Minister for Defence Stephen Smith about Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan

I thank the mem­ber for Oxley for his ques­tion.

The ratio­nale for the pro­vi­sion of artillery train­ers is the same as the ratio­nale for our mis­sion in Afghanistan and Uruz­gan Province gen­er­al­ly: to train the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces to put them in a posi­tion of being able to han­dle, man­age and cater for secu­ri­ty issues. That is why we are train­ing the Afghan Nation­al Army and mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion to train­ing the Afghan police force.

This is con­sis­tent with the Afghanistan Con­fer­ence recent­ly held in Kab­ul to set the timetable for a tran­si­tion to secu­ri­ty arrange­ments to Afghan author­i­ties by 2014 and con­sis­tent with the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force that our mis­sion in Uruz­gan Province can be effect­ed over a two- to four-year timetable. I think the nature and scope of our mis­sion will be bet­ter under­stood as a result of the Par­lia­men­tary debate, and the Gov­ern­ment looks for­ward to that, as I indi­cat­ed yes­ter­day. I am also asked about oth­er per­son­nel and equip­ment. It is worth rec­ol­lect­ing of course that just over a year ago the Gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted itself to increas­ing our con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan from 1,100 to 1,550, effec­tive­ly a 40 per cent increase, and we did that in advance of the US, ISAF and NATO surge, which, rule of thumb, was also about 40 per cent.

It is also worth remem­ber­ing we are not there alone. Often peo­ple make com­ments about these mat­ters as if we were there by our­selves. We are not. We are part of an inter­na­tion­al coali­tion both in Afghanistan gen­er­al­ly and in Uruz­gan Province and, as a con­se­quence of that, we of course have access to ISAF enablers, air, artillery and the like.

It is also impor­tant to remem­ber that the Gov­ern­ment has recent­ly embarked upon a pro­gram of over $1.1 bil­lion worth of force pro­tec­tion mea­sures, and they are cur­rent­ly under way. As I indi­cat­ed when I returned from Afghanistan with the CDF and the Sec­re­tary of Defence, we are look­ing at whether more mea­sures can be effect­ed so far as coun­ter­ing road­side boo­by traps or IEDs is con­cerned. We fol­low the advice of the CDF in these mat­ters.

As the Leader of the Oppo­si­tion cor­rect­ly said in the course of the elec­tion cam­paign, if addi­tion­al con­tri­bu­tions are to be made they should appro­pri­ate­ly be made on the advice of the CDF, and con­sis­tent­ly the CDF has advised, again con­firmed today, that the nature and amount of our con­tri­bu­tion is suf­fi­cient and appro­pri­ate for the pur­pos­es of our mis­sion.

I have seen the sug­ges­tions of oth­ers and because we are deal­ing with a dis­po­si­tion of Aus­tralian forces over­seas in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, of course we lis­ten to what oth­ers say and take them into account. Let me refer to some of them. The first one is a sen­si­tive mat­ter. Of course, all of the aspects aris­ing from the email as a result of the death of Lance Cor­po­ral MacK­in­ney, as I have made clear and as the CDF has made clear, will be tak­en into account in the course of that inves­ti­ga­tion. We should not dis­turb that process. As the Mem­ber for Fad­den cor­rect­ly said the oth­er day, and as I agree with him, we should not sec­ond-guess that. All of those mat­ters which go to alleged oper­a­tional safe­ty or oper­a­tional weak­ness­es will be con­sid­ered as part of that.

The num­ber of troops in Uruz­gan province is now greater than it was when the Dutch were there. Our train­ing which we effect, which is now all of the Kan­daks of the Afghan Nation­al Army 4th Bat­tal­ion, is not done in iso­la­tion. I have seen the sug­ges­tion from the Shad­ow Min­is­ter for Defence that we should put into Uruz­gan any­where from an addi­tion­al 450 to 650 troops. I am sure that will be con­sid­ered in the course of the Par­lia­men­tary debate. The Leader of the Oppo­si­tion has cor­rect­ly said that he will look at these mat­ters on the advice of the CDF. I sim­ply make the obser­va­tion that I have made pre­vi­ous­ly: that is not the advice that I have received as late as today but we are always hap­py to ensure the Leader of the Oppo­si­tion has access to the most up-to-date advice from the CDF.

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

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