Minister for Defence – Paper tabled by the Minister for Defence on Afghanistan

The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan.

This year, I have reported to the Parliament on four prior occasions.

In February, I provided an update to Parliament on progress in Afghanistan.

In May, I reported to Parliament twice, once on Australia’s detainee management arrangements and, on my return from Chicago, on the outcomes of the NATO/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Leaders’ Summit, which I attended with the Prime Minister.

In August, I reported to Parliament on key developments in Afghanistan.

This update follows my visit to Tarin Kot on 8 October and my attendance at the NATO / International Security Assistance Force Defence Ministers Meeting in Brussels, 9-10 October.

Recent Fatalities in Afghanistan

Tragically since my last Ministerial Statement, six Australian soldiers have been killed in action in Afghanistan.

In August we suffered our worst 24 hours in combat since Vietnam.  Sapper James Martin, Lance Corporal Stjepan (Rick) Milosevic and Private Robert Poate, were murdered at Patrol Base Wahab in Uruzgan when a lone individual wearing an Afghan National Army (ANA) uniform fired a weapon into a group of Australian soldiers from close range.  Then two Commandos, Private Nathanael Galagher and Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, were killed in a helicopter crash in Helmand Province.

On 21 October, Corporal Scott Smith, a member of the Special Operations Engineer Regiment, was killed on operations.

I again express condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of our lost soldiers.

We have now suffered 39 fatalities overall in Afghanistan and seven fatalities this year.   We have also suffered 242 wounded in total, with 29 wounded this year.

Visit to Afghanistan

I visited Afghanistan on 8 October.  This was my fifth visit as Defence Minister.

My discussions with Australian, Afghan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) colleagues in Uruzgan focused on progress in the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan, and force protection arrangements being undertaken following recent insider or green-on-blue attacks.

Australian and ISAF commanders continue to be confident that we are on track to transfer to Afghan-led security in Uruzgan over the next 12 to 15 months.

I was briefed by outgoing US Commander of Combined Team – Uruzgan (CT-U), Colonel Gerald Hadley, and thanked him for the important contribution he has made to the US-Australia partnership in Uruzgan.

I met with the then Australian Deputy Commander of CT-U Colonel Ben James, and the then Australian Commander of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) Task Force Lieutenant Colonel Trent Scott.  We discussed the progress in the training and mentoring of the Afghan National Army Fourth Brigade in Uruzgan.

I also met and was briefed by the Commander of the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) Lieutenant Colonel I.  SOTG continues to make good progress disrupting the insurgency in and around Uruzgan Province and impeding the flow of funding to the insurgency.

I had the opportunity to address Australian troops at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot, listening to their views and answering their questions.  I took the opportunity to express Australia’s support and gratitude for the sacrifice made by our men and women in uniform.

I visited the Role 2 Medical Facility at Multi-National Base Tarin Kot.  This is where Australian troops wounded in battle or injured during their work receive initial treatment.  I thanked Australian and United States medical personnel for their invaluable work on behalf of the Australian people.

I again visited the Initial Screening Area in which the processing and interrogation of Afghan detainees is undertaken.  Australia takes seriously the treatment of detainees and the Government is committed to transparent detainee management arrangements in Afghanistan.

I also met with Uruzgan Governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada and his Provincial security chiefs, the Commander of the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army Brigadier Zafar Khan, the Provincial Chief of Police Brigadier Mattiullah Khan, and the Provincial Chief of the National Directorate of Security Colonel Khan Mohammed Khan.

We discussed the importance for transition of the close partnership between the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security under the leadership of the Provincial Governor and the mentoring of CT-U.

During my visit to Tarin Kot, I had the opportunity to thank Ambassador Paul Foley for his outstanding contribution over almost 3 years to Australia’s national security interests in Afghanistan.  I look forward to working with Ambassador Jon Philp who recently arrived in Kabul.

Update on Operations and Transition

Across Afghanistan, transition is proceeding, with 75 per cent of the Afghan population now living in areas under transition to Afghan security lead.

As recently highlighted by NATO Secretary General, Fogh Rasmussen, enemy-initiated attacks in and around Kabul fell by 17 per cent in the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Furthermore, Afghan security forces led the response when such attacks did occur.

Violence levels in Uruzgan Province are below those seen in 2010 and 2011 but the risk of IEDs, high profile propaganda style attacks and insider attacks remains.

Transition is also proceeding in Uruzgan, with Australian and ISAF commanders confident that we are on track to transition to Afghan-led security in the province over the next 12-15 months.

Since my last Ministerial Statement, there have been three significant developments in relation to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan Province.

On 17 July, transition to Afghan security lead commenced for the four infantry kandaks and the two combat support kandaks of the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

On 6 October, the 3rd Infantry Kandak of the 4th Brigade commenced operations independently without advisors.

The remaining three 4th Brigade infantry kandaks are currently rated as effective with advisors, and those kandaks are expected to commence independent operations by the end of the year.

Independent operations do not mean the end of a role for the ADF.

The ADF task group will progressively shift emphasis from partnering and mentoring at kandak level to advising at Headquarters 4th Brigade level and at the Afghan Operational Coordination Centre – Provincial in Uruzgan. 

The ADF task group will remain combat ready and ready to assist Afghan Forces should the need arise.

The ADF will also continue to advise the two combat support and combat service support (logistics) kandaks.

This week, 65 Air Force personnel from 395 Expeditionary Combat Support Wing will take responsibility for security at Multinational Base Tarin Kot from Slovakian forces.

I take this opportunity to thank Slovakia for their work in providing base security.

Slovakia will continue its mentoring role of the 4th Brigade logistics Kandak.

This deployment will not result in a net increase to the average of ADF personnel in Afghanistan and coincides with the ADF’s move from a ‘mentoring’ role to an ‘advisory’ role with the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade.

On 18 October, Australia assumed the leadership role of Combined Team-Uruzgan (CT-U).

Australia sees leadership of the CT-U as part of the transition process through which security responsibility will be transferred from ISAF to the ANSF.

Australia sees this as the appropriate time to take the leadership role in Uruzgan Province, to help ensure that transition in Uruzgan is effected in a seamless way.

Assuming leadership of CT-U will not require an increase in the overall average size of Australia’s presence in Uruzgan.

Australia looks forward to continuing to work with our CT-U partners – the United States, Singapore and Slovakia – to progress transition in Uruzgan to the Afghan authorities.

Visit to Brussels

Following my visit to Afghanistan, I visited Brussels to participate in the NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Afghanistan on 9 and 10 October.

Ministers discussed progress in implementing the 2010 Lisbon Summit agreement to transition to Afghan led security responsibility by the end of 2014.

Ministers agreed to commence the detailed planning for the post 2014 mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) agreed to at the Chicago Summit in May.

Ministers discussed the need to establish the funding mechanism for the international community’s contribution to the sustainment of the ANSF.

Ministers also discussed the recent insider or “green-on-blue” attacks which I detail further below.

In Brussels, I met the newly confirmed Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan.  Minister Khan conveyed Afghanistan’s condolences for the recent Australian fatalities in Afghanistan and expressed his countries’ gratitude for Australia’s ongoing contribution and commitment.

I congratulated NATO Secretary General Rasmussen on the extension of his tenure.  Secretary General Rasmussen is a good friend of Australia and signed the Australia-NATO Strategic Partnership Declaration with Prime Minister Gillard during his visit to Australia in June.

I also had the opportunity to meet Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Admiral Jim Stavridis, Commander ISAF General John Allen and Commander ISAF designate General Joe Dunford. I thanked Admiral Stavridis for his service and congratulated General Allen and General Dunford on their nominations as the next SACEUR and COMISAF respectively.

I also met the newly appointed NATO Senior Civilian Representative Ambassador Maurits Jochems.

Australia has every confidence in the ability of the new NATO/ISAF leadership team to deliver on the transition and post-transition strategies in Afghanistan.

My visit to Brussels was a good opportunity to introduce Australia’s Ambassador-designate to NATO, Mr Duncan Lewis, to his NATO colleagues and to thank Dr Brendan Nelson for his excellent service.

Insider Attacks

My visit to Tarin Kot allowed me to be briefed first-hand on the ground on insider attacks, and what force protection and other steps are being taken to mitigate the threat.

Australia has sustained four such insider attacks. 

On 30 May 2011, Lance Corporal Andrew Jones was murdered by ANA soldier Shafied Ullah at Patrol Base Mashal in the Chora Valley in Uruzgan.

On 29 October 2011, Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt, Lance Corporal Luke Gavin were murdered by ANA soldier Darwish Khan at Forward Operating Base Pacemaker in Shah Wali Kot in northern Kandahar.  Seven Australian soldiers were also wounded, one Afghan interpreter was killed and two other Afghan interpreters and an ANA soldier were wounded. 

On 8 November 2011, three Australian soldiers were shot and wounded by ANA soldier Mohammad Rozi at Patrol Base Nasir in the Charmestan Valley. 

On 29 August, Sapper James Martin, Lance Corporal Stjepan (Rick) Milosevic and Private Robert Poate were murdered by ANA soldier Hekmatullah at Patrol Base Wahab in Uruzgan. 

We have lost seven Australian soldiers and suffered 12 wounded from four insider attacks.

We are not alone, with similar or greater losses by ISAF partners.

We must however be clear sighted about this threat.

We have seen less than 100 such incidents over the last two years.

The ANSF members who commit these attacks are a very small number of the over 300,000 to 350,000 Afghan National Security Forces.

Whatever the motivation for these attacks, the Taliban tactic is to claim them as their own for propaganda purposes.

It is our response to such attacks that determines their strategic impact, if any.

We cannot allow such attacks to deflect us from our agreed transition strategy and our post 2014 commitment to Afghanistan.

Causes of insider attacks

The events that led to the attack on 29 August are still the subject of investigation and it is too early to speculate on the reasons behind this incident. 

Generally, however, no one single cause can be identified behind attacks of this nature.  Each attack has specific motivations and specific circumstances.

While the Taliban will take credit for all these attacks, most are not caused by infiltration or coercion but rather are unknown in nature or caused by personal grievances.

ISAF, and indeed the ADF, continue to look deeply at the causes of these insidious attacks.

In the wake of the 2011 insider attacks in Uruzgan, the CDF commissioned a study to help better understand such attacks.

DSTO deployed a team of analysts to Afghanistan to analyse the relationship between Australian and Afghan forces in Uruzgan.

The study highlights positive experiences of friendship, as well as friction points between the Australian personnel and their Afghan partners.

It characterises factors that likely contribute to personal grievance and possibly motivate Afghan personnel towards acts of violence.

The initial study’s findings have been incorporated into pre-deployment training and preparation for ADF personnel deploying to Afghanistan.

This study continues to be updated in order to monitor trends and alert commanders to changing circumstances.

Cultural understanding is particularly important during security transition in Uruzgan and with ANA personnel undertaking an increasing amount of independent activity.

Mitigation Measures

At times like this it is right that we question the safety of our personnel.  There should be no doubt that force protection of ADF and Australian Government personnel remains our highest priority.

ADF force protection measures were increased after the 2011 insider attacks and were already above the heightened ISAF measures directed by Commander ISAF General Allen in the lead up to Ramazan. 

As a result of the insider attack on 29 August, the force protection measures were again reviewed and enhanced, including the use of guardian angels and physical separation.  It is not appropriate to publically provide further details on these additional measures for operational security reasons.

Despite these additional measures, no force protection can comprehensively guard against a person who is intending to commit a crime.

However, ISAF, and our own Defence personnel, are resolute in our determination to reduce insider attacks.

Following further insider attacks over the period 14 to 17 September resulting in the deaths of six ISAF soldiers, General Allen issued a directive that suspended mentoring patrols for a short period.

This directive formed part of a range of measures to increase force protection and mitigate the threat of insider attacks.

The suspension of mentoring operations gave ISAF and Afghans time to conduct an intensive biometric enrolment program and allowed the ANSF to undertake a re-vetting process.

The conditions for resumption of mentoring and patrols have been met, and members of the 3RAR Task Group and the ANA 4th Brigade have now recommenced joint patrols in Uruzgan.

The Afghan Government and ANSF has also made a commitment to reduce insider attacks.

The Afghan Government has been conducting biometric screening and other information gathering of all ANSF recruits for approximately two years.

ANSF recruits are subject to an eight-step vetting process; supported by information sharing and ISAF oversight.

The Afghan Ministry of the Interior, along with international partners, works to identify possible insurgent sympathisers and subversive elements within the ANA and Afghan National Police.  The Afghan Ministry of Defence has also published its own training manual for understanding International Forces’ culture.

The ADF will continue to constantly review its force protection measures to ensure the risks of such attacks are minimised.

The CDF and I are confident that we are doing all we can at this time.

31 August Incident

Australian forces conducted immediate operations with their Afghan and ISAF partners to apprehend Sergeant Hekmatullah who murdered the three Australian soldiers on 29 August or to locate insurgents who were suspected of assisting his escape.

During a mission on 31 August, around 60 ADF personnel and 80 ANSF personnel conducted a compound clearance in the Tarin Kot district after receiving reporting that a known insurgent facilitator was operating in the area.

The mission was conducted with the prior approval and full cooperation of provincial Afghan authorities.

The Special Operations Task Group engaged and killed two insurgents during the clearance.

Twelve people were detained; eleven of the detainees were subsequently released.

In light of allegations made a Quick Assessment of the mission was completed.  The operation on the 31 August and subsequent allegations are the subject of an Inquiry Officer’s Investigation.

Combat Fatality Reports

I provide the following update into the status of Inquiry Officer Reports into combat deaths.

In my 16 August Ministerial Statement to Parliament I advised that all Inquiry Officer reports into combat deaths which occurred in 2010 have been completed, the respective families briefed and the outcomes of the Inquiries made public, or not, as appropriate.

In 2011 there were nine incidents resulting in the combat deaths of eleven soldiers.  The processes in relation to the Inquiries into two of those incidents remain to be completed.

The first relates to the Inquiry Officer Report into last year’s insider attack on 29 October in which Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin were murdered.

The second relates to the Commission of Inquiry into the crash of the Australian CH-47D helicopter in Afghanistan on 30 May 2011 in which Lieutenant Marcus Case was killed. 

In 2012 there have been four incidents resulting in the combat deaths of seven soldiers.  Inquiries are proceeding into those incidents.

In my 9 February Ministerial Statement to Parliament, I noted that the past focus of the Inquiry Officer process has been on the public release of the Inquiry Officer Reports and Reports have been released as a matter of course.

I stated my view that the focus needs to be on the timely provision of the Report to the family of the deceased.  As such, I asked Defence and Army to ascertain the wishes of the family with respect to the public release of the Report.

As well, any decision to publicly release an Inquiry Officer Report rightly comes after weighing the wishes of the family members about publication and the public interest in the release of the report wider than family members and affected persons to the general public. 

Since my Ministerial Statement in February, one Inquiry Officer Report into the murder of Lance Corporal Jones has been finalised and made public.  A further eight Inquiry Officer Reports into ten combat deaths have been finalised and that fact made public.  Those Inquiry Officer Reports have not been made public in line with the position I outlined in my February Statement.

Civilian Casualties

I provide the following update into the status of Inquiry Officer Reports into civilian casualties.

In my 16 August Ministerial Statement to Parliament I provided updates on Inquiries into four suspected civilian casualty incidents.

On 21 September, Defence advised that it had finalised an Inquiry into an alleged civilian casualty incident during a partnered Mentoring Task Force and Afghan National Army patrol in the Baluchi Valley region of Uruzgan province in November 2010. The Inquiry was initiated by the then Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Mark Evans.

Afghan and Australian soldiers were fired on from a series of qualas (walled, mud-brick compounds) during the incident.  At the conclusion of the engagements, one Afghan National Army soldier was superficially wounded, an Afghan teenage male was found to be deceased and a further two Afghan men were identified as injured.

The Inquiry Officer was unable to make a definitive finding as to who shot the three Afghans. 

The Inquiry Officer found that on the balance of probabilities it was highly unlikely that the deceased teenage male and the two injured Afghan men were hit by Australian fire. 

The Inquiry Officer was unable to determine whether insurgent fire or the Afghan National Army response during the incident caused the death and injuries.

The Inquiry Officer concluded that it was likely the deceased Afghan teenager and the two injured Afghan men were not directly participating in hostilities at the time they were shot and they could be reasonably classified as civilians.

The Inquiry Officer made a number of recommendations and those recommendations have now been implemented.

The current Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Ash Power said he was satisfied that the Australian personnel involved in the incident acted in accordance with the Laws of Armed Conflict and showed great personal courage in controlling a complex situation.

Lieutenant General Power said he was satisfied that the soldiers did the right thing and their actions were not only in accordance with their legal responsibilities, but also with their moral responsibilities as mentors and representatives of the Australian Defence Force.

The outcomes of the Inquiry have been briefed to ISAF and to the Afghan authorities.

The Inquiries into the incident on 27 March 2011, where a small Afghan boy and an Afghan man were killed, and the incident on 29 October 2011, where Australian soldiers engaged and killed a man who approached their site at speed and failed to adhere to directions to stop, remain under consideration.  I will advise on the outcomes of this consideration in due course.

An Inquiry is underway in relation to an incident on 1 May 2012, where an Afghan boy was injured during an engagement between insurgents and Australian Special Forces and elements of the ANSF undertaking a partnered security operation. When completed, the Inquiry will be considered and I will advise of the outcome in due course.

Australia remains committed to transparency and providing information on civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

The ADF takes the question of civilian casualties very seriously. The ADF operates under strict rules of engagement intended to minimise civilian casualties, and deeply regrets any loss of innocent life.

Defence has acknowledged the delay in the public release of reports of inquiries into civilian casualty incidents and has instituted improved governance arrangements for the future management of such Inquiries comparable to those instituted in relation to combat fatality reports.

Detainee Management

In keeping with my commitment to provide regular updates to the Australian people on detainee management and to be open and transparent on these matters, I will now provide an update on detainee operations in Afghanistan.

Australia approaches its responsibility for ensuring detainees are treated with dignity and respect with the utmost seriousness and is committed to conducting its detention operations in accordance with our domestic and international legal obligations.

Australia’s detainee management framework for operations in Afghanistan has two priorities:

Firstly, removing insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, ISAF and Afghan lives; and

Secondly, to ensure the humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian’s domestic and international legal obligations.

The detainee management framework is consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict and relevant international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.

The framework sets out the circumstances in which it is appropriate for Australian forces to transfer individuals captured during operations to Afghan or US custody in Afghanistan.

These transfers are supported by arrangements negotiated with the US and Afghan Governments, which include assurances and safeguards regarding the appropriate treatment of transferred detainees.

These arrangements also provide access for Australian officials as well as human rights and humanitarian organisations to monitor the welfare of transferred detainees.

Governance

In developing our detainee management framework, we have worked to ensure it aligns with international practice and is implemented in accordance with Australia’s international and domestic legal obligations.

Australia’s detainee management framework is underpinned by the deployment of professional ADF personnel trained in the Laws of Armed Conflict and appropriate detainee handling, rigorous recording and reporting requirements, and the high priority Australia places on addressing all allegations of mistreatment reported to Australian officials, including ADF members.

After capture, detainees are held at a purpose-built screening facility – the Initial Screening Area – at the Multi-National Base Tarin-Kot in Uruzgan.

The screening facility is under 24-hour closed circuit television (CCTV) camera surveillance and the facility is open to regular inspection by international human rights organisations.

Detainees in ADF custody are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, sustenance, suitable sleeping arrangements, medical care, and other amenities. 

Once initial screening is complete, the detainees are transferred either to Afghan or US custody, or released if there is insufficient evidence to justify ongoing detention.

Those assessed as posing a less serious threat are transferred to the Afghan National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot.

Those assessed as posing a more serious threat are transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan which provides a level of security appropriate for housing high-risk insurgents. 

When detainees are transferred, the ADF provides evidence packs to support further investigation and possible prosecution under Afghan law.

I continue to receive regular reporting and advice from the Department of Defence on the implementation, review and oversight of Australia’s detainee management framework and any issues that may arise in the course of operations.

To ensure we meet our own high Australian standards and continue to improve our systems, Australia’s detainee management processes in Afghanistan are subject to regular audits.

Since the introduction of Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan on 1 August 2010, following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan, three comprehensive audits of the detainee management framework have been undertaken. A fourth audit is currently being conducted.

In addition, an audit of Australia’s detainee monitoring process was also conducted by a combined team from the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in August this year.  I will provide an update on the outcome of this audit once it has been finalised.

These audits are essential to verify that a strong governance framework remains in place and that we are able to address any issues that might arise.

Monitoring

As part of our detainee management framework, we monitor the welfare of all detainees transferred from ADF custody to Afghan or US custody.

Monitoring visits are conducted by the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team, comprised of Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence.

The Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team visits each detainee shortly after transfer and then approximately every four weeks. We continue to monitor detainees until they are sentenced or released. This reflects the practice of our ISAF partners.

Between 1 August 2010 and 27 October 2012, the Monitoring Team has conducted 117 monitoring visits. This includes:  54 visits to the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot; 18 visits to the Tarin Kot Central Prison; and 45 visits to the Detention Facility in Parwan.

These visits are essential for Australian officials to monitor the treatment of detainees apprehended by Australian forces after they have been transferred into the custody of US or Afghan authorities. Australian officials continue to work closely with US and Afghan authorities and no serious issues of concern regarding the treatment of detainees have been identified.

Numbers of Detainees Apprehended

During the period 1 August 2010 to 27 October 2012, the ADF detained 1796 suspected insurgents. Of these: 135 detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at the National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot and 89 detainees have been transferred to US authorities at the Detention Facility in Parwan.

Interrogation

In February 2012, I announced the deployment of trained ADF interrogators to Afghanistan to question detainees apprehended by the ADF.  Interrogation expands the ADF’s ability to obtain information of operational and tactical value to help protect Australian personnel, ANSF, and the local population.

Interrogation is conducted by ADF personnel who are qualified in interrogation, that is, only those personnel who have received specialised training undertake interrogation activities. 

Interrogation is a comprehensive questioning process which is aimed at collecting intelligence on the insurgency. It is conducted within strict legal guidelines to prevent physical and mental mistreatment.

As previously advised, the Government agreed to extend the time selected detainees could be held in Australian custody at the Initial Screening Area, prior to their release or transfer, for the purpose of comprehensive screening. 

Any interrogation is undertaken during the approved period of extension for comprehensive screening.

Comprehensive screening enables the ADF to determine whether a detainee has knowledge which could assist in the force protection of the ADF, ISAF and Afghan partners. 

As at 27 October 2012, approximately 25 per cent of detainees apprehended by the ADF while on operations in Afghanistan have undergone interrogation within the Initial Screening Area since interrogation operations commenced in February 2012.

The length of time for which detainees can be held in the Initial Screening Area may be extended beyond the standard 96 hours for an additional three days with a possible further extension of three days.

In my last Ministerial Statement in August, I advised that since the introduction of interrogation in February, on the advice of the CDF, I had authorised the extension of detention for one detainee for a further period of twenty days.

I can advise that, on the advice of the CDF, I have on a second occasion authorised the extension of detention for one detainee for a further period of twenty days.

That detainee was alleged to be a local insurgent commander and having as assisted Sergeant Hekmatullah escape Patrol Base Wahab following the murder of Sapper James Martin, Lance Corporal Stjepan (Rick) Milosevic and Private Robert Poate.

The detainee was treated humanely and with dignity and respect at all times while in Australian custody.

A review of the detention was again conducted at regular periods to ascertain a continuing requirement to detain for interrogation. The CDF and I were advised of the outcomes of each review, including the detainee’s ongoing fitness for further detention.

ISAF, Afghan authorities and Human Rights Organisations were advised of the extension of detention.

At the end of the further extension of detention, the detainee was transferred from ADF custody. The detainee was assessed on transfer as in a fit and sound state.

Capture/recapture

Between 1 August 2010 and 27 October 2012, the ADF captured 12 people who were subsequently released, then recaptured. Six of the individuals in question were released as there was insufficient evidence to warrant their continued detention.

Of the remaining six detainees, there was sufficient evidence to warrant their transfer and prosecution.

Three were subsequently transferred to US custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan, and three were transferred to Afghan custody at the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Uruzgan.

Allegations of Mistreatment

Australia takes all allegations of detainee mistreatment seriously.

I have provided regular updates on complaints and allegations of mistreatment the ADF has received against it since August 2010.

In Australia’s detention operations, the term ‘allegation of mistreatment’ is used to describe any perceived or alleged incident involving an individual who is in Australian custody.

When a detainee is brought into our Initial Screening Area, each detainee is specifically asked if they have any complaints about their treatment.

Any complaint is treated as an allegation.

This terminology does not imply any wrong-doing on the part of the ADF; simply that an individual has made an allegation or complaint about the treatment they, or another individual, has received or witnessed during the course of their interaction with the ADF or the ANSF.

During the period 1 August 2010 to 27 October August 2012, there have been 178 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 158 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture.

To date, 165 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as unsubstantiated, while 13 allegations remain under investigation.

Every allegation of detainee mistreatment received or observed by the ADF is reported through the Australian Military Chain of Command.

The ADF reports all complaints or incidents involving detainees as allegations in accordance with the robust framework in place, and ensures that all allegations receive attention.

Once reported, allegations are promptly assessed or investigated.

This process may include taking witness statements, examining any medical evidence, as well as reviewing records and CCTV footage.

Allegations and the outcomes of any assessments are reported to ISAF and key human rights and humanitarian organisations.

Many of the allegations relate to the circumstances of capture.

Often minor injuries such as bruises, cuts and scrapes are sustained during a contact, as ADF personnel operate in a complex, dangerous and hostile environment.

ADF actions during operations in Afghanistan are conducted in accordance with the rules for the authorised use of force, as well as Laws of Armed Conflict.

I am regularly briefed by the Chief of the Defence Force on any detainee incidents or allegations of mistreatment.

Treatment of Detainees by ANSF

Not only is Australia committed to holding our own personnel to the highest standards on detainee management, if ADF personnel become aware of concerns regarding the treatment of detainees by our ISAF or Afghan partners, this is treated with the utmost seriousness. 

If a detainee consents, we bring the specific allegation to the attention of the Afghan authorities and it is investigated.

During the period 1 August 2010 to 27 October 2012, 52 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the ANSF at the point of capture.

During operations with ANSF in Uruzgan, Australian forces promote adherence to human rights standards and other international legal obligations relevant to the treatment of detainees and the protection of the local civilian population.

As part of the ADF’s role in training and mentoring the ANSF, we provide human rights training to Afghan personnel and advise Afghan personnel on the correct procedures for handling detainees under applicable international law. 

As well as the training provided to the ANSF by Australia, the ANSF in Uruzgan receive specific human rights training from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which covers detention operations. 

The ADF also provides Afghan personnel practical advice on these issues in the field.

If ADF personnel witness any incidents of mistreatment of detainees in the custody of Afghan forces, they are required to report the matter to Australian authorities so it may be raised with Afghan authorities.

CCTV

I have previously reported to the House on the 24 hour a day Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) monitoring of the Initial Screening Area (ISA) to ensure the humane treatment of detainees in our custody, and to protect the ADF personnel working within the ISA from erroneous allegations.

I can advise that on 9 October the CCTV system suffered a short unplanned outage.  In line with standard operating procedures, detainees in affected cells were moved to different cells to ensure the continuity of CCTV footage of their detention.  The cause of the outage is being reviewed.

Allegations of Procedural Misconduct

I have previously reported to the House on the investigation into allegations that previous members of the Detention Management Team in Afghanistan, responsible for managing the ADF Initial Screening Area at Multinational Base-Tarin Kot, may not have complied with procedures relating to the management and administrative processing of detainees.

In my 16 August Ministerial Statement to the Parliament I noted that four previous members of the Detainee Management Team had been charged with disciplinary offences relating to falsification of service documents.

I also advised the House that the first of the hearings for these disciplinary offences occurred on 27 July 2012 and that the ADF member in question was convicted and received a severe reprimand following a guilty plea.

I can now advise that the second trial occurred on 23 August 2012 and the member was convicted of two charges and received a reprimand for both offences.

As this matter is subject to continuing disciplinary proceedings, I do not propose to comment further. I will provide a further update to the House as appropriate when these proceedings are complete.

Review of questioning techniques

I have previously reported to the House on the review the ADF is conducting into aspects of the questioning techniques used during the initial screening of detainees in Afghanistan during 2010 and 2011.

During 2010 and 2011, the ADF was limited to conducting the tactical questioning, intelligence interviewing and debriefing of detainees apprehended in Afghanistan.

The Chief of Defence Force has advised that a review of records from this period found potential irregularities in the use of questioning techniques during the initial questioning of detainees.

This review is still underway and I will provide a further update to the House in due course.

Again, none of the issues suggests any alleged physical mistreatment of detainees in the Initial Screening Area by ADF personnel.

Detention Facility in Parwan

I have previously reported to the House on the transfer of the United States-run Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghan control.

The United States and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 9 March to officially commence the transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghan control. 

This is a positive development for the Afghan Government and is a step towards the transition of security across Afghanistan.

Australia’s detainee transfer arrangements include the ability for those insurgents assessed as posing a serious and continued threat to Australian or ISAF forces, and the Afghan people, to be transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan.

It has always been our understanding and expectation that the Detention Facility in Parwan would transition to Afghan control at an appropriate time and Australia will continue to transfer appropriate detainees to the facility after the completion of the transfer to Afghan control.

There are currently 70 detainees apprehended by the ADF in the Detention Facility in Parwan, who would be included in the Memorandum signed by the US and Afghan Governments.

These detainees have been regularly monitored by the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team and, to date, no major concerns have been identified with their treatment.

Australia has a detainee transfer arrangement with the Afghan Government, which includes assurances that detainees apprehended by the ADF and held in Afghan custody will be treated humanely.

The arrangement also provides access for Australian officials to monitor the welfare of ADF-transferred detainees.

Australia has received assurances from Afghan authorities that our existing detainee monitoring arrangements will continue following the transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghan control.

Australia will continue to seek information from both our US and Afghan partners on the facility’s operations under Afghan control to ensure that ADF transferred detainees are always treated humanely in accordance with applicable domestic and international law.

I will continue to provide regular updates to Parliament and the Australian people on ADF detention operations in Afghanistan, as well as on the broader aspects of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.

Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS)

In my 24 May Ministerial Statement to Parliament I advised that a number of further matters had been raised in the context of an Inspector General of the ADF (IGADF) Inquiry into allegations of flawed Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS) processes in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO).

I also advised that concerns had been raised in relation to the conduct of IGADF inquiries in the MEAO.

These matters remain the subject of separate Inquiries by the IGADF. I will advise on the outcomes as appropriate in due course.

Local source allegations

In 2012, the ADF has received a number of allegations from local sources about ADF operations. The ADF receives such allegations from local sources such as Non-Government Organisations, local tribal elders and though Afghan security forces.

Allegations brought to the attention of the ADF are reviewed against operational reporting to determine if the allegation relates to ADF operations. The ADF then determines whether operational reporting and available information contains sufficient information to support a conclusive decision regarding the allegation.

If there is insufficient information to support a conclusive decision, the Chief of Joint Operations may direct the conduct of a Quick Assessment and, if required, appoint an Inquiry Officer to comprehensively examine the facts and circumstances of the allegation.

As of 25 October, the ADF has received twenty-one allegations this year that have been dealt with in this way. 

Eleven of these allegations are regarded as resolved by the ADF after a review of operational reporting. The Chief of Joint Operations was satisfied that rules of engagement had been appropriately applied in cases where force was used by ADF personnel.

Of the ten unresolved allegations four are under initial consideration by the Chief of Joint Operations.

In relation to the remaining six unresolved allegations, the Chief of Joint Operations was not satisfied that the available information supported a conclusive decision. The Chief of Joint Operations has appointed an Inquiry Officer to examine the facts and circumstances of these allegations.

Four of these six allegations under Inquiry have been correlated to operations by Special Operations Task Group on the 14th and 15th of March 2012 in the vicinity of Sarkum, Afghanistan.  The allegations relate to civilian casualties, mistreatment of civilians, damage to property and death of livestock.

One of the six allegations under Inquiry has been correlated to operations by Special Operations Task Group on 28 May 2012 in Dorafshan, Afghanistan. The allegation relates to the death of a man identified by ADF personnel at the time of the operations as taking an active role in hostilities. Local community members allege that he was not taking part in hostilities.

The last of the six allegations under Inquiry has been correlated to operations by Special Operations Task Group on 5 June 2012 in the vicinity of Garmab, Afghanistan. The allegation relates to the death of a man identified by ADF personnel at the time of the operations as taking an active role in hostilities. Local community members allege that he was not taking part in hostilities.

I will report on these matters as they are resolved.  I stress that these are all allegations which do not automatically imply wrong doing on behalf of the ADF.

Conclusion

As I have said before, we must continue to be clear sighted about our objective in Afghanistan. 

Our objective is to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

Australian forces will not be in Afghanistan forever. 

Transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan has commenced and is on track.

One of the four infantry kandaks, or battalions, that the ADF is mentoring is now capable of independent operations.  There is an expectation that the remaining three kandaks will also commence independent operations by the end of this year.

As transition proceeds, our role will continue to evolve in close consultation with our ISAF and Afghan partners and in accordance with the Lisbon and Chicago Summit strategies.

As transition proceeds, Afghanistan will remain difficult and dangerous.  There will be challenges and setbacks ahead.

The Taliban will target Afghan security forces as they take responsibility for the security of their country.

We must remain firm in our support to Afghan security forces and firm in our commitment to the transition and post transition strategy that we and the international community have agreed.


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