Defence Ministers’ meeting
Mr Secretary General, colleagues, I welcome this opportunity to attend my first ISAF Defence Ministers’ meeting. I would like to reassure colleagues around this table that the new Australian Government remains fully committed to supporting Afghanistan.
I would like to start by recognising the progress that ISAF, alongside the Afghan Government, has made. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are now on track to assume full security responsibility, and have demonstrated their capacity to deliver security and stability for the Afghan people. SACEUR, COMISAF and the SCR are to be congratulated and we should all quite rightly acknowledge the work and sacrifice of all our people involved.
I would like to pass on through you, General Mohammadi, our congratulations to the Afghan Government and to the Afghan National Security Forces on your successes through this last fighting season. It has not been without sacrifices but vast areas of the country, including Uruzgan province where Australian forces are based, now have access to Government services not previously available. There is much progress of which Afghanistan and the international community can be proud. Importantly, now it is the Government and people of Afghanistan who can take charge of their own destiny, assisted by the international community.
Australia is on track to draw down its forces from Uruzgan province by the end of this year. However, this does not mark an end to our commitment. I believe that following all of our commitments at Chicago and Tokyo it is now up to us collectively to follow through. We need to continue close monitoring of the use and effectiveness of our support, including through our physical presence in country.
In 2014, Australia will turn its attention to national-level support. We will be making a significant Australian Defence Force commitment of instructors, advisors and support staff to the ANA Officer Academy in Kabul, and ongoing advisory support to the ANA’s 205 Corps Headquarters in Kandahar. We will continue to support logistics training and we have committed Special Forces to supporting the General Directorate of Police Special Units.
Beyond 2014, subject to an invitation from the Government of Afghanistan and the signing of a satisfactory SOFA, Australia will remain committed to support security in Afghanistan. We welcome the positive developments on the important Bilateral Security Agreement negotiations. We encourage the Afghan government to move forward resolutely to agree the BSA with the US and the SOFA with NATO and issue invitations in good time to secure further assistance.
As NATO and partner nations transition towards a post-2014 mission, our close relationships on the ground must be sustained. Australia resolves to continue to work closely with NATO allies and partners on planning for the post-2014 mission and through full and timely engagement in the planning process.
As a newly appointed Defence Minister I look forward to visiting Afghanistan. I welcome the many positive recent developments made by the ISAF campaign and look forward to continuing to work with NATO in the future, as we lay the ground work for the full transition of responsibility to Afghan authorities.