Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Australia maintains its commitment to Afghanistan as the 10th largest military contributor and the largest non-NATO contributor because it is in Australia’s national interest to do so.
It is in Australia’s national interest to help the international community stare down international terrorism.
And today we all do that as part of a United Nations mandated 48 country International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
At the Lisbon Summit in November last year, NATO/ ISAF Leaders resolved that a conditions based transition to Afghan-led security will begin in 2011, with the aim of transfer being completed by the end of 2014.
Important progress has been made since Lisbon with the first Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal Report and the development of ISAF Transition Implementation Principles.
Australia endorses the first Inteqal report and its recommendation to begin transition to be announced by President Karzai later this month.
The commitment to coordinate transition planning with both Afghan and ISAF stakeholders will ensure all partners are consulted throughout the transition process, including on future tranches for transition.
It is essential to get this right, to ensure the sustainability of the transition process.
As Australia said at the Lisbon Summit, there is no point transitioning out only to have to transition back in later.
The ISAF Transition Implementation Principles emphasise a shared, long-term commitment, a properly resourced mission, and investment and reinvestment in training.
This is what Australia is doing in Uruzgan Province, working with the Afghan National Security Forces and its partners as part of Combined Team Uruzgan.
Over the past six months, the Afghan National Security Forces and Combined Team Uruzgan have expanded security over previously insurgent controlled areas.
This has been made possible in part through the transfer of key patrol bases from ISAF or Afghan National Army (ANA) control to the Afghan National Police, which has in turn allowed the Afghan National Army to move into contested areas.
Our task is now to ensure that this progress and the gains we have made are consolidated and not reversed.
Australia is committed to mentoring and training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Uruzgan Province to enable them to take on responsibility for security arrangements in the province between 2012 and 2014.
Australia’s assessment of the 4th Brigade’s capacity is that it is effective with assistance and increasingly capable. We believe the Uruzgan transition process can occur over the next one to three years.
As we hand over patrol bases and establish new ones, and see ANA Kandaks conduct more unaccompanied activities, Australian forces can be released for additional training and mentoring tasks, including responsibility for additional ANA forces in Uruzgan.
As the Kandaks become more capable and self reliant, Australian forces can move into an enabling and overwatch role.
The next rotation of Australian forces - Australian Task Force 9 - will be deployed into Uruzgan province in June, and will take on the additional task of mentoring the newly formed 6th Infantry Kandak of the 4th Brigade.
Our next NATO / ISAF Defence Ministers meeting in June will offer an opportunity to assess progress in ISAF’s training mission and the progress towards transition more broadly.
Transition to Afghan responsibility will be a graduated and uneven process. It will be done on a province by province and district by district basis when conditions are right.
Transition must be irreversible, but equally important, must not be a signal to premature withdrawal.
The international community must continue to provide a long term commitment to Afghanistan.
Security transition cannot be seen as the automatic end of the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan.
That is why Australia has made clear it expects to maintain a presence in Afghanistan after our current training mission has concluded, either in further specialised training, overwatch or through civilian capacity building and development assistance.
At the same time our military strategy and effort alone will not achieve our mission in Afghanistan. We must continue our political strategy.
Australia strongly to supports Afghan led reconciliation and reintegration efforts where insurgents are encouraged to lay down their weapons, renounce terrorism and abide by the Afghan constitution.
We expect to the next fighting season to be tough.
As we prepare for it we are also mindful of the civilian toll of the war, and the importance of our rules of engagement in protecting civilians.
At the same time, we know an increasing number of civilian casualties are caused by insurgent attacks and the deliberate targeting of civilians or tactics which result in civilian casualties.
Despite these challenges, we are confident the international community has the right strategy for putting Afghanistan in a position to take responsibility for security matters and prevent it from being a haven for terrorists.
This military and political strategy and the required resources are now, at long last, in place and delivering hard won progress. We see this in Uruzgan as we see it elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Australia, together with those here, stands firm in its commitment to Afghanistan.
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