I was in Afghanistan this week on my first overseas visit as Defence Minister.
I met with a number of Afghan officials in Kabul, including the Minister of Interior, General Bismallah Khan Mohammadi, and the Minister for Defence, Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Both ministers expressed the Government of Afghanistan's gratitude for Australia's contribution.
I was impressed by the steely resolve of the Afghan Ministers to effect the full transition of security to Afghan forces by 2014.
This transitional expectation remains in line with the advice I have received from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
In terms of our mission, Ministers impressed upon me that training and support to Afghan forces is the key to long-term success. Australia’s commitment to mentoring and training the Australian National Army 4th Brigade remains both relevant and essential to achieving this mission.
After meeting with several Australian and senior military officials in Kabul, including the Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Paul Foley, and the Commander of ISAF, General Petraeus and Senior Civilian Representative Mark Sedwill, I am in no doubt that the mission in Afghanistan is seeing positive results and progress is being made.
Australia is one of the largest contributing forces in Afghanistan and, after receiving a number of informative high level briefs this week, I remain confident that the scale of Australia’s military contribution to this mission is appropriate.
I have however indicated that we are willing to look at providing more police trainers and this is something that I will discuss with Cabinet colleagues and the Government will give proper consideration to.
I have had a conversation with the Chief of the Defence Force and up to twenty artillery trainers can be provided as a reallocation from within the existing 1550 strong Australian Defence Force contribution.
The International Security Assistance Force Commander, General David Petraeus, Senior Civilian Representative, Mark Sedwill and both Afghan Ministers highly valued the professionalism, effectiveness and conduct of our Australian deployed personnel, particularly our troops, including in their engagement in the local community.
I had the opportunity to personally relay that message to our Australian personnel in Kabul.
I also met with the key provincial leaders in Uruzgan, including the Acting Governor, Haji Khoday Rahim Khan, commander of the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade, Brigadier General Zafar Khan, and Chief of Police in Uruzgan, Brigadier General Juma Gul, to hear their views on progress in improving stability and governance in Uruzgan. All of them were grateful for Australia's ongoing contribution and praised the conduct of Australian personnel.
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