Minister for Defence
Stephen Smith MP
Tabled in conjunction with a Ministerial Statement
7 February 2013
The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
I last reported to the Parliament on 31 October 2012, following my visit to Afghanistan and my attendance at the NATO/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Defence Ministers Meeting in Brussels on 9-10 October. Prior to this, I had updated Parliament on Afghanistan on four other occasions in 2012.
This is my first report to Parliament for 2013.
ADF battle fatalities and casualties in Afghanistan
Australia has suffered 39 fatalities in Afghanistan, with seven fatalities during 2012. The last fatality was Corporal Scott Smith on 21 October 2012.
Overall, Australia has suffered 249 wounded in Afghanistan since 2001, with 33 wounded in 2012. Three ADF personnel have been wounded in 2013.
Update on Operations and Transition
There have been a number of significant developments since my last update to Parliament on 31 October.
Afghan wide Transition
Across Afghanistan, progress on the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility continues.
On 31 December 2012, President Karzai announced the fourth tranche of Districts and Provinces to undergo transition.
This will see Afghan security forces take lead responsibility for security for 87 per cent of the Afghan population and for 23 of the 34 Afghan Provinces.
During President Karzai’s visit to Washington in early January this year, President Obama welcomed President Karzai’s desire to bring forward from mid-2013 to the northern spring the Chicago Summit milestone when the ANSF assume the operational lead across all of Afghanistan and ISAF moves into an advisor-support role.
This milestone will see the announcement of the fifth and final tranche of transition, which would commence implementation in the northern summer, subject to final Afghan and NATO/ISAF approval.
In his Annual Report for 2012 published on 31 January this year, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen made a number of important observations about the continuing development of the capability and capacity of the Afghan security forces:
- “Key for transition in Afghanistan is whether security is maintained once the transfer of responsibility from ISAF to Afghan forces is implemented – put simply, whether Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are able to do the job. Developments over the past year show they can, as areas included in the first two tranches of transition continue to be the most secure in Afghanistan and in some of those areas, security has improved.”
- To date, Afghan security forces lead 84 per cent of partnered operations. Overall, they have increased their ability to plan, carry out, and sustain large-scale operations. For example, a series of six large-scale operations were carried out from September to November 2012, involving some 11,000 Afghan security personnel from the Army, border police and intelligence services. And since October 2011, Afghan special forces have conducted more than 4,000 operations, leading 61 per cent of them.
- “Throughout 2012, the combined efforts of the Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF continued to push insurgents further away from population centres, therefore increasingly isolating them. Eighty per cent of enemy-initiated attacks occur where only 20 per cent of the population lives and nearly 50 per cent of all the attacks country-wide occur in just 17 districts, which only account for 5 per cent of the total Afghan population.”
- “The general levels of violence throughout the country have dropped over the past two years. While spectacular attacks have grabbed headlines, in the first eight months of 2012, insurgent violence levels country-wide were effectively down by 7 per cent compared to the same period in 2011, and the 2011 figures were down by 9 per cent compared to 2010.”
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. The IED roadside bomb threat will continue and the Taliban will continue to focus on high profile propaganda motivated attacks, together with claiming responsibility for any insider attacks on ISAF forces.
I acknowledge the hard work, commitment and achievements of the Commander of ISAF forces, General John Allen.
General Allen has been a steadfast ally and supporter of Australian forces in Afghanistan. Australia looks forward to continuing our close working relationship with him in his proposed new role as Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Australia now looks forward to working closely with General Joseph Dunford as the new Commander of ISAF when he assumes command shortly.
Australia supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process, recognising that conflict in Afghanistan will not be ended by military force alone.
Australia welcomes Afghanistan and Pakistan’s recent efforts to work together to progress reconciliation.
In particular, I welcome the recent trilateral meeting held in the United Kingdom earlier this week between Afghanistan President Karzai, Pakistan President Zardari, and British Prime Minister Cameron to discuss the Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process. The Chair of the Afghan High Peace Council Rabbani also attended the meeting.
All three leaders committed to take all necessary measures to achieve a peace settlement over the next six months. They affirmed their support for opening an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan as part of an Afghan-led peace process.
These talks will necessarily be long, complex and inevitably subject to setbacks, but efforts at such talks must continue.
In October last year, I advised that the ADF had officially assumed the leadership of Combined Team – Uruzgan (CT U) and responsibility for ISAF operations in Uruzgan Province.
CT-U was established, following the withdrawal of the Dutch in August 2010, under United States command and consisting of Australian, Singaporean, Slovakian and US personnel. The United States had the leadership of CT-U from August 2010 to October 2012.
Leadership of the CT-U is part of the transition process through which security responsibility will be transferred from ISAF to the ANSF and will help ensure that transition in Uruzgan is effected in a seamless way.
Australia has been working on transition with our CT-U partners – the United States, Singapore and Slovakia.
The ADF assumed responsibility from former CT-U member Slovakia for the security at Multi-National Base Tarin Kot (MNB-TK) in October last year.
I thank Slovakia for their commitment and for their partnership, as I do Singapore and the United States for the commitment and cooperation with Australia in Uruzgan.
In November last year, I advised that all four Infantry Kandaks of the Afghan National Army (ANA) 4th Brigade are now operating independently without advisers in Uruzgan Province.
The commencement of independent operations by the 4th Brigade Infantry Kandaks is a significant step in the process of transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan and confirms that transition is on track in Uruzgan Province.
In July 2012, transition to Afghan security lead in Uruzgan for the four infantry Kandaks and the two combat support Kandaks of the 4th Brigade of the 205 Hero Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) commenced.
In early October 2012, the 3rd Infantry Kandak of the 4th Brigade commenced operations independently without advisers.
The 1st and 6th Infantry Kandaks commenced independent operations early in November and the final 2nd Infantry Kandak commenced independent operations on 15 November 2012.
With the commencement of independent operations by the four Infantry Kandaks, the ADF transferred control of joint Forward Operating Bases and Patrol Bases in Uruzgan Province to the 4th Brigade.
Australian troops no longer operate from Forward Operating Bases or Patrol Bases in Uruzgan Province and have consolidated their presence at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot.
The ADF Task Group has shifted 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.
Independent operations for the 4th Brigade Infantry Kandaks do not mean the end of a role for the ADF in Uruzgan.
The ADF will continue to advise the two combat support and combat service support (logistics) Kandaks of the 4th Brigade.
The ADF task group will remain combat ready to assist Afghan Forces should the need arise and the Special Operations Task Group continues to conduct partnered combat operations to disrupt the insurgency.
Only weeks after the end of joint patrols, the 4th Brigade launched a major three-week operation in Uruzgan Province targeting insurgents and capturing weapons caches.
This operation was the final 205 Corp operation designed to prepare Afghan security forces to operate independently before the 2012 winter.
Based on the most recent advice and assessment, Uruzgan is now expected to fully transition to Afghan-led security responsibility by the end of this year.
I also take this opportunity to note the appointment of Colonel Rasoul Khan Kandahari as the new 4/205th Brigade Commander and Sher Bahadur Shah (known as ‘Sher Padshah’) as the new Deputy Governor of Uruzgan.
As transition proceeds, there will be changes in the composition of the ADF commitment in Afghanistan.
Over the past few years, Australia has had approximately 1550 personnel in Afghanistan.
With the shift in focus from training and mentoring to advising and supporting, the 680 strong 3RAR Task Group was replaced by the 330 strong 7RAR Task Group in November last year.
Similarly, with the commencement of independent operations by the Infantry Kandaks of the ANA 4th Brigade, the 16 ASLAV vehicles which were used to provide firepower and fire support to patrols conducted by ADF personnel are no longer required. These vehicles are now in the process of being returned to Australia.
The overall number of ADF personnel will not substantially decrease until towards the end of 2013, as additional personnel are deployed temporarily to support the transition and redeployment effort.
In October last year, 65 ADF personnel deployed to Uruzgan to assume responsibility for security at Multinational Base – Tarin Kot (MNB-TK) following the departure of the Slovak Force Protection Platoon which had provided security at MNB-TK since the formation of CT-U in August 2010.
An initial ADF Transition Redeployment Planning Team (TRPT) of around 20 personnel deployed to the Middle East last year to assist with planning for the redeployment of ADF troops and equipment, and the disposal of ADF infrastructure.
Additional redeployment personnel were deployed in December 2012 to support the task with the bulk of the redeployment personnel scheduled to be deployed in March and June of this year.
The ADF has developed an extensive infrastructure footprint within Afghanistan to support its mission over the last 10 years ranging from accommodation buildings to utilities such as water treatment plants.
Much of the ADF’s infrastructure is relocatable and work is underway to assess the options for return to Australia or remaining within Afghanistan to support the ANSF or Australia’s post 2014 posture.
All ADF sites are to be remediated to ensure the safety of the site for future Afghan use and its environmental cleanliness. A specialist environmental officer will be deployed to ensure all disposal and infrastructure remediation work does not create an environmental hazard for Afghanistan.
As required by formal ISAF directions, any infrastructure gifted to the ANSF must be sustainable by the ANSF. Australia is ensuring in its case that this direction is followed.
There have been a number of Patrol Bases gifted to the ANA, most recently Patrol Base Wali and Patrol Base Sorkh Bed. In achieving this the ADF followed the ISAF requirements for sustainable equipment and environmental standards as well as Australian Government and ADF guidelines for the gifting of public property.
Where the ANSF determine they do not require a Patrol Base or Combat Outpost and it is closed, the site is remediated and all infrastructure and equipment removed. The robust environmental plan is being used to ensure all sites are remediated to a high standard and that all demolished infrastructure is removed and disposed of appropriately.
One Forward Operating Base – FOB Hadrian – is being dismantled. Australian Mentoring Teams worked out of FOB Hadrian from 2010 training and patrolling with the 1st Kandak of the 4th Brigade, until it achieved operational independence in November 2012. As Afghan forces already operate from nearby Patrol Base Tycz, FOB Hadrian is no longer required.
The task of dismantling the base is the responsibility of CT-U, which includes Australian engineers from the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment Task Group (7 RAR TG). Deconstruction commenced in December 2012 and is expected to be complete by mid 2013.
Within Afghanistan, the ADF has equipment located in Uruzgan, Kandahar and Kabul. It also has equipment at its logistics hub in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In Uruzgan, ADF equipment includes: 1,300 armoured accommodation modules, 600 shipping containers, and 275 vehicles.
A variety of options for the redeployment of equipment, including return to Australia, are being considered. Equipment may also be disposed of through a number of methods such as gifting, sale or destruction.
Significant work is being undertaken to ensure that the disposal options meet all Australian Government and ISAF requirements. Gifting to the ANSF will occur only for items that the ANSF has the capability and the funding to sustain into the future.
Regard for environmental concerns is high in planning considerations. The ADF will work closely with Biosecurity Australia to ensure all quarantine requirements are met before material is returned to Australia.
Equipment will be returned to Australia as it becomes available within theatre and opportunities for transportation arise. Material that is damaged, cannot be cleaned satisfactorily or has reached its life of type, will be appropriately disposed of.
Most equipment will be returned to Australia using a combination of air and sea assets. Brisbane is the agreed point of re-entry to Australia and from there equipment will either be sent to contractors for maintenance and reconstitution or returned directly to Defence inventory.
Australia’s Post-2014 mission
Australia is committed to support Afghanistan through to transition in December 2014 and beyond.
Australia demonstrated this commitment to the people of Afghanistan and the international community at the Chicago Summit, with the signing of the Long-Term Comprehensive Partnership between Australia and Afghanistan.
The Comprehensive Long-Term Partnership demonstrates that Australia is committed to supporting Afghanistan beyond 2014, through cooperation in the areas of security, trade and development, and building the capacity of Afghanistan’s national institutions.
Australia is not alone in its long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
The United States has signed a long term Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan. A number of our ISAF partners, including the United Kingdom, France and Italy, as well as India and NATO have also signed similar Agreements.
Beyond our training mission in Uruzgan and the completion of nation-wide transition by the end of 2014, Australia will maintain an ADF presence in Afghanistan, in recognition that Australia has a vital national interest in supporting Afghanistan’s stability and security after transition.
The ADF will continue to support the development of the ANSF through the provision of training and advisory support, including at the Afghan National Army (ANA) Officer Academy in Kabul with our British and New Zealand colleagues.
We will also consider a Special Forces contribution, under an appropriate mandate.
As well, Australia will contribute US$100 million annually for three years from 2015 as part of international efforts to sustain and support the ANSF beyond transition.
Our commitment to ANSF funding reflects our enduring interest in Afghanistan’s long term security and stability.
These commitments send a strong signal to the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the region that the international community will not walk away from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Since my last Parliamentary Statement on 31 October 2012, the ADF has continued its vigilant approach to protecting the people we deploy and increasing force protection measures.
In the wake of the October 2011 insider attacks in Uruzgan, the CDF commissioned a study to help better understand such attacks.
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) deployed a team to Afghanistan to analyse the relationship between Australian and Afghan forces in Uruzgan.
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.
As a result of the insider attack on 29 August 2012, ADF force protection measures were again reviewed and enhanced. It is not proposed to provide further details on these additional measures for operational security reasons.
As well, ISAF has mandated the conduct of an ISAF approved pre-deployment training package, designed to address the insider issue.
The Afghan Government and ANSF has also made a commitment to conduct biometric screening and other information gathering of all ANSF recruits. ANSF recruits are subject to an eight-step vetting process, supported by information sharing and ISAF oversight.
The Afghan Ministry of Defence has also published its own training manual for understanding ISAF forces’ culture.
The Afghan Ministry of the Interior, along with ISAF partners, works to identify possible insurgent sympathisers within the ANA and Afghan National Police.
ISAF, and indeed the ADF, continue to look at the causes of these insidious attacks.
The ADF will continue to constantly review its force protection measures to ensure the risks of such attacks are minimised.
Combat Fatality Reports
I provide the following update into the status of Inquiry Officer Reports into combat deaths.
In my 16 August 2012 Ministerial Statement to Parliament I advised that all Inquiry Officer reports into combat deaths which occurred in 2010 had been completed, the respective families briefed and the outcomes of the Inquiries made public, or not, as appropriate.
In 2011 there were eleven ADF combat deaths from nine separate incidents. The inquiry processes in relation to eight of these incidents are complete.
Hearings for 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 are complete and the report will be submitted to the CDF in the near future.
In 2012 there were four incidents resulting in the combat deaths of seven soldiers.
An Inquiry into one incident has recently been completed and the family informed of the outcomes. Inquiries into the remaining three incidents are well progressed and are expected to be considered by the CDF in the near future.
In total, Inquiries into five incidents resulting in the combat deaths of 8 personnel over the period from 30 May 2011 to 21 October 2012 are outstanding.
In my Ministerial Statement to Parliament on 9 February 2012, 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 that Ministerial Statement on 9 February last year, two Inquiry Officer Reports into insider attacks have been finalised and made public. A further eight Inquiry Officer Reports into ten combat deaths have been finalised and advised to the public.
I provide the following update into the status of Inquiry Officer Reports into civilian casualties.
In my 31 October 2012 Ministerial Statement to Parliament I provided updates on Inquiries into three suspected civilian casualty incidents.
On 23 November 2012, Defence advised that it had finalised an Inquiry into an incident in Tarin Kot town on 29 October 2011 which resulted in the death of an Afghan civilian. The inquiry was initiated by the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Ash Power.
The incident occurred as Australian soldiers were providing security for a meeting in Tarin Kot town. The soldiers had received a specific threat warning regarding a motorcycle-borne attack. When a motorcyclist failed to heed a number of visual and verbal warnings to stop and appeared to accelerate toward the security cordon, he was shot by several Australian soldiers who assessed their lives were at risk.
The man’s death was very unfortunate and extremely regrettable but the Inquiry Officer found that the soldiers were forced to make a rapid decision to respond to what they saw as an escalating threat.
The Inquiry Officer found that the soldiers applied every element of their training and acted lawfully and appropriately under Australian Rules of Engagement.
Personnel in the CT-U and the Provincial Reconstruction Team – Uruzgan have met with the deceased man’s family since the shooting.
The family of the deceased man has received and accepted a condolence payment through the Provincial Governor from CT– U.
This incident occurred on the same day as the insider attack at Forward Operating Base Pacemaker. The Inquiry Officer determined that this tragic incident was unrelated to the insider attack.
The outcomes of the Inquiry have been briefed to ISAF and to Afghan authorities.
The Inquiry into the incident on 27 March 2011, where a small Afghan boy and an Afghan man were killed, remains under consideration. I will advise on the outcome of this consideration in due course.
An Inquiry is ongoing 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.
Locally Engaged Employee (LEE) Policy
On 13 December 2012, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Mr Chris Bowen MP) and I announced that Australia will offer resettlement to Australia to eligible locally engaged Afghan employees at risk of harm due to their employment in support of Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
Since the announcement, the visa policy came into legislative effect through the publication of a Gazette Notice on 1 January 2013.
This visa policy reflects Australia’s view of its moral obligation to current and former employees and is aimed at those locally engaged Afghan employees at the greatest risk of harm as a consequence of the support they have provided to Australia’s missions in Afghanistan.
In 2008, the Government instituted a similar policy to facilitate resettlement to Australia of locally engaged Iraqi employees and their family members who supported Australia’s mission in Iraq.
Australia remains committed to Afghanistan over the long term, and, although the drawdown of our effort in Uruzgan is commencing, Australia will continue to employ Afghans, including in Kabul, to support our long term commitment to Afghanistan.
Defence continues to receive significant interest from locally engaged Afghan employees on Australia’s visa policy for at-risk Afghan employees.
I now provide an update on detainee operations in Afghanistan in accordance with my commitment to provide regular updates on detainee management and to be open and transparent on these matters.
Australia approaches its responsibility for treating detainees with dignity and respect with the utmost seriousness and is committed to conducting 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.
Australia’s detainee management framework sets out, among other matters, 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 with the US and Afghan Governments, which include assurances and safeguards regarding the appropriate treatment of detainees following their transfer.
Our arrangements also enable access for Australian officials as well as human rights and humanitarian organisations to monitor the welfare of transferred detainees.
Our detainee management framework aligns with international practice and is implemented in accordance with Australia’s international and domestic legal obligations.
Australia’s detainee management framework is implemented by the deployment of professional ADF personnel trained in the Laws of Armed Conflict and appropriate detainee handling and underpinned by rigorous recording and reporting requirements, and the high priority Australia places on addressing all allegations of mistreatment reported to Australian officials, including ADF members.
Following their capture, detainees are transferred to a purpose-built screening facility – the Initial Screening Area (ISA) – at the Multi-National Base Tarin-Kot in Uruzgan.
The screening facility is under 24-hour Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance and the facility is open to regular inspection by international humanitarian and local 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, detainees are transferred either to Afghan or US custody, or released if there is insufficient evidence to justify continued 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 an appropriate level of security.
To support detainee transfers, the ADF provides evidence packs to support further investigation and possible prosecution under Afghan law.
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.
As part of our detainee management framework, Australian officials monitor the treatment, welfare and conditions of all detainees transferred from ADF custody to Afghan or US custody.
The Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team is comprised of Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence.
In line with the practice of our ISAF partners, the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team visits each detainee shortly after transfer and then approximately every four weeks until the point of sentencing or release.
Between 1 August 2010 and 31 January 2013, the Monitoring Team has conducted 129 monitoring visits. This includes: 60 visits to the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot; 20 visits to the Tarin Kot Central Prison; and 49 visits to the Detention Facility in Parwan.
These visits are essential for Australian officials to monitor the welfare, treatment and conditions of detainees apprehended by Australian forces after their transfer to US or Afghan custody.
Australian officials continue to work closely with US and Afghan authorities and no issues of concern regarding the treatment of detainees have been identified.
Audits of the Detainee Management Framework
Since 1 August 2010 when Australia’s current detainee management framework in Afghanistan was introduced, four comprehensive technical audits of the framework have been conducted.
In addition, in August 2012, an audit of Australia’s detainee monitoring was conducted by a combined team from the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
This audit found that Australia’s detainee monitoring program is appropriate and complies with our policy framework and that the members of the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team carry out their duties professionally and effectively.
These audits are an essential governance measure for assessing and, where necessary, further improving Australia’s overall detainee management framework to ensure these high standards are maintained or to adjust to the changing operational environment.
Numbers of Detainees Apprehended
During the period 1 August 2010 to 2 February 2013, the ADF detained 1867 suspected insurgents. Of these: 154 detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at the National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot and 98 detainees have been transferred to US authorities at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
Australia has commenced providing the details of detainees apprehended by the ADF to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
Providing this information to the AIHRC in Uruzgan will support their liaison role between the local community, the ANSF and ISAF partners on human rights.
In February 2012, I announced the deployment of trained ADF interrogators to Afghanistan.
Interrogation expands the ADF’s ability to obtain information of operational and tactical value to help protect Australian personnel, the ANSF, and the local population.
Interrogation is conducted by ADF personnel who are qualified in interrogation. Only those personnel who have received specialised training are authorised to conduct 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 at 6 February 2013, approximately 35 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 a detainee is held in the Initial Screening Area may be extended beyond 96 hours for an additional three days with a possible further extension of three days.
In my last Ministerial Statement in October 2012, I advised that since the introduction of interrogation in February 2012, two detainees were approved for an extension for a further period of twenty days.
Both detainees were treated humanely and with dignity and respect at all times while in Australian custody.
Regular reviews of the requirement to continue the detention of these two detainees for interrogation were conducted. The CDF and I were advised of the outcomes of each review, including the detainees’ fitness for further detention.
ISAF and human rights organisations were advised of the extensions of detention.
At the end of the extension period, these detainees were transferred from ADF custody following an assessment that they were in a fit and sound state.
Increased liaison with the US
To support our engagement with the United States on the management and transfer of high value detainees to the Detention Facility in Parwan, Australia has approved the inclusion of a US representative to undertake an intelligence support and a liaison role at the Initial Screening Area.
The role of the US representative is to facilitate the exchange of detainee related information and intelligence between the Initial Screening Area and the Detention Facility in Parwan. This exchange of information contributes to the overall force protection for Australia, Afghan and ISAF personnel operating in Uruzgan.
The US representative will not have any interaction with detainees.
Between 1 August 2010 and 6 February 2013, the ADF re-captured 15 people who had previously been captured and were subsequently released. Six of the individuals in question were released as there was insufficient evidence to warrant their continued detention.
For eight of these 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 five were transferred to Afghan custody at the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Uruzgan.
The remaining detainee is currently in Australian custody at the Initial Screening Area.
Allegations of Mistreatment
Australia takes all allegations of detainee mistreatment seriously.
Since August 2010, I have provided regular updates on complaints and allegations of mistreatment the ADF has received.
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 the Initial Screening Area, they are specifically asked whether they have any complaints regarding their treatment.
Any complaint received 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 6 February 2013, there have been 191 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 170 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture.
To date, 185 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as being unfounded, while 6 allegations remain under review.
Every allegation of detainee mistreatment received or observed by the ADF is reported through the Australian Military Chain of Command.
Once reported, allegations are reviewed or investigated.
This process may include taking witness statements, examining any medical evidence, as well as reviewing records and CCTV footage.
In addition, ISAF, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and international humanitarian organisations are notified of any allegations and the outcomes of any subsequent assessments.
Many of the allegations received relate to the circumstances of the detainee’s capture. It is not unexpected that a detainee may sustain minor injuries such as bruises, cuts and scrapes during their capture as this usually occurs in complex, dangerous and hostile environments.
ADF actions during operations in Afghanistan are conducted in accordance with the Rules of Engagement, as well as Laws of Armed Conflict.
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 is consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict and relevant international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.
I am regularly briefed by the Chief of the Defence Force on any detainee incidents or allegations of mistreatment.
Death of a wounded insurgent receiving medical treatment in Role 3 Medical Facility
As part of the Government’s commitment to transparency I update the house on an incident which occurred in October 2012 and demonstrates the professionalism of the ADF in adhering to Australian policy requirements.
In October 2012, following the conclusion of a joint operation with Australian personnel, Afghan National Army personnel discovered a wounded insurgent in the battle space.
The insurgent had sustained multiple gun shot wounds and required urgent evacuation for medical treatment.
The ADF assumed custody of the individual to facilitate his transfer and escorted him until it was assessed that he posed no threat and was released into the custody of the medical facility.
Despite all reasonable medical treatment being provided, the insurgent later died of his wounds.
The individual’s family was notified of his death and appropriate mortuary arrangements were made for his burial.
Treatment of Detainees by ANSF
Australia is 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 also treated seriously.
Following the detainee’s consent, we notify Afghan authorities of the specific allegation for further action.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 6 February 2013, 61 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the ANSF at the point of capture.
As part of the ADF’s mentoring, ANSF personnel receive human rights training and advice on the correct procedures for handling detainees. They are also trained on the international legal obligations for the treatment of detainees and the protection of the local civilian population.
The ANSF in Uruzgan also receive specific human rights training from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which specifically covers the application of those rights when conducting detention operations.
The ADF also provides Afghan personnel practical advice on these issues during partnered operations.
If ADF personnel witness any instances of mistreatment of detainees who are under the control of Afghan forces, they are required to report the matter to Australian authorities so it may be raised with Afghan authorities.
UNAMA Report on the treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan Custody
On 20 January, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its second report into the treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan custody.
The report raises concerns of torture and mistreatment within a number of Afghan-run detention facilities in Afghanistan.
The report does not refer to any evidence of detainee mistreatment at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Uruzgan to which ADF-apprehended detainees may be transferred.
This facility was again identified as a facility visited by UNAMA in which no indication of torture was identified.
The Afghan Local Police in Uruzgan have been implicated in the report as engaging in the mistreatment of detainees.
ADF-apprehended detainees are not transferred to the Afghan Local Police’s temporary detention facility in Uruzgan.
In response to credible information of mistreatment provided by UNAMA, ISAF suspended the transfer of detainees to a number of the Afghan facilities.
None of the detention facilities to which ADF-apprehended detainees may be transferred are included in the suspension.
In the remaining period of the ISAF mission, ISAF will continue to support the Afghan Government and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to improve the issues identified in the UNAMA report.
Australia will support these efforts through the work of the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team.
Australia regularly monitors the welfare and treatment of all ADF-transferred detainees and the conditions of the NDS facility in Uruzgan.
We will continue to work with UNAMA and our Afghan and international partners on any issues that arise in relation to the allegations in the report.
ISAF detainee transfer program
ISAF has established a new framework for managing detainee transfers to Afghan-run detention facilities.
Under the framework, ISAF commanders will nominate the detention facilities required to meet their operational needs on a quarterly basis.
Each facility nominated will be evaluated through increased monitoring and inspections.
Australia will participate in this process and does not anticipate any issues with obtaining certification for the detention facilities to which ADF-apprehended detainees may be transferred.
I have previously reported to the House on the Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) which constantly monitors the Initial Screening Area (ISA) to ensure the humane treatment of detainees in our custody, and to assist in the investigation of any allegations or complaints of mistreatment.
A review of CCTV footage is standard procedure for any incident in the ISA.
The CCTV system has been effective in verifying the cause of incidents involving detainees and protecting ADF members from spurious allegations.
For example, on two separate recent occasions a detainee collapsed within the ISA. In the first case, a review of the CCTV footage confirmed the detainee was not mistreated by ADF personnel, and helped determine that this detainee had in fact feigned this incident in order to avoid questioning.
In the second case, a review of the CCTV footage confirmed the detainee’s injury, suffered as a result of a fall to the ground, and was not caused by any physical action or mistreatment by ADF personnel.
Allegations of Procedural Misconduct
In my October 2012 statement, I reported to the House that four previous members of the Detention Management Team in Afghanistan, who were responsible for managing the ADF Initial Screening Area, have been charged with disciplinary offences relating to the falsification of service documents for the administrative processing of detainees.
I also advised the House that two of the hearings for these disciplinary offences had taken place on 27 July and 23 August 2012 respectively, and that the ADF members in question were convicted and received a severe reprimand.
I can now advise the House that the third trial occurred on 21 November 2012 and the ADF member was convicted of five offences following a guilty plea. The member received a fine for two offences and loss of seniority for each of the other three offences.
The directions hearing for the fourth matter was held earlier this week on 4 and 5 February. As this final matter is subject to further disciplinary proceedings, I do not propose to comment further at this time and will provide further updates to the House as appropriate.
Review of questioning techniques
In May 2012 I advised the House that the ADF was conducting a review into aspects of the questioning techniques used during the initial screening of detainees in Afghanistan during 2010 and 2011.
I can now confirm that the review of records from this period found irregularities in a small number of written reports stemming from initial questioning of detainees. The irregularities relate to the use of inappropriate language during a small number of questioning sessions.
The review found that no unauthorised questioning techniques were used in the conduct of questioning sessions during this period. As a result of the small number of instances, and the context in which they occurred, the review found that further action was not warranted.
Transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghan Control
I have previously reported on the transfer of the United States-run Detention Facility in Parwan (DFiP) to Afghan control.
On 9 March 2012, the United States and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to commence the transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghan control.
During President Karzai’s recent visit to Washington, the US and Afghanistan reiterated their agreement for the US to transfer control of DFiP to Afghan authorities.
This is a positive development for the Afghan Government and is a step towards the transition of security across Afghanistan.
Australia will continue to transfer detainees to the facility. We have received assurances from the Afghan authorities that our access to ADF-transferred detainees to monitor their treatment and welfare will continue under our existing arrangement with the Afghan Government.
There are currently 76 detainees apprehended by the ADF in the Detention Facility in Parwan.
These detainees are regularly monitored by the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team and, to date, no concerns have been identified with their treatment.
Australia will continue to engage with both our US and Afghan partners to ensure that ADF transferred detainees continue to be 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.
Local Source Allegations
In my last update, I reported on a number of allegations the ADF had received 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 4 February 2013, the ADF received thirty two allegations since the start of 2012 that have been dealt with in this way.
Eighteen 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.
Fourteen unresolved allegations are either under initial consideration by the Chief of Joint Operations or under inquiry.
In relation to 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.
Support to Veterans
The care of wounded, injured and ill veterans is a high priority for the Government and the Australian community.
Veteran care will become an increasingly important focus of our time in Afghanistan.
As the Prime Minister said in her 31 October Statement to the House on Afghanistan: “The next decade will see more young Australian combat veterans live in our community than since the 1970s.”
At the time the Prime Minister said that this will “demand changes in the way the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs care for service personnel and veterans”.
I am pleased to say that these changes are being made.
On Tuesday this week, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Science and Personnel and I attended the signing by the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs of a Memorandum of Understanding for the Cooperative Delivery of Care and Support to Eligible Persons.
The MOU is aimed at better coordinating the delivery of care and support services between Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.
The MOU sets out the key principles which will govern the cooperative delivery of care and support and establishes governance arrangements designed to ensure that these support arrangements remain effective in an ongoing way.
The MOU also introduces the concept of the ‘Support Continuum’, the structure of systems that extends across both Defence and Veterans’ Affairs to deliver the seamless care and support our servicemen and women, and their dependants, deserve.
Put simply, it is to stop our wounded, injured and ill veterans from falling between the cracks in the system.
All ADF personnel will benefit from stronger ties between Defence and DVA, with services and support tailored to better meet the needs of members at any point during or after their ADF career.
The new MOU builds on the Support for Wounded, Injured or Ill program, also designed to make sure that veterans do not fall through gaps between Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.
The Simpson Assistance Program provides services to support the needs of severely wounded, injured or ill individuals and their families.
The Chief of Army’s Wounded, Injured or Ill Digger Forum provides an important opportunity for Defence and Veterans’ Affairs to understand the needs and requirements of wounded veterans and their families.
Private organisations have an important role to play as well.
Everyone will be familiar with the work of the RSL and Legacy, which have been supporting veterans for almost a century.
New organisations such as “Soldier On” are also playing a role.
“Soldier On” is a private foundation set up by two young former soldiers to provide support to Australian service men and women who have suffered either physical or psychological wounds in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In October last year I was pleased to attend the announcement of Corporal Mark Donaldson VC as the Patron-in-Chief of Soldier On.
The SAS Trust, Commando Welfare Trust, and the Australian Defence Force Assistance Trust are helping provide for the families and children of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. There is a particular focus here on the education of the children of our fallen.
Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Defence continues to enhance its comprehensive approach to screening, assessment and treatment of mental health concerns, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
ADF members dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have access to the full range of mental health services and rehabilitation services.
Significant improvements have been made to the provision of mental health care across the ADF as part of a more than $90 million investment into Defence and DVA by Government.
These include establishing eight Regional Mental Health teams supporting the delivery of mental health care.
The ADF is also working hard together with organisations like “Soldier On” to de-stigmatise mental health issues.
One of the most important factors in treating mental disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is to seek support and treatment as soon as possible.
Early identification of those at risk of developing mental health issues is a pathway to better health outcomes.
These arrangements result in a high return to work rate for rehabilitated members and provide good support for veterans.
But it is essential that we continue to take steps to make the support system even better.
Seeking assistance for mental health concerns was the theme of the inaugural ADF Mental Health Day held on 10 October 2012.
The mental health and well being of our men and women in uniform and our veterans will continue to be an essential Government and community focus.
Australia 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 to be finalised by the end of this year.
As transition proceeds, our role will evolve in close consultation with our ISAF and Afghan partners and in accordance with the implementation of the Lisbon and Chicago Summit strategies.
As transition proceeds, Afghanistan will remain difficult and dangerous. Transition will not be a perfect process.
The Taliban will target Afghan security forces as they take responsibility for the security of their country.
The IED threat will continue and the Taliban will continue to focus on high profile propaganda motivated attacks and claiming responsibility for any insider attacks on ISAF forces.
Australia will continue to remain firm in our support to Afghan security forces and firm in our commitment to the transition strategy that Australia and the international community, acting under a United Nations mandate, have agreed to implement.