Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on US Stryker Battalion rotation in Uruzgan Province

Aus­tralian sol­dier killed in Afghanistan; Unit­ed States Stryk­er Bat­tal­ion rota­tion in Uruz­gan Province; the 2010 ALP Nation­al Review Report
FRAN KELLY: Well, a blow to the nation, and anoth­er tragedy for an Aus­tralian fam­i­ly. That’s how Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith described the lat­est death of an Aus­tralian sol­dier in Afghanistan.
Sap­per Jamie Lar­combe was killed, along with his Afghan inter­preter, when insur­gents opened fire on a patrol in Uruz­gan Province. Sap­per Lar­combe was just 21 years old.
A state­ment released by his fam­i­ly says Jamie was a fun-lov­ing indi­vid­ual, who loved life, loved to give where he could. He’s the 23rd Aus­tralian sol­dier to be killed in Afghanistan since 2002.

Stephen Smith is the Defence Min­is­ter, who joins us in our Par­lia­ment House stu­dio now. Min­is­ter, wel­come back to Break­fast. STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, Fran. Good morning.

FRAN KELLY: Sap­per Lar­combe was the 23rd Aus­tralian sol­dier to be killed in Afghanistan, and you say he died pur­su­ing Australia’s nation­al inter­est. Can you just remind lis­ten­ers what that is in Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: We’re in Afghanistan under a Unit­ed Nations man­date, with 48 nations as part of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, to bring sta­bil­i­ty to Afghanistan so that Afghanistan can’t again become a breed­ing ground for inter­na­tion­al terrorists. 

And regret­tably, just as Aus­tralia and Aus­tralians have been on the receiv­ing end of ter­ri­ble casu­al­ties in Afghanistan, so we’ve been on the receiv­ing end of ter­ri­ble ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties, whether that’s been in our own part of the world, in Jakar­ta or Bali, or in Europe or in the Unit­ed States.

So it’s part of our effort to help stamp out inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism, that’s clear­ly in Australia’s nation­al inter­ests, it’s also in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ties’ interests.

FRAN KELLY: Does it get hard­er and hard­er to remain con­vinced about that, main­tain your con­vic­tions there, you know, one sol­dier killed, a 22 year old sol­dier killed a cou­ple of weeks ago; Jamie Lar­combe, 21 years old. It must give you pause for thought?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it always gives you pause for thought when a ter­ri­ble tragedy occurs for a fam­i­ly, and a ter­ri­ble tragedy occurs for a nation. And com­ing so soon after the death of Cor­po­ral Richard Atkin­son, it does send a shud­der through the nation. It’ll send a shud­der through the Kan­ga­roo Island com­mu­ni­ty, and Sap­per Larcombe’s fam­i­ly. This will be a ter­ri­ble time for them. 

But if I was­n’t of the view that what we were doing was right, if I was­n’t of the view that what we were doing was in our nation­al inter­ests, then of course that would cause you to real­ly stop. Every time this occurs, we do think and reflect upon what we’re doing. But we come to the same con­clu­sion, which is we are act­ing, pur­suant to the Unit­ed Nations man­date, as part of an inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty force to bring sta­bil­i­ty to Afghanistan. That’s the right thing to do for that region. It’s the right thing to do for the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, and I’m very strong­ly of the view it’s the right thing to do for Aus­tralia, and our nation­al secu­ri­ty and long term nation­al interests.

FRAN KELLY: You’ve remind­ed us again that we have to “steel our­selves for fur­ther fatal­i­ties and casu­al­ties”, yet at the same time we read that the US troops that are there in a sense to give cov­er to the Aus­tralian Men­tor­ing Task Force that’s in place, and the engi­neers in place, 300 of them are being relo­cat­ed from Uruz­gan Province to Kan­da­har. I mean, can you guar­an­tee Aus­tralians that there is enough and ade­quate pro­tec­tion there for the forces on the ground?

STEPHEN SMITH: There’s a rota­tion of Unit­ed States forces. As you know, when the Dutch left in August last year, we’re now work­ing under the ban­ner of what’s called Com­bined Team Uruz­gan, with essen­tial­ly the Unit­ed States and Aus­tralia in the lead.

The cur­rent Unit­ed States force is a so-called Stryk­er Force that’s rotat­ing with the 4th Bat­tal­ion of the 70th Armoured Reg­i­ment. On paper, peo­ple assert that there’s a 300 troop on the ground dif­fer­ence. That’s not right. There are two points to be made about that: first­ly the cur­rent Stryk­er US force oper­ates not just in Uruz­gan, but also in Kan­da­har. Its replace­ment will only oper­ate in Uruz­gan Province. 

I’m told by the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Hus­ton, that the net dif­fer­ence will be less than 100 on the ground. But most impor­tant­ly, what the Unit­ed States pro­vides, the key enablers, the fixed-wing air sup­port, heli­copters, artillery and the like, there’ll be no effec­tive change there. So these changes have been done in very close con­sul­ta­tion with Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel, both in Can­ber­ra and on the ground in Kabul. 

And indeed I’ve spo­ken myself to Colonel Creighton, who heads up the team in Uruz­gan about these changes. And the advice I’ve got, and I’ve sat­is­fied myself, is that this will effec­tive­ly con­tin­ue to pro­vide the same coop­er­a­tion, the same enablers, and the same cov­er that we have at the moment.

FRAN KELLY: It’s a del­i­cate point, isn’t it? I mean it’s not that many months ago there was one sol­dier anony­mous­ly emailed the press say­ing that one Aus­tralian sol­dier was killed because there was not enough air sup­port, and that issue was raised direct­ly with the com­man­ders, and they refut­ed that. But also the Prime Min­is­ter was told when she was there, I think you’ve prob­a­bly also been told by some Aus­tralian sol­diers, that they feel they’re spread too thin on the ground?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ve seen those remarks and the email that you refer to is part of an offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tion into the death of one of our sol­diers, and that’ll be exhaus­tive­ly con­sid­ered pub­licly in due course. 

But I think the key point to make there, often you see analy­sis or asser­tions which in the end don’t stack up, as against the for­mal advice. And you would have seen in recent times our then com­man­der on the ground, Major Gen­er­al Cantwell, and also Colonel Creighton him­self, mak­ing the point pub­licly that they were very strong­ly of the view that suf­fi­cient enablers, suf­fi­cient sup­port was on the ground. 

But in the fog of war, often ter­ri­ble things hap­pen. So of course we apply our­selves very assid­u­ous­ly towards these issues, we look very care­ful­ly in an ongo­ing way on force pro­tec­tion, and the sup­port that is there. And the advice that I con­tin­ue to get, and as I say, I’ve spo­ken to Colonel Creighton myself, is that this rota­tion by US forces leaves our com­bined Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Uruz­gan with effec­tive­ly the same capac­i­ty on the ground, and the same cov­er so far as the enablers, heli­copters, artillery and the like, are concerned.

FRANK KELLY: It’s 12 min­utes to eight on Radio Nation­al Break­fast, our guest this morn­ing is Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith. 

Min­is­ter, some of our sol­diers in Afghanistan are involved direct­ly in detainee man­age­ment and there’s been an alle­ga­tion by a sol­dier that some ADF mem­bers may not have com­plied with pro­ce­dures relat­ing to the man­age­ment and admin­is­tra­tive pro­cess­ing of detainees. Is there an inves­ti­ga­tion into that and what is it finding?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes there is an inves­ti­ga­tion. You might recall at the end of last year I announced pub­licly what our new detainee man­age­ment arrange­ments would be. Again pri­or to the Dutch leav­ing in August of last year, they were respon­si­ble for detainee man­age­ment. We’ve now tak­en over that task and I made the point at the time that I would give reg­u­lar pub­lic and Par­lia­men­tary updates. And last week I drew atten­tion to a cou­ple of very impor­tant mat­ters, one of which was alle­ga­tions against some of our per­son­nel work­ing in our cen­tre in Tarin Kowt, that they weren’t fol­low­ing appro­pri­ate procedures. 

That’s been the sub­ject and is the sub­ject of an inves­ti­ga­tion. It’s being treat­ed very seri­ous­ly by the inves­ti­gat­ing body and also by the ADF, the Aus­tralian Defence Force itself. I’m being updat­ed on a reg­u­lar basis by the Chief of the Defence Force about that investigation. 

When I was advised about the inves­ti­ga­tion, I was also advised of some tech­ni­cal prob­lems with our CCTV arrange­ments in that hold­ing cen­tre in Tarin Kowt. So we’re treat­ing these issues very seri­ous­ly, as we should. But the results of the inves­ti­ga­tion we won’t know for some time yet and it’s not appro­pri­ate for me to go into any of the detail until that exhaus­tive inves­ti­ga­tion has been done. But I’ve already indi­cat­ed I’ll make the sub­stance of that inves­ti­ga­tion and the out­comes pub­licly known as I should.

FRANK KELLY: Min­is­ter, can I switch to anoth­er top­ic now, the ALP review from John Faulkn­er, Bob Carr and Steve Bracks was released on Fri­day, a cou­ple of parts weren’t released. One rec­om­men­da­tion we know that is out in the open though is that it finds that when Cau­cus change the rules to allow the leader, the Par­lia­men­tary leader to choose the front bench, this was in breach of the Labor Par­ty Prin­ci­ples of Organ­i­sa­tion which says the front bench has to be elect­ed and this needs to be fixed up at the Nation­al Conference. 

What do you think should hap­pen here? Are you for the Par­lia­men­tary leader to be able to direct­ly choose their front bench?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the end it will be a mat­ter for the Nation­al Conference.

FRANK KELLY: What’s you view?

STEPHEN SMITH: My own view is that I think in the mod­ern day it’s per­fect­ly appro­pri­ate for the leader of the day, for the Prime Min­is­ter of the day, to choose his or her Min­istry. I think there’s a real­i­ty which is that if a Min­is­ter los­es the con­fi­dence of the Prime Min­is­ter, whether that Min­is­ter has become a Min­is­ter because of a vote of the cau­cus or because of selec­tion by the Prime Min­is­ter, if a Min­is­ter los­es the con­fi­dence of the Prime Min­is­ter, that’s either it for the Min­is­ter or it’s it for the Prime Min­is­ter. Gen­er­al­ly it’s it for the Minister. 

So I don’t have any dif­fi­cul­ty with the way in which we’ve moved on this mat­ter. In the end Min­is­ters and Prime Min­is­ters are account­able and respon­si­ble to the Par­lia­ment and to the pub­lic, but in the mod­ern day I don’t have any dif­fi­cul­ty with the way in which we’ve moved in this area.

FRANK KELLY: The Faulkn­er-Carr-Bracks Review also rec­om­mends that rank-and-file mem­bers be giv­en a lot more direct say in things, includ­ing the right to elect State Par­ty Pres­i­dents. At the moment most who are appoint­ed seems to be by the Right fac­tion unions. As a for­mer State Sec­re­tary of WA, do you sup­port a change like that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well a cou­ple of things. I think as a mod­ern polit­i­cal par­ty we have had increas­ing dif­fi­cul­ty over the years in con­tin­u­ing to have a large active mem­ber­ship which is well based and reflec­tive of the community. 

Mod­ern soci­ety is not geared well to peo­ple turn­ing up tra­di­tion­al­ly to branch meet­ings. You get more infor­ma­tion from the ABC than you do from a branch meet­ing. You get more infor­ma­tion from emails and inter­net than you do from a branch meet­ing. So there’s a big chal­lenge there. 

I have for some time been attract­ed very much to the notion of giv­ing reg­is­tered ALP sup­port­ers in the com­mu­ni­ty a role and that’s part of the rec­om­men­da­tions that we’ve seen, the notion of some rough equiv­a­lent to a US pri­ma­ry. But we do have a chal­lenge and it’s not just the chal­lenge for the Aus­tralian Labor Par­ty, it’s a chal­lenge for mod­ern Australia’s pol­i­tics and democ­ra­cy of hav­ing peo­ple active and inter­est­ed, tak­ing part in the man­age­ment and the affairs of a polit­i­cal par­ty and the nation gen­er­al­ly. And any­thing we can do to make the work and the con­tri­bu­tion of branch mem­bers more real and more viable, I think, is a very good thing. 

But we also have to accept the real­i­ty that in the mod­ern world peo­ple these days get their infor­ma­tion from a wide vari­ety of sources and we have to tap into that and tap into the mil­lions of peo­ple who sup­port Labor through thick and thin at State and Fed­er­al lev­el on an ongo­ing basis, but play­ing no real role in the affairs of the Par­ty itself. FRANK KELLY: Stephen Smith thank you very much for join­ing us on Breakfast.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran, thanks very much. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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 →