Press conference transcript — Stephen Smith — Flight Line, Kabul

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. I want­ed to give you some brief com­ments on the meet­ing I had last night with Gen­er­al Petraeus. First­ly, we met over din­ner and then for an hour or so, so all up a cou­ple of hours.

First­ly, it was a com­pre­hen­sive meet­ing and brief­ing and I wel­comed that very much from Gen­er­al Petraeus. I of course met Gen­er­al Petraeus before when he was in Bagh­dad.

The first point that Gen­er­al Petraeus made was how hap­py he is with the con­tri­bu­tion that Aus­tralia is mak­ing to the effort in Afghanistan at two lev­els. First­ly, the sub­stan­tial nature of our con­tri­bu­tion: we are of course the largest non NATO con­trib­u­tor and in the top dozen con­trib­u­tors. Sec­ond­ly, the qual­i­ty of that effort. He made a par­tic­u­lar point about the Aus­tralian staff who oper­ate in the ISAF Head­quar­ters and the Aus­tralian staff who are embed­ded into US or ISAF oper­a­tions.

Sec­ond­ly, I won’t char­ac­terise or cat­e­gorise Gen­er­al Petraeus’ suc­cess of the effort, you would need to ask him, but as a result of that brief­ing and dis­cus­sions I had yes­ter­day I am cau­tious­ly opti­mistic that progress is being made on the two essen­tial fea­tures of this strat­e­gy. First­ly, the tran­si­tion to Afghan forces so far as secu­ri­ty is con­cerned and sec­ond­ly, on the change of front and I made sim­i­lar remarks fol­low­ing my meet­ings yes­ter­day with the Afghanistan Defence and Inte­ri­or Min­is­ters. We spoke about a cou­ple of mat­ters; first­ly, as I had with the Afghan Min­is­ters, we spoke about the poten­tial for Aus­tralia to con­tribute more so far as train­ing police is con­cerned, and as I indi­cat­ed yes­ter­day pub­licly, I also indi­cat­ed to Gen­er­al Petraeus that I am very pleased and very hap­py to take back to my col­leagues the sug­ges­tion that we look to see whether we can do more so far as police train­ing is con­cerned.

Gen­er­al Petraeus and I also spoke about whether it might be pos­si­ble for Aus­tralia to pro­vide more artillery sup­port in the artillery train­ing area and we had a look at this. It’s a mat­ter that had been raised infor­mal­ly with the Chief of the Defence Force dur­ing the care­tak­er peri­od. I have had a con­ver­sa­tion with the Chief of the Defence Force and we believe that we are able to, with­in the exist­ing 1550 con­tri­bu­tion, make an addi­tion­al con­tri­bu­tion to artillery train­ing up to about 20 addi­tion­al artillery train­ers and that would be done with­in the exist­ing 1550 arrange­ment by chang­ing func­tions and the like. So Gen­er­al Petraeus was hap­py on that front and pleased that we are look­ing to see if we can do more so far as train­ing police is con­cerned.

As you know, we are about to get on a plane to Tarin Kot to see on the ground exact­ly what we are doing in Uruz­gan Province so I am look­ing very much for­ward to that.

I’m hap­py to take a few quick ques­tions before we get on the plane.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter Smith, just on the over­all num­bers of Aus­tralian troops in [inaudi­ble] par­tic­u­lar artillery train­ers, will you just recon­fig­ure the cur­rent amount we’ve got here?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, yes,

QUESTION: You wouldn’t be adding anoth­er 20?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. We do pro­vide some sup­port so far as artillery train­ing is con­cerned as I under­stand it, we’d pro­vide up to an addi­tion­al 20, that would be done with­in the exist­ing com­ple­ment and is done by chang­ing func­tions and rota­tions and the like but it will be done with­in the exist­ing 1550.

QUESTION: Where will they come from?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’d need to get that detail from the CDF but I’m sure in due course we’d be hap­py to pro­vide that.

QUESTION: They’d be high­ly qual­i­fied per­son­nel?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well they would cer­tain­ly be qual­i­fied as artillery train­ers. I can assure you of that.

QUESTION: And does that meet the request as far as you’re aware of?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I said to you yes­ter­day when I spoke to you yes­ter­day, the only request I have had, the request to me per­son­al­ly yes­ter­day, was whether we could do more so far as police train­ing is con­cerned and we are going to take a pos­i­tive look at that. I will obvi­ous­ly go back and have a con­ver­sa­tion with my min­is­te­r­i­al col­leagues, the Attor­ney Gen­er­al, the Min­is­ter for Home Affairs and also the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, and we will make a judg­ment about that but I am pos­i­tive­ly dis­posed to that and the sec­ond one was the artillery which I’ve dealt with.

QUESTION: Do you have a num­ber in mind for police train­ing?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don’t want to put a num­ber on it. I just want to go back, have a con­ver­sa­tion with my col­leagues and see whether in-prin­ci­ple we can affect it and make an announce­ment in due course. But we are pos­i­tive­ly dis­posed to it. It is quite clear that in terms of mak­ing com­par­isons or being rel­a­tive about it that the train­ing effort for the Afghan Nation­al Army is fur­ther advanced than train­ing for the police force, so we are hap­py to see if we can make an addi­tion­al con­tri­bu­tion.

QUESTION: In dis­cussing time frames, for Australia’s involve­ment in the wider draw­down and the… [inaudi­ble]

STEPHEN SMITH: The only timetable we spoke about was the 2014 tran­si­tion as indi­cat­ed by the Afghanistan Con­fer­ence here in Kab­ul. Ok thanks.

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

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