I leave Australia today to travel to Brussels to join my North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Defence and Foreign Ministerial colleagues for the April NATO/ISAF Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr and I will represent Australia at the Meeting of Defence and Foreign Ministers. I will be accompanied by the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley.
The Ministerial meeting in Brussels follows on from my visit to Afghanistan last week.
Ministers will consider progress in the ongoing transition process to Afghan-led security by 2014 and the post 2014 international community’s contribution to Afghanistan, ahead of the NATO/ISAF Leaders’ Summit in Chicago in May.
Issues include the size of the Afghan National Security Force sufficient to maintain security for Afghanistan beyond 2014 and a fair burden sharing arrangement for the cost of sustaining the ANSF into the future.
Ministers will also consider the international community's enduring commitment to Afghanistan through Strategic Partnerships. Australia is contemplating such a Strategic Partnership. Afghanistan has already signed Strategic Partnerships with NATO, India, the United Kingdom, France and Italy and is pursuing such a partnership with the United States.
Australia is committed to training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in Uruzgan Province to enable them to take on responsibility for security in Uruzgan by 2014, perhaps earlier.
Australian forces continue to make steady progress in training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army.
The 4th Brigade is increasingly assuming the lead for the planning, preparation and execution of tactical operations, allowing Australian forces to concentrate on mentoring and partnering Afghan command and combat support functions.
On current advice, the 4th Brigade as a whole is expected to be operationally viable and ready to take the lead for security by 2014, perhaps earlier.
I will also take the opportunity to meet bilaterally with a range of my NATO/ISAF Ministerial colleagues.
Mr Smith’s Office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392
Department of Defence: (02) 6127 1999