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.
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