Minister for Defence Stephen Smith – Paper presented on Afghanistan

Paper presented

 

by the

 

Minister for Defence

 

Stephen Smith MP

 

on

 

Afghanistan

 

Tabled in conjunction with a Ministerial Statement

 

on

 

19 June 2013

 
 
 
Introduction

The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.

This is my third report to the Parliament this year.

I last reported to the House on 16 May, presenting an update on Detainee Management, Australian Defence Force (ADF) inquiries into civilian casualties, Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS) processes and local source allegations. 

On 7 February this year I presented an update on transition in Afghanistan. As this process gains pace and we look towards the very substantial drawdown of the ADF in Uruzgan at the end of this year, it is appropriate to again update Parliament and the Australian people on progress towards transition.

This update follows on from my visit to Afghanistan on 2 June.

Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan

It is worth pausing to remember what led to Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan, because we have been there a long time.  We began operations in Afghanistan for clear reasons and with a clear mission.

Following the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States, Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty and announced an ADF contribution to international operations against terrorism, deploying a Special Forces Task Force of around 150 personnel to Afghanistan.  This initial deployment finished in December 2002.

In September 2005, a Special Forces Task Group of around 190 personnel was redeployed to Afghanistan for twelve months until September 2006 in support of international efforts targeting key insurgents.  Two Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 110 personnel commenced operations in support of the Special Force Task Group.

In February 2006, the then Government announced that a 240-personnel Reconstruction Task Force would be deployed to Afghanistan in August of that year for a period of up to two years in support of the Dutch-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Uruzgan Province.  In August 2006, the Government announced that an extra 150 personnel would be sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the Reconstruction Task Force and to provide enhanced force protection.

In April 2007, the then Government announced the re-deployment of around 300 Australian Special Forces personnel to Uruzgan as the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG), and noted at the time that the total expected ADF deployment in Afghanistan was to ‘peak’ at approximately 1000 personnel by mid-2008, including the Reconstruction Task Force (RFT), the RTF Protection Company Group, the Special Operations Task Group, and an RAAF air surveillance radar capability.

In February 2008, following a careful review of Australia’s strategy in Afghanistan and consultation with our international partners, this Government announced an increased focus on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan Province.  These changes were announced “noting that the Government of Afghanistan needs to be able to develop the security forces which will provide the security for their own citizens into the future”. 

To achieve the increased focus on training, the Government announced that Australia would deploy an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team of around 50 personnel to train one Afghan National Army (ANA) Kandak (battalion) in Uruzgan Province.  The core of the mentoring team would be infantry officers and senior non-commissioned officers, as well as force protection troops and assets.

At that time, the authorised strength of Australian personnel in support of Australian operations in Afghanistan was around 1100.

On 29 April 2009, the Government announced an increase in Australia’s troop commitment in Afghanistan from 1100 to 1550 personnel.  The primary focus of the increased troop commitment was two additional Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams of approximately 100 personnel to train the ANA 4th Brigade to take security responsibility for Uruzgan Province.

The increased contribution also included 70 additional personnel for the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force; an increase of approximately 70 personnel to the number of HQ embedded staff; an enhanced engineering element of approximately 40 personnel; an Election Support Force of approximately 120 personnel; and an additional 50 logistics and transport personnel, including one additional C-130 aircraft and support crew.

Following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan in August 2010, Australia worked in close partnership with the United States, Singapore and Slovakia as ISAF’s Combined Team – Uruzgan (CT-U), including as the civilian Director of the Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team.  New Zealand also participated in CT-U through one rotation of forces in 2010-2011. 

In October 2012, Australia assumed leadership of CT-U from the United States, allowing Australia to directly manage the transition process to Afghan security control in the province.

Evolution of Role from Mentoring to Advisory to Transition

In July 2012, transition to Afghan security lead in Uruzgan for the four infantry Kandaks and the two combat support and combat service support (logistics) Kandaks of the 4th Brigade of the 205 Hero Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) commenced.

In November 2012, the Government announced that all four Infantry Kandaks of the ANA 4th Brigade were now operating independently without advisers in Uruzgan Province.

The commencement of independent operations by the 4th Brigade Infantry Kandaks was a significant step in the process of transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan and confirmed that transition was on track in Uruzgan Province.

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 operated from Forward Operating Bases or Patrol Bases in Uruzgan Province and consolidated their presence at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot.

The ADF Task Group 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 did not mean the end of a role for the ADF in Uruzgan.

The ADF continued to advise the two combat support and combat service support (logistics) Kandaks of the 4th Brigade.

The ADF  task group remains 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.

The 4th Brigade’s operational tempo in the first half of 2013 has been a successful series of clearance operations. These operations were conducted with support from elements of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan National Police (ANP), and the Afghan Local Police (ALP). The support provided by, and to, the ANP remains important to maintaining security in the Province.

The success of the clearance operations is a good example of the growing confidence, improved leadership and war-fighting capability of the ANSF.

The ADF remains on track to complete its mission and hand over operational responsibility for security for Uruzgan to the ANSF by the end of December this year.  Our role in Uruzgan will continue as at present until the end of this year.  By year’s end we will see at least 1000 Australian personnel return home.

Consistent with this progress, as the Prime Minister and I announced in March, Multinational Base – Tarin Kot will close at the end of this year, seeing the completion of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan.

Afghan-wide transition

Progress continues to be made on transition across Afghanistan.  ISAF has either closed, or transferred the majority of bases to Afghan forces.  With 18 months left until transition is complete across the country, Afghanistan has now moved to the moment when the ANSF has taken full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. 

Despite transition and the increasing capability of the ANSF, Afghanistan will remain challenging, particularly in areas removed from population centres.  The Taliban will continue to target the ANSF and Afghan authorities and ISAF through propaganda motivated attacks including high profile suicide bomb attacks as again seen in Kabul on 10 and 11 June as well as yesterday, 18 June itself. 

The use of roadside bombs, the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), will continue to endanger ANSF and ISAF personnel and the lives of ordinary Afghan civilians. 

Australia welcomes the announcement yesterday 18 June of the fifth and final tranche of transition, which sees Afghanistan’s final Provinces and districts enter transition. 

With the inclusion of these final districts into the transition process, Australia welcomes the achievement of the “Chicago milestone”, where the ANSF officially takes the national lead for security responsibility for all the districts in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, all of which have now entered transition.

Throughout Afghanistan, the ANSF is growing more competent and capable.

The ANSF participate in all operations and are in the lead in 95 per cent of these – from routine tasks, including combat service support missions, medical evacuations and route clearance operations to high-level tasks such as special operations. 

The ANSF indigenous training capability is increasingly developing with the ANSF delivering up to 90 per cent of their own training. 

In keeping with this trend, on 11 April this year, the Australian-led Artillery Training and Advisory Team (ATAT) officially completed its mission to establish a fully autonomous ANA School of Artillery and the ADF personnel have returned home.

Australia’s 2014 Role

In 2014, the Australian commitment in Afghanistan will include a commitment of around 75 personnel, including instructors/advisors, support staff and force protection at the ANA Officer Academy in Kabul with our British and New Zealand colleagues. 

In Kandahar, the ADF will continue to provide advisory support to the 205 Corps of the ANA through an advisor and force protection complement of over 50.  The ADF will also maintain its commitment of 10 advisors to the Logistics Training Advisory Team in Kabul. 

Australia currently has over 100 staff embedded within a range of ISAF Headquarters.  The embed commitment in 2014 is expected to evolve as ISAF prepares for the post-2014 train, advise and assist mission. 

A possible Special Forces role remains contingent on Government consideration and consultation with the United States and ISAF over Australia’s possible post-2014 Special Forces role.

Post-2014 NATO-led Mission

At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, ISAF nations and the Afghan Government agreed to work together to establish a new NATO-led post-2014 mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF.

We are well down that path. At the recent NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 4 June, the Concept of Operations for the post-2014 train, advise and assist mission was endorsed by Ministers. 

Operational planning for the post-2014 mission will continue to develop through the remainder of 2013.

Australia’s post-2014 role

Australia is prepared to maintain an ADF presence in Afghanistan to support stability and security after the completion of nationwide transition at the end of 2014.

Australia will continue to provide training and advisory support to the ANSF through the NATO-led train, advise and assist mission to Afghanistan.

Under an appropriate mandate, Australia is prepared to make a Special Forces contribution, either for training or for Counter Terrorism purposes, or both.

The actual size and scope of Australia’s post-2014 ADF contributed is yet to be determined.

As well, Australia will contribute US$100 million annually for three years from January 2015 as part of international efforts to sustain and support the ANSF beyond transition, a continuation of the US$200 million Australia committed in 2009 to help sustain the ANA in Uruzgan Province over the five years from 2009 until the end of 2014.

Reflecting our long-term interests in a stable Afghanistan that can be responsible for its own security, Prime Minister Gillard and President Karzai signed the Comprehensive Long-Term Partnership in Chicago in May 2012.

In May 2012 the United States also signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, which provides a framework for their long term bilateral relationship.  A number of our international partners, including NATO, the United Kingdom, France, India and Italy have signed similar agreements.

These commitments send a strong signal to the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the region that Australia and the international community will not walk away from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

The Tasks Ahead

Redeployment

Currently, Australia has about 1,650 personnel in Afghanistan and around 800 additional personnel providing support from locations within the broader Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO).  The increase in deployed personnel above the average of 1,550 is due to the over 150 personnel whose task is to commence redeployment, repatriation and remediation activities as part of the transition process.

During my most recent visit to Afghanistan, on 2 June, I was briefed on the significant progress Australian personnel have made in remediating buildings and facilities, and in preparation for redeploying Australian personnel and the transition of security responsibilities in Uruzgan to the ANSF. This complex task is on track, and cargo continues to be removed from Multi National Base – Tarin Kot.

Since the beginning of January, the ADF has used 25 cargo ship trips to bring home major materiel back to Australia, including:

  • 13 Australian Light Armoured Vehicles;
  • 92 Protected Mobility Vehicles (Bushmasters);
  • 4 Unimog trucks;
  • 23 general cargo loads, which have included vehicle components, uniforms, weapon mounts and a large range of other material.

Material was flown from Afghanistan to Dubai and then loaded onto ships. In the coming weeks and months the ADF plans to return approximately 100 pallets of general cargo per fortnight.

Australia does not intend to leave military equipment behind.

Over the last six months, the ADF has reduced its inventory of equipment in the Middle East Area of Operations by around two million individual items.

The withdrawal of equipment through Pakistan has also recently begun with the first ground shipment underway.

Locally Engaged Employees

As Australia prepares to leave Afghanistan, we are also making sure those who have assisted our efforts are supported.  Many locally engaged Afghan employees have provided valuable support to Australia’s whole-of-government mission in Afghanistan.

The Government recognises that some of these employees may be at risk of harm due to their support for our efforts in Afghanistan and has a moral responsibility to support those who have assisted us. 

On 13 December 2012, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and I announced a visa policy which will offer resettlement to Australia to locally engaged Afghan employees at risk of harm as a consequence of their employment in support of Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.

This policy is targeted towards locally engaged Afghan employees at the greatest risk of harm. It is consistent with the policy that the Government put in place in 2008 for locally engaged Iraqi employees who supported Australia’s mission in Iraq. 

This is a whole-of-government policy that is being implemented not only within the Department of Defence, but also the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. 

Under the policy, locally engaged Afghan employees interested in resettling in Australia will firstly need to be assessed by their employing Australian agency against specific threat criteria.  This will consider the level of direct support the applicant has provided to Australia’s mission in Afghanistan as well as its public profile, location and the period of employment.

If certified as eligible by the relevant Australian agency, the locally engaged Afghan employees will then be able to make an application for a visa under Australia’s Humanitarian Program.  They will be required to meet the standard visa criteria including health, character and security requirements.

Successful applicants will be resettled under Australia’s Humanitarian Program, administered by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  They will have access to the same suite of resettlement services as any other humanitarian entrants, including accommodation support, basic assistance to set up a household, English language courses and help to access government, community and health services.

Defence and other agencies have received a number of applications for certification under the first step of the process.

The Department of Immigration has also begun to receive applications for visas under Australia’s Humanitarian Program under the second step of the process. 

As I said when I announced the program in December 2013, it is possible that the total number of locally engaged Afghan employees resettled to Australia will be in the hundreds.  Every decision will be made on a case by case basis.

Detainee Management

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 has a responsibility to treat detainees with dignity and respect and is committed to managing detention matters in accordance with our domestic and international legal obligations.

Numbers of Detainees Apprehended

During the period 1 August 2010 to 14 June 2013, the ADF detained 1909 suspected insurgents. Of these: 158 detainees have been transferred to the National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot and 106 detainees have been transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan, now known as the Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan.

Detainee Management Framework

Since 1 August 2010, when Australia’s current detainee management framework in Afghanistan was introduced, five comprehensive technical audits of the framework and an audit of Australia’s detainee monitoring program have been conducted, with the most recent audit completed in April 2013.  

It included a review of Australia’s interrogation capability, which has been operating since February 2012, consideration of practices and processes at the point of capture, and a review of the ADF’s transitioning detainee management requirements including the scheduled closure of the Initial Screening Area (ISA) in the last quarter of this year.

The audit found that all detention activities conducted at the ADF ISA over the period of the audit were in full compliance with Australian policy, Australia’s international and domestic legal obligations and ISAF requirements.

These audits are an essential part of Australia’s strong governance framework and enable the ADF to proactively address any issues that might arise. Australia can be proud of its detainee management framework in Afghanistan.  Australia has achieved its operational requirements in a manner consistent with Australian values and our legal obligations.

Monitoring

As part of our detainee management framework, Australian officials monitor the treatment, welfare and conditions of all detainees transferred from ADF custody to Afghan custody.

Between 1 August 2010 and 14 June 2013, the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team, comprised of Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence, conducted 143 monitoring visits. This includes: 64 visits to the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot; 25 visits to the Tarin Kot Central Prison; and 54 visits to the Detention Facility in Parwan/ Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan.

Interrogation

In February 2012, I announced the deployment of trained ADF interrogators to Afghanistan.

Interrogation is a comprehensive questioning process, which is aimed at collecting intelligence on the insurgency.

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.

It is conducted within strict legal guidelines to prevent physical and mental mistreatment.

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.

From February 2012 to 14 June 2013, approximately 41 per cent of detainees apprehended by the ADF in Afghanistan have undergone interrogation within the ISA. 

Allegations of Mistreatment

As I have previously stated, 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.

When a detainee is brought into the ISA, 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 14 June 2013, there have been 201 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 175 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture. To date, 198 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as being unfounded.  Three allegations remain under review.

Treatment of Detainees by ANSF

Australia is committed to holding our own personnel to the highest standards on detainee treatment.  If ADF personnel become aware of concerns regarding the treatment of detainees by our ISAF or Afghan partners, this is also treated seriously.

During the period 1 August 2010 to 14 June 2013, 62 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the ANSF at the point of capture on partnered operations. The investigation of these allegations is a matter for the ANSF.

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 applicable 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.

Suspension of transfers to the National Directorate of Security Detention Facility in Tarin Kot

As I advised last month, on 15 March 2013, the ADF suspended the transfer of detainees to the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Tarin Kot, after allegations of mistreatment were raised by non-ADF transferred detainees.

Australia has raised our concerns about this matter with Afghan authorities, Afghan and international human rights organisations and ISAF. 

Australia has reiterated the importance of the proper treatment of detainees and the need to investigate any allegations of detainee mistreatment in a robust and transparent manner.  

I did so again during my 2 June visit to Kabul.

Australia has been informally advised by Afghan authorities that they are in the process of laying charges against a number of Afghan officials as a result of the allegations of detainee mistreatment at the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot.

It is appropriate for Australia to await the outcome of the Afghan investigation into this matter, and advice on any action to be taken, before Australia will consider a resumption of the transfer of ADF-apprehended detainees to Afghan authorities in Tarin Kot.  

At the time of suspension on 15 March there was one ADF transferred detainee in the NDS detention facility.  He was visited by Australia’s Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team on 12 March and he advised that he had not been mistreated.  That detainee was transferred to the Tarin Kot Central Prison on 19 March, where he is still subject to regular monitoring visits.

Since the suspension has been in place, two detainees have been transferred to the Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan.  Twenty detainees have been released from the ISA. 

Lessons from Afghanistan

The National Security Interest

In my first statement on Afghanistan to the Parliament as Minister for Defence on 20 October 2010, I said “[t]here can be no more serious endeavour for any country or Government than to send its military forces into conflict”.

To send its men and women in uniform into harm’s way, a country or Government must have a clear national security interest reason to do so.  In my 20 October 2010 statement I said:

The Government’s strong view is that it is in our national interest to be in Afghanistan. 

On the 11th of September 2001, al-Qaeda killed over 3000 people from more than 90 countries, including our own, in its terrible attacks in the United States. 

The Taliban, which harboured al-Qaeda within Afghanistan, refused to condemn al-Qaeda or cooperate with the international community to bring it to account. 

The international community, including Australia, could not stand by and allow such a threat to persist.  So we and others, under a United Nations mandate, still in existence and renewed unanimously by the Security Council in successive years, removed the Taliban from power. 

The 11 September attacks were also an attack upon our long-standing Alliance partner, the United States.  Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty after the September attacks. That decision was supported by both sides of this Chamber. 

Australia’s contribution in Afghanistan is also an expression of the common interest we share not just with the United States, but the other [45] countries of NATO and the International Security Assistance Force in countering international terrorism. 

Since the 11th of September, over one hundred Australians have been murdered – along with many more from other nations – in terrorist attacks around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Indonesia and India. 

Terrorism in Afghanistan and in its neighbourhood remains a real threat. 

Afghanistan needs the help of the international community, including Australia, to build its capacity so that terrorists are unable to re-establish the type of presence that enabled such terrorist attacks.

Australia’s national security interest in our commitment to Afghanistan – past, present and future – is clear:  to prevent Afghanistan from again being used by international terrorists to plan and train for attacks abroad on innocent civilians, including Australians in our own region and beyond.

The Use of Military Force

Our experience over the last ten years in Afghanistan has highlighted some important general lessons for the use of military force.

It has reinforced the well known point that it is the easiest thing in the world to get involved in major commitments, but it is substantially more difficult to get out.

That is why, when a Government makes a decision about a military intervention, it must very, very carefully consider whether that intervention is required in a country’s national security and national interests.  

In the case of Afghanistan, there was strong international community and bipartisan domestic support for the intervention in Afghanistan with the now 50 country strong ISAF, mandated by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001.

If there had not been a continually renewed UN mandate for Afghanistan, the international community would have withdrawn years ago.

Progress in Afghanistan was substantially undermined as a result of Iraq, which was not the subject of a UN mandate and which did not have bipartisan domestic support in Australia and overseas.

International community focus shifted from Afghanistan in the latter half of 2002, in the lead up to the Iraq War.  This allowed the Taliban to regroup in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region and reassert and rebuild its influence in southern Afghanistan from 2003 through 2005.  As a result, from 2006 onwards, ISAF forces faced fierce opposition from a resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan. 

Focus shifted back to Afghanistan in 2008. 

The subsequent surge of international troops and resources into Afghanistan and the sharper international focus led to the transition process and where we are today but the regrettable fact is that valuable years, a half dozen years, were lost to the Afghanistan mission.

International Decision Making

From the earliest days, the Government was forthright in demanding a place at the international table when key decisions were made on Afghanistan. 

My Ministerial predecessors Ministers Nelson, Fitzgibbon and Faulkner did very valuable work on this front.

Australia insisted that strategic level decisions on Afghanistan were taken by the International Security Assistance Force, not just by NATO.

While the Government was prepared to put our men and women in uniform into harm’s way to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism, we were equally determined to ensure that from 2008 Australia was part of the decision making process for the international community’s strategy on Afghanistan.

Strategy and Mission

At the Summit in Lisbon in November 2010, leaders from Afghanistan and the NATO and ISAF countries agreed that a conditions-based transition to Afghan led security begin in 2011, with the aim of completing transition by the end of 2014.

NATO and ISAF members also made an important long term commitment to support Afghanistan beyond the transition of security responsibility.

These commitments were reaffirmed by the international community at the Chicago Summit in May 2012.

The international community also agreed at Chicago to continuing to fund, train and support the ANSF post-transition, to consolidate and build on the security gains of the transition strategy.

This is in recognition that it is essential that the international community provides the resources for ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of the ANSF beyond 2014.

The international community also committed at the Chicago Summit to supporting Afghanistan’s development in the long-term, including through the signature of long term strategic partnership agreements.

Long term support to Afghanistan, its institutions and its security forces are an important 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.

This long term support is an important safeguard against the inevitable pressure the Taliban will seek to bear on Afghan institutions of state and the Afghan security forces with transition to Afghan security responsibility.  Similarly, a continued Special Forces contingent will be important to maintain an active deterrent against the re-emergence of international terrorists. 

These two elements – long term international support and continued Special Forces assistance – will be important both to sustain the transition to Afghan security responsibility and to ensure the viability of what the international community has achieved in Afghanistan.

If, following the transition to Afghan security responsibility, Afghan institutions and the Afghan security forces were to collapse, or Afghanistan was again to re-emerge as a base for international terrorism, the Australian public would rightly question whether stabilisation operations and humanitarian interventions were worth the cost in lives and resources.

That is why Australia has committed to the long term support of Afghanistan and is prepared to maintain an ADF presence in Afghanistan to support stability and security after the completion of nationwide transition at the end of 2014.

That is why I have stressed that under an appropriate mandate, Australia is prepared to make a Special Forces contribution, either for training or for Counter Terrorism purposes, or both.

It is as well why Australia has also strongly supported the notion that in the end stability in Afghanistan will not occur by military or combat action alone, but by peace and reconciliation efforts.

International Collaboration

Australia’s experiences in Afghanistan have been shared with our most important overseas partners.  This includes Australia’s Alliance partner, the United States, traditional partners including the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, and other partners including NATO.

Australia’s operations in Afghanistan have also enabled enhanced cooperation with our regional partners Singapore and Malaysia through our partnership with Singapore in CT-U and the assistance provided to Malaysian forces transiting to Afghanistan.

We have also enhanced our relationships with non-traditional partners, including the Netherlands and Slovakia, based on our partnership with these countries at various times in Uruzgan.

Australia-US Alliance Lessons

Australia and the US will emerge from our commitment in Afghanistan with closer practical ties than ever before.

We have developed heightened intelligence sharing, and our Special Forces, having worked side by side with US Special Forces, are held in the highest regard.

We have also contributed competent and highly skilled embedded personnel to ISAF and US based Headquarters to shape and influence operations, where their counsel and expertise has been regularly sought and welcomed. 

This has not only enhanced our reputation, but more importantly, has resulted in improved capability and interoperability for the ADF into the future.

We can and will continue to build on these strengthened ties.

Australia-NATO Partnership

Australia’s relationship with NATO has strengthened in recognition of our common values, our experience of working together in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and our shared vision to promote stability and peace through cooperation.

As a result, Australia and NATO are working closely to strengthen our relations in areas of mutual interest.

In January 2012 Australia appointed Dr Brendan Nelson, a former Defence Minister, as its first Ambassador to NATO, followed by Mr Duncan Lewis, a former Secretary of the Department of Defence.

Australia’s participation in a unique meeting at the NATO Chicago Summit in May 2012 of NATO and its partners agreed to enhance political dialogue and practical cooperation.

Building on the dialogue and cooperation developed, Australia also signed an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme in February 2012 with NATO to complement NATO’s expertise and to address future security challenges.

The Rule of Law

The rule of law is an essential basis for international relations and for national security policy.

The force of international law, and the protection it offers the Afghan people, clearly distinguishes the international effort in Afghanistan from the actions of the Taliban and its associates.

On the ground, international humanitarian law – including the principles of military necessity, proportionality, distinction and discrimination – provides the framework for Australia and ISAF’s rules of engagement.

The ADF has built a reputation over the years for professionalism and compliance with such rules of engagement.

We have prided ourselves on our high standards and we have a well regarded international reputation for doing so.

Australian forces take all possible steps to ensure their operations do not endanger the lives of civilians.

When there are civilian casualty incidents they are always investigated.

The law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law also provide a clear legal framework Australia’s detainee management framework.

Governance is of fundamental importance to Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan.

Australia takes very seriously its responsibility for ensuring detainees are treated with dignity and respect as befits the professionalism of our forces and consistent with our domestic and international legal obligations.

In developing this framework, Australia had two priorities in mind.  The first priority is the critical need to remove insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, ISAF and Afghan lives.  The second priority is the need to ensure humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.

The detainee management framework draws on applicable international standards and advice from international organisations.  It is consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions.

Following capture, the ADF transfers ADF-apprehended detainees to the purpose-built Initial Screening Area (ISA) screening facility in Tarin Kot in Uruzgan Province for a limited period of time.

The ISA in Tarin Kot is under 24-hour Closed Circuit Television (CTV) surveillance and the facility open to regular inspection by international humanitarian and national human rights organisations.

A team of Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence monitors the welfare, treatment and conditions of all detainees transferred to Afghan custody.

The monitoring team visit detainees shortly after transfer, and subject to operational requirements, around every four weeks until the detainee is sentenced or released.

This monitoring is underpinned by formal arrangements with Afghanistan and the US, which include assurances on the humane treatment of detainees and free access by Australian officials and human rights organisations.

Every allegation of detainee mistreatment received or observed by the ADF is reported through the ADF Military Chain of Command.  Once reported, allegations are reviewed or investigated. 

ISAF and Afghan and international human rights and humanitarian organisations are notified of any allegations and the outcomes of any subsequent assessments.

The requirements of Australia’s adherence to the rule of law, our approach to civilian casualties and our detainee management framework, are exacting.  They have however stood the ADF and its well deserved reputation in good stead and allowed the ADF to retain the pride and support of the Australian people in the job they are doing.

Our international reputation, our credibility and our reliability as a partner as a result of our experience in Afghanistan has been enhanced consistent with the finest traditions of Australia and the ADF in combat or war like operations: first class fighters, and respectful of international law and highly conscious of the rights of civilians and locals.

Force Protection

The challenges of operating safely in Afghanistan have not only tested the skills of our deployed personnel, but have also tested our ability to provide appropriate personal and collective force protection.

Following the Force Protection Review effected by my predecessor Defence Minister Faulkner, the Government committed to a package of force protection initiatives worth $1.6 billion.

The ADF now employs a suite of force protection measures to enhance the safety of deployed personnel.  This includes physical measures, such as armoured vehicles, route clearance vehicles, improved body armour, hardened working and accommodation facilities and systems such as CRAM (Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar).

Our personnel have also utilised constantly evolving tactics, techniques and procedures to enhance their protection levels.

On the home front, the ever evolving threat of IEDs has required scientific innovation, high-end engineering skills and indigenous capabilities from our defence industries to counter effectively.

The success of the Bushmaster vehicle is a very good and obvious example. Over several years, defence and industry engineers have continually improved the design of these vehicles which have ultimately saved soldier’s lives and reduced injuries.

Support to our Veterans

The care of wounded, injured and ill veterans is a high priority for the Government and the Australian community.

The Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs have been working closely together to ensure we are ready to meet the needs of our contemporary veterans.

In February, the Departments signed 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.

Put simply, it is to stop our wounded, injured and ill veterans from falling between the cracks in the system.

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.

Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

As we enter the post Afghanistan draw down period there is significant interest in ensuring we are prepared to respond to the mental health impact of the operational tempo of recent years.

Significant improvements have been made to the provision of mental health care as part of a more than $90 million investment into Defence and Veterans’ Affairs by Government. 

An additional $26 million has been identified in the recent 2013 Defence White Paper for the provision of enhanced mental health programs.

Since 2009, substantial progress has been made to improve the services and assistance for ADF members and their families experiencing mental disorders, including post traumatic stress disorder, both during their military service and after they discharge.

Defence has introduced a range of resilience programs, increased the mental health workforce, improved access to mental health care and increased awareness of mental health issues and understanding of post traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide prevention and alcohol misuse.

Comprehensive research has been conducted into the profile of ADF mental health needs, the prevalence rates of conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the impact of operational service on the health of men and women who have served in the ADF.

As a Government and as a community we are better prepared than we have been following previous wars and conflicts to recognise mental health problems, intervene early, provide effective treatments and enable Defence members to return to work as soon as possible either within or outside of the ADF.

Awareness and education in relation to mental health issues is a key factor in preventing future problems.

We will continue to reduce stigma and barriers to care improving access to treatment that will promote rehabilitation and recovery supporting ADF members and their families to continue to contribute through a working life within the ADF or within the broader Australian if the decision is to leave the ADF.

Defence and Veterans’ Affairs remain committed to building resilience and improving awareness of all mental disorders that impact on ADF personnel, not just post traumatic stress disorder.  We are encouraging current serving and ex-serving personnel and their families to seek help as early as possible.

Combat Fatality Reports

In my Ministerial Statement to Parliament on 9 February 2012, I noted that the past focus of the Inquiry Officer process into Australia’s combat fatalities had been on the public release of Inquiry Officer Reports which had 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.

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. Inquiries into all these incidents are complete, and all but one of the families (the family of Lieutenant Marcus Case) have been briefed on the outcomes.

Lieutenant Marcus Case was killed in the crash of the Australian CH-47D helicopter in Afghanistan on 30 May 2011 and his family will be briefed on the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into that incident in the near future following its consideration by the Chief of the Defence Force.

In 2012 there were four incidents resulting in the combat deaths of seven soldiers.  Inquiries into all these incidents are complete, and all but one of the families have been briefed on the outcomes.  Arrangements are currently being made with the family of one of these soldiers to be briefed on the inquiry outcomes.  It is anticipated that this briefing will take place in the near future.

Since my Ministerial Statement on 9 February last year, two Inquiry Officer Reports into insider attacks have been finalised and made public. A further nine Inquiry Officer Reports into eleven combat deaths have been finalised and completion advised to the public.

Afghan-led Peace and Reconciliation Process

I said to the House in my 7 February 2013 statement, that Australia has long supported an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process, recognising that conflict in Afghanistan will not be ended by military force alone.

Australia welcomes the opening of 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.

Australia also welcomes the fact that United States representatives will meet the Taliban in Doha for talks aimed at achieving peace in Afghanistan.

These talks will necessarily be long, complex and inevitably subject to setbacks, but efforts at peace and reconciliation must continue.

Awards from Operations in Afghanistan

Australia’s contribution to Afghanistan has seen great acts of bravery.

Operations in Afghanistan have seen Australia’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross for Australia, awarded to three outstanding individuals for their acts of exceptional courage:  Trooper Mark Donaldson, Special Air Service Regiment, received the Victoria Cross in 2008 for actions in Uruzgan Province; Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, Special Air Service Regiment, received the Victoria Cross in 2010 for actions in Kandahar Province in 2010; and Corporal Daniel Keighran, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, received the Victoria Cross in 2010 for actions in Uruzgan Province.

Operations in Afghanistan have also seen the award of the Battle Honour Eastern Shah Wali Kot to the Special Air Service Regiment and to the 2nd Commando Regiment for their outstanding performance during the Shah Wali Kot Offensive in Afghanistan from May to June 2010.  Eastern Shah Wali Kot is the first Army Battle Honour awarded since the end of the Vietnam War. 

On 10 May this year it was my privilege to attend the presentation of the Eastern Shah Wali Kot Battle Honour to the Special Air Service Regiment at Campbell Barracks in Perth.  Today I have the privilege of attending the presentation of the Eastern Shah Wali Kot Battle Honour to the 2nd Commando Regiment in Holsworthy, Sydney. 

Australian Battle Casualties

Australia’s mission in Afghanistan has come at a price.

We have lost 39 ADF members and 254 personnel have been wounded in action to date. 

We have achieved much in Afghanistan. We still have much to contribute. 

Today in this Parliament, we pay tribute to our wounded warriors and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  We will not forget them.


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