ing of Afghan police to enable the Afghan author­i­ties to take care of secu­ri­ty mat­ters themselves.

In Kab­ul I also met with Gen­er­al Petraeus at Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force head­quar­ters and dis­cussed a num­ber of points of inter­est to the House.

First­ly, ISAF and Gen­er­al Petraeus, and our Unit­ed States ally, very much appre­ci­ate the work we do in Afghanistan, not just those per­son­nel in Uruz­gan but also the embed­ded Aus­tralian defence per­son­nel in ISAF head­quar­ters. They are very much appre­ci­at­ed by ISAF, which is a Unit­ed Nations man­dat­ed force. 

I also met with Ambas­sador Sed­will, NATO’s Senior Civil­ian Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and indi­cat­ed to both Gen­er­al Petraeus and Ambas­sador Sed­will that we were look­ing favourably at the prospect of pro­vid­ing more police train­ers and that we would ensure that with­in the allo­ca­tion of 1,550 we would pro­vide the 20 addi­tion­al artillery train­ers which have been request­ed by NATO.

In Tarin Kowt, in Uruz­gan Province, I met with our offi­cers and our troops. They have been doing it tough, as the con­do­lence motion yes­ter­day reflect­ed, but are mak­ing good progress on the train­ing of the Afghan Nation­al Army. We start­ed that task in Decem­ber 2008 and it has only been very recent­ly that we have been train­ing all of the Kan­daks of the Afghan Nation­al Army 4th Brigade. This is mak­ing a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the effort. 

I spoke with the CDF, the Sec­re­tary and with our offi­cers and troops on the ground about force pro­tec­tion mea­sures. Over the last 12 months the Gov­ern­ment has increased force pro­tec­tion mea­sures by over $1.1 bil­lion and these are in the course of being imple­ment­ed in Afghanistan. The Sec­re­tary, the CDF and I came away from Afghanistan want­i­ng to see whether it was pos­si­ble for us to do more so far as force pro­tec­tion is con­cerned, in the IED area, which has been very prob­lem­at­ic as far as our troops are concerned.

We are also very pleased that the tran­si­tion to the Com­bined Team Uruzgan—now with the Unit­ed States pres­ence, fol­low­ing the with­draw­al of the Dutch—has gone very well. We will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss all of these mat­ters and more in the course of the par­lia­men­tary debate, and the Gov­ern­ment is very much look­ing for­ward to that. 

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

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