I visited Afghanistan on Monday 18 February and Tuesday 19 February 2013.
On Monday 18 February I visited Kabul.
I met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Defence Minister Bismullah Khan.
President Karzai thanked Australia for its commitment to Afghanistan and expressed his deep respect and gratitude for the efforts of Australian soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan.
I also met Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, National Security Adviser Dr Rangin Spanta, Transition Coordinator Dr Ashraf Ghani, the Chairman of the High Peace Council Salahuddin Rabbani, and the Secretary for the High Peace Council Masoom Stanekzai.
I met ISAF Commander General Joseph Dunford and NATO Senior Civilian Representative Maurits Jochems, and also had the opportunity to meet with senior Australian officers embedded in ISAF Headquarters.
My discussions with Australian, Afghan and ISAF colleagues focussed on progress in the transition to Afghan led security responsibility, following President Karzai's announcement in December last year of 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.
Afghan security forces will take the lead for security across the country in the northern Spring and ISAF forces will shift to an advise-support role.
We discussed the Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process.
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 and 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.
We also discussed the post-2014 international commitment to Afghanistan.
Post-2014, the ADF will continue to support the development of the Afghan security forces through the provision of training and advisory support, including at the ANA Officer Academy in Kabul with our British and New Zealand colleagues.
We will also consider a Special Forces contribution, under an appropriate mandate.
On 19 February, I visited Tarin Kot.
I met the Australian Commander of Combined Team Uruzgan Colonel Simon Stuart, the Commander of the 7 Royal Australian Regiment Task Group Lieutenant Colonel Mal Wells and the Director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team Mr John Feakes.
I also met Uruzgan Governor Amir Mohammed Akhundzada.
We discussed progress in the transition to Afghan led security responsibility in Uruzgan, following the commencement of independent operations by the four infantry kandaks of the 4th Brigade of the 205 Hero Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA).
Australian troops are no longer conducting joint patrols with the ANA, have handed over control for joint operating bases to the ANA, and consolidated the Australian presence at Multi National Base Tarin Kot.
Australian Commanders are confident that we are on track to transition to Afghan led security in Uruzgan by the end of 2013.
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 also discussed the complex task of redeploying Australian personnel and equipment and remediating buildings and facilities.
I again visited the Initial Screening Area in which the processing and interrogation of Afghan detainees is undertaken.
Australia takes seriously the treatment of detainees and the Government is committed to transparent detainee management arrangements in Afghanistan.
On my visit to Kabul and Tarin Kot I was accompanied by the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley, the Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr Jon Philp, Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Ash Power, and the Commander of Joint Task Force 633, Major-General Michael Crane.
Imagery is available at:
Minister Smith's office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392
Defence Media Operations: (02) 6127 1999