I visited Afghanistan on Tuesday 10 April and Wednesday 11 April 2012.
My discussions with Australian, Afghan and ISAF colleagues focussed on progress in the transition to Afghan led security responsibility and preparations for the announcement of the third tranche of districts and provinces to enter the transition process.
We also discussed preparations for the NATO/ISAF Summit in Chicago in May and the post-2014 international commitment to Afghanistan.
On 10 April I visited Kandahar and Tarin Kot.
In Kandahar I was briefed on the operations of the Australian Defence Force's Rotary Wing Group and Heron detachment.
The Rotary Wing Group consists of two Chinook helicopters and is providing important air transport and logistics support for International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations in Southern Afghanistan.
The Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle detachment’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability gives Australian and ISAF Forces a valuable fighting edge against the insurgency.
In Kandahar, I met the Commander of ISAF Forces in Southern Afghanistan, United States Major General Jim Huggins, and in Tarin Kot, I met the Commander of Combined Team Uruzgan, United States Colonel Gerald Hadley.
I also met the Australian Deputy Commander of Combined Team Uruzgan Colonel Ben James, and the Australian Commander of Mentoring Task Force - 4 Lieutenant Colonel Khalil Fegan.
We discussed Australian and ISAF efforts in Southern Afghanistan and Uruzgan, particularly the training and mentoring of the Afghan National Army Fourth Brigade.
Australian and ISAF Commanders are confident that we are on track to transition to Afghan led security in Uruzgan by 2014, possibly earlier.
I also met the Commander of the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) Lieutenant Colonel J. SOTG continues to make good progress disrupting the insurgency in and around Uruzgan Province by taking the insurgent leadership off the battlefield and impeding the flow of drug money to the insurgency.
I had the honour of addressing Australian troops at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot and of listening to their views and answering their questions on our commitment in Afghanistan.
I told our men and women in uniform of the pride that all Australians - the Government, the Parliament and the public - have for the work they are doing in Afghanistan.
While in Tarin Kot, I again visited the Initial Screening Area in which the processing and interrogation of Afghan detainees is undertaken.
Substantial enhancements, in particular to the Close Circuit TV monitoring arrangements, have been made to the Initial Screening Area to support the introduction of an interrogation capability in February this year.
Australia takes seriously the treatment of detainees and the Government is committed to transparent detainee management arrangements in Afghanistan.
I met Uruzgan Deputy Governor Rahim Khoday and his Provincial security chiefs, the Commander of the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army Brigadier Zafar Khan, the Provincial Chief of Police Brigadier Mattiullah Khan, and the Provincial Chief of the National Directorate of Security Colonel Khan Mohammed Khan.
In Kabul I met the newly appointed Uruzgan Governor Amir Mohammed Akhundzada. I also had the opportunity to thank former Uruzgan Governor Mohammed Omar Shirzad for his efforts to improve governance and service delivery to the Afghan people in Uruzgan Province.
In Kabul, I met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, National Security Adviser Dr Rangin Spanta, Secretary for the High Peace Council Masoom Stanekzai and Chief of the Defence Staff General Sher Mohammed Karimi. I also met former Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah.
I met ISAF Commander General John Allen and NATO Senior Civilian Representative Simon Gass, and also had the opportunity to meet with senior Australian officers embedded in ISAF Headquarters.
On my visit to Afghanistan I was accompanied by the Secretary of the Department of Defence Mr Duncan Lewis, the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley, the Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr Paul Foley, and the Commander of Joint Task Force 633, Major-General Stuart Smith.
Imagery is available at:
Minister's Office - (02) 6277 7800
Defence Media - (02) 6127 1999