Tabled in conjunction with a Ministerial Statement
The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
This year I have reported to the Parliament on four prior occasions, in March, May, July and October.
This will be my last Parliamentary report for this year.
The Prime Minister reported to the Parliament earlier this week on Afghanistan, describing the day to day work of our men and women in uniform and our civilians and articulating Australia’s future commitment to Afghanistan.
I take this opportunity to provide further detail on the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) operations in Afghanistan. There have been a number of developments since my last update in October.
Why we are there
The Government’s view that it is in our national interest to be in Afghanistan, not just with our Alliance partner the United States (US), but also with 47 other members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) acting under a United Nations mandate.
Australia’s primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from again being used by terrorists to plan and train for attacks on innocent civilians, including Australians in our own region and beyond.
It is imperative that we remain focussed on our goal to help prepare the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take lead responsibility for providing security for the Afghan people.
To do so we must continue in our efforts to stabilise the security situation and to mentor and train the Afghan security forces.
To leave now would be to put at risk the gains our ADF members fought so hard for.
In this my last Parliamentary report on Afghanistan for the year, it is opportune to reflect on the progress that has been made.
Since commencing operations in Uruzgan, ISAF forces have assisted the Afghan forces in expanding the security footprint across Uruzgan with the establishment of over 30 patrol bases and check points across the province.
Since 2007, successive Australian Task Forces have continued to support this expansion through the construction of 18 new patrol bases and check points.
Of these bases, Australian forces have handed over the control of six patrol bases and check points to the Afghan National Police. Australian forces have also provided 12 bases to the Afghan National Army, of which they are now fully responsible for seven. Australian and Afghan forces jointly man the remaining five bases.
We will continue to progressively transition control of the remaining check points and operating bases to Afghan counterparts.
By the first half of 2012, the Australian Mentoring Task Force should be in a position to reduce its footprint to as few as four main locations in Uruzgan, with mobile mentoring teams able to assist Afghan partners at their operating bases for short periods when required.
Australian forces continue to make important progress towards training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade so that it can take responsibility for security in Uruzgan.
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.
The 4th Brigade is also demonstrating progress towards operating independently, with a number of infantry Kandaks (Battalions) now expected to be capable of conducting independent operations by early 2012.
On current advice and projections, the 4th Brigade, as a whole, is expected to be operationally viable and ready for provincial transition by 2014, possibly earlier.
The process of transition to Afghan security control continues at a steady pace.
In July, Afghanistan and the international community welcomed the formal start of the transition process in the first tranche of provinces and districts across Afghanistan.
This marked an important step towards meeting President Karzai’s objective that Afghan authorities assume lead security responsibility across Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The first tranche of provinces and districts to have transitioned to Afghan-led security accounts for around 20 to 25 per cent of the Afghan population.
President Karzai is expected to announce the second tranche of districts and provinces for transition later this month. When this second tranche of districts and provinces transitions, Afghan security forces will provide lead security for up to 50 percent of the Afghan population.
Subsequent tranches will see international forces continue the process of handing over the lead security responsibility across the country.
The Taliban will continue to test the transition process through more high profile attacks and assassination attempts.
Australia is confident the ANSF will continue to demonstrate their resolve and growing capability by standing up to and against such violence.
In Uruzgan, as I have previously indicated, we continue to do well in training and mentoring the 4th Brigade of the ANA.
Afghan forces are progressively assuming control of check points and operating bases, with the Australian Mentoring Task Force expected to be in a position to reduce its footprint to main locations in Uruzgan by the first half of next year.
Personnel from the Mentoring Task Force are assisting the ANA 4th Brigade to move towards operating independently, with several Kandaks expected to be capable of conducting independent operations by early 2012.
Australian Special Forces continue to work alongside their Afghan partners, the Provincial Response Company and the National Interdiction Unit, to disrupt the insurgency and reduce their revenue stream from narcotics.
Together, these achievements are ensuring that we are moving closer to transition security responsibility for Uruzgan to the ANSF by 2014, possibly earlier.
Once our mission to train and mentor the 4th Brigade is complete, we will draw down the number of ADF personnel.
As the international community looks ahead, ISAF must maintain its Lisbon Summit commitment to transition to Afghan led security by 2014.
Likewise, both NATO and the United States must maintain their commitment to a long term enduring strategic partnership with Afghanistan.
NATO and the United States confirmed their long-term commitments at the meeting of NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers in Brussels in October.
NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers welcomed the outline of the NATO Strategic Plan for Afghanistan which sets out the proposed approach to the NATO/ISAF presence in Afghanistan for the 2012-2014 period, and, most importantly, for the post-2014 period.
This continuing long-term commitment and continued investment in Afghanistan’s future is a key to ensuring that Afghanistan and its neighbours – including Pakistan – also invest in a peaceful future for Afghanistan.
It is important to begin work on the post-2014 period now. Not to set this out soon will undermine what we have achieved, jeopardise Afghan confidence in the international community’s long term commitment to their country and send the wrong message to regional neighbours, in particular Pakistan.
Australia looks forward to continued work on the NATO Strategic Plan ahead of the Chicago Summit in May next year.
Important into the future will be continued international community support for the ANSF. The international community must ensure the ANSF is provided with the resources it needs to maintain security into the future.
Australia in conjunction with Afghanistan and ISAF has commenced planning for its post-transition contribution to Afghanistan.
As the Prime Minister said in her statement to Parliament on Monday, we will seek an enduring relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014.
After 2014 we will maintain links with Uruzgan province, but our role will have a more national focus.
We have also made clear that we expect to maintain a presence beyond 2014, potentially through institutional training, a Special Forces presence, military advisers, capacity building and development assistance.
Australia is already involved in institutional training through the Afghan National Army Artillery Training School and will continue to work with Afghanistan and ISAF partners to identify further institutional training opportunities.
In addition to this training, the United Kingdom has proposed Australian involvement in a UK-led Afghan National Army Officer Academy. Such an Academy is essential in developing a professional officer corps within the Afghan National Army, judged to be key to the international community realising an enduring security transition to Afghan authorities.
Australia has indicated to the UK interest in supporting this initiative. Defence is exploring options for an Australian contribution to the delivery of training at the Academy.
The protection of our forces in Afghanistan continues to be our highest priority.
The Government committed to force protection initiatives worth $1.6 billion following the Force Protection Review effected by my predecessor Minister Faulkner.
Of the 48 recommendations made by the Review, 42 are now complete or on track, 4 initiatives are under review and 2 initiatives have been cancelled as there are no suitable technical solutions.
The improvements delivered this year include new lighter body armour, upgraded combat helmets, longer range machine guns and upgraded Bushmaster vehicles.
Defence has worked with Australian industry to develop the “TBAS” system of lighter body armour, much more suitable for foot patrolling, which is now in use in Afghanistan.
Upgrades to combat helmets worn by soldiers in Afghanistan, improving their comfort and functionality, will continue into next year for soldiers deploying to Afghanistan in the future.
Our soldiers have recently taken delivery of the new Carl Gustav 84mm guns and thermal sights. These guns provide increased firepower, a night-fighting capability, and are lighter and easier to carry.
Finally, the counter rocket system installed in Tarin Kot and a number of forward operating bases earlier this year, has provided troops with advance warning of 23 rocket attacks this year.
There is more to do, particularly in the area of improvised explosive devices. Early next year the ADF will start operating trucks with ground penetrating radars. These trucks will drive at the front of convoys to detect IEDs buried in the road. The ADF will also take delivery of new unmanned surveillance aircraft to give our soldiers better information about the areas they operate in.
The tragic deaths of 3 Australian soldiers and the wounding of ten soldiers by Afghan soldiers in two separate incidents has sent a shudder through the Australian community and the Australian Defence Force.
It is right that these incidents force us to closely examine our role in Afghanistan, and the way our soldiers carry out their primary mission of training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade.
These incidents call into question the trust we place in those our soldiers mentor, work and live alongside.
But we must remember that overall our relationship with the ANA is good. It is positive. A reflection of this is that they are as equally horrified by these attacks as we are.
It is important that we do not judge an entire organisation on the actions of a few.
As the Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley said at the time, the ADF is carrying out a review of our force protection measures, our mentoring model and living arrangements in Afghanistan, to ensure the risks of these types of attacks are minimised.
I have twice spoken to Afghan Defence Minister Wardak about these matters. He expressed his deep remorse and regret for these incidents. He has given his assurances that these incidents will be investigated in a thorough way. That investigation continues.
General Hurley has also been in contact with his counterpart in Afghanistan to discuss the response to these incidents. The Commander of the ANA 4th Brigade, Brigadier General Mohammed Zafar Khan, has already taken action.
And we have been in contact with our international partners in Afghanistan who have experienced similar attacks to learn and share experiences so that the protection of our forces can be continually improved.
As the Prime Minister has said, these incidents will not deter us from our mission, to train the Afghan National Army to a point where it is able to take on security responsibilities for Uruzgan Province.
We still expect this to be complete by 2014, but as the Prime Minister and I have previously said, this may happen earlier.
We also understand that the Afghan National Security Forces will need international community support for some time to come after that.
Australia takes the issue of detainee management very seriously and has a robust framework for detainee management in Afghanistan.
In December last year, I announced the details of Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan Province on 1 August 2010.
In developing our detainee management framework, Australia has had two priorities in mind: first, the critical need to remove insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, ISAF and Afghan lives, and second, the need to ensure humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.
The detainee management framework draws on applicable international standards and advice from international humanitarian organisations. Under the framework, detainees apprehended by the ADF are transferred either to Afghan custody in Tarin Kot, or US custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan, or released if there is insufficient evidence to seek prosecution through the Afghan judicial system.
Arrangements are in place with both the Afghan and US Governments that include assurances on the humane treatment of detainees and access to those detainees by Australian officials and humanitarian organisations to monitor their ongoing welfare.
During my visit to Uruzgan I again visited Australia’s purpose-built screening facility at Multinational Base-Tarin Kot where detainees captured by Australian forces are held for a limited time for screening.
Again an opportunity was given to show representatives of the Australian media this facility, reflecting Australia’s commitment to transparency with respect to these matters.
The facility is structured to ensure the humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.
Detainees are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, adequate food and water, suitable sleeping arrangements and other amenities.
Resumption of detainee transfers
In my last Statement to Parliament on 13 October, I noted that Australia had suspended the transfer of detainees to the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) in Uruzgan in early July 2011.
The Australian Government’s decision to suspend detainee transfers to the NDS in Uruzgan was in response to concerns raised by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) about the treatment of detainees in southern Afghanistan. It is, however, important to emphasise that ISAF’s concerns did not relate to any allegations of detainee mistreatment against the NDS in Uruzgan where ADF-apprehended detainees are transferred.
In my last Statement to Parliament, I also welcomed the release of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report into the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees on 10 October 2011. The report raised serious concerns about the torture and mistreatment of detainees in a number of NDS and Afghan National Police (ANP) facilities across Afghanistan but found no evidence of detainee mistreatment against the NDS in Uruzgan.
The Afghan National Police (ANP) headquarters in Uruzgan was listed as a facility of concern. ADF-apprehended detainees are not, and have not been, transferred to ANP facilities in Uruzgan.
It is important to emphasise that UNAMA found that detainee mistreatment was neither institutional nor Afghan Government Policy. In addition, UNAMA’s report did not raise any concerns about the NDS in Uruzgan, and specifically named this facility as one of two in Afghanistan where UNAMA found no evidence of detainee abuse.
Despite these findings, the Australian Government wished to fully consider the report’s implications and seek assurances from Afghan officials.
Australia strongly supports a unified ISAF approach to concerns about detainee mistreatment. ISAF has since directed that transfer of detainees to Afghan facilities not identified by UNAMA as a facility of concern may be resumed.
Since the decision to suspend transfers was made, we have undertaken extensive consultations with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), ISAF partners and the Afghan Government.
During this process, no basis for concerns with the treatment of detainees by the NDS in Uruzgan has been raised.
As a result, the Australian Government has now determined that the transfer of ADF-apprehended detainees to the NDS in Uruzgan will resume.
The resumption of detainee transfers to the NDS in Uruzgan will support ADF operations and help Australian personnel and the Afghan National Security Forces remove suspected insurgents from the battlefield, enhancing the protection of ISAF and Afghan forces, as well as the security of the local population.
The detainee monitoring team of Australian officials will continue to work closely with Afghan authorities and security forces to provide mentoring and guidance in detainee management and handling practices.
The detainee monitoring team visits detainees who are transferred from the Initial Screening Area to Afghan custody within 72 hours of transfer.
The detainee monitoring team already conducts regular visits to monitor the welfare of all ADF-apprehended detainees transferred to Afghan or United States custody until the point of release or sentencing.
The frequency of the monitoring will temporarily increase following the resumption of transfers to assist in ensuring current standards regarding the humane treatment of detainees are maintained.
Efforts to improve detention standards within Afghan detention facilities are also being supported by ISAF at the national level.
In close cooperation with the Afghan Government, ISAF is undertaking remedial measures in detention facilities of concern, including facility inspection, training in human rights, formal certification of facilities and monitoring the welfare of detainees in the longer-term.
Australia not only takes our obligations for ADF-apprehended detainees seriously but we are also committed to seeing improvements in the wider Afghan detention system. Australian personnel are involved in ISAF’s broader program focussed on improving standards in Afghan detention facilities.
We are also exploring the provision of training on human rights for Afghan personnel in Uruzgan.
Through their participation in this ISAF-led process, Australian personnel may become aware of allegations of detainee mistreatment. Any incidents are reported through the ISAF system.
The Government is committed to continuing transparency with the Australian public on detainee management practices in Afghanistan. Australia will continue to work with our Afghan partners, as well as the ICRC, the AIHRC and UNAMA on detention issues to promote the humane treatment of detainees.
Update on detainee allegations
Australia continues to make clear its commitment to open and transparent detainee arrangements in support of ADF operations in Afghanistan.
In the period 1 August 2010 to 18 November 2011, Australian forces have apprehended 1074 detainees.
Of these, 154 have been transferred to Afghan authorities, namely, the NDS in Uruzgan, or United States authorities.
The remaining detainees have been released following initial screening.
In the same period, I am advised that the ADF has captured 11 people who were subsequently released, then recaptured. Six of the individuals in question were released as there was insufficient evidence to warrant their continued detention.
Of the remaining five detainees, there was sufficient evidence to warrant their transfer and prosecution. Two were subsequently transferred to United States custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan, and three were transferred to Afghan custody at the NDS detention facility in Uruzgan.
I also provide an update on the number of allegations of detainee mistreatment we have received against Australian forces: in the same period 58 allegations have been made against the ADF.
To date, 36 of these allegations have been fully investigated and were found to have no substance.
The remaining 22 allegations remain under review.
These allegations and the outcomes of the comprehensive investigations are reported to ISAF and relevant NGOs.
Deployment of an interrogation capability
In my March statement to Parliament, I foreshadowed that the Government would consider further developments to the detainee management framework, including the appropriateness of the length of detention in the Australian Initial Screening Area to enable the possible collection of further information.
In my July Statement, I advised that the Government continued to consider this matter. Ongoing careful consideration of all aspects of this matter and preparation for the possible introduction of such a capability has occurred since then.
Today I announce that the Government has authorised a team of Australian military interrogators to be deployed to Afghanistan in preparation for the next northern fighting season.
The interrogation of detainees is a capability used by other ISAF partners.
The capacity to interrogate will allow the ADF to play a larger role in the collection of information against the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Interrogation has proven valuable in detecting and preventing insurgent activity. Australian soldiers have a strong interest in being able to contribute to building this intelligence picture.
The knowledge that captured insurgents hold can lead us to the location of the improvised explosive devices and weapons caches that cause injury and death. It can also reveal details of insurgent leaders, transport routes and locations.
Interrogation can assist us in obtaining the information that we need to unravel insurgent networks and prevent the harm they intend for our soldiers, our ISAF partners and the local Afghan population.
In addition to the deployment of an interrogation team, the Australian Government has decided that the length of time for which detainees can be held in our Australian Initial Screening Area may be extended beyond the current 96 hours for an additional three days, with a possible further extension of three days.
While 96 hours is appropriate for our previous role in basic screening, a longer period of time may be required for more complex questioning of detainees of interest.
This approach is consistent with the timelines other ISAF partners such as the United States and the United Kingdom use for interrogation.
As well as providing credible intelligence, these changes will support the successful prosecution of detainees through the Afghan judicial system.
Australian forces will be better positioned to provide evidence and to determine whether an individual possesses intelligence that could assist our efforts or those of our ISAF and Afghan partners, in addition to determining whether a detainee should be released or transferred.
This possibility of a longer period in detention beyond 96 hours and interrogation will not be used for all individuals captured by the ADF. Australia will continue within the current ISAF-mandated timeframe of 96 hours, to establish whether a detainee should be released, transferred or be detained for a longer period.
Only detainees who are assessed by intelligence professionals as potentially having information that would make a material difference to the safety of ISAF personnel and the local population will be held beyond 96 hours.
Interrogation is an issue that must be managed carefully and sensibly and it is important to be clear about the conduct authorised under these expanded arrangements.
Australian Defence Force interrogators are highly-trained and ethical professionals.
Their duties in Afghanistan will be in accordance with approved techniques consistent with Australia’s domestic and international legal obligations.
Physical or mental mistreatment has no place in interrogation: interrogation is an extended questioning process conducted by trained professionals within strict guidelines.
Such ADF trained and ethical interrogators will not mistreat a detainee. Like all members of the ADF, the interrogators are trained in and adhere to Australian law, and the Law of Armed Conflict and international human rights obligations.
This change is consistent with Australia’s domestic and international legal obligations. The ADF has established safeguards and oversight procedures, which the Government has reviewed carefully and considers appropriate to the rigorous governance measures required.
Interrogation will be subject to audio and visual recording through the CCTV system within the Initial Screening Area, and strict approval processes with senior oversight will be followed.
The Government and the ADF remain steadfastly committed to ensuring that detainees apprehended by Australian forces are treated humanely, and in a manner that is consistent with our domestic and international legal obligations.
Together, these expanded arrangements will help ensure that Australian forces have a larger, more accurate understanding of the insurgency.
Significantly, this will improve the protection afforded to our military and civilian personnel and assist the achievement of our objectives in Afghanistan.
In line with the Government’s strong commitment to openness and transparency, I will continue to provide regular updates on Australia’s detainee arrangements, including this interrogation capability.
In my March report to Parliament, I advised that the then acting Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) had advised that some failures of the Initial Screening Area’s CCTV recording system had been identified. I advised at the time that the ADF was addressing this issue and had begun to put in place procedures to resolve the matter, including immediate action to ensure continuous footage is being recorded and archived.
In my May report to Parliament, I further advised that the CCTV system at the Initial Screening System was functioning and continuous footage was being recorded and archived.
In my July report, I advised that there have been no further issues with the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system at the Initial Screening System and that the system was functioning and continuous footage was being recorded and archived.
I am advised that there was a recent issue with the system’s power supply that resulted in the loss of a small amount of footage.
There were no incidents during this short period in which the system was not recording and ISA staff conducted visual monitoring to ensure the continued safety and wellbeing of the detainees.
This issue has since been rectified and additional safeguards, including revised procedures for the operation CCTV system, have been implemented.
Other Detainee Matters
In my July report I noted the investigation into allegations that the ADF Initial Screening Area team in Afghanistan did not adhere to administrative procedures. I will advise on the outcomes of this investigation in due course.
I now turn to the very sombre task of updating Parliament on casualties.
As the Prime Minister noted at the start of this week, we have lost 32 Australians in our decade in Afghanistan. Sadly, we have lost eleven Australian personnel this year.
It is with deep regret that we remember the lives of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan on 29 October.
The total number of Australian Defence Force personnel recorded as wounded in action while deployed to Afghanistan since 2001 has been revised to 213 following an in-depth analysis of Battle Casualty records.
A review carried out by Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) confirmed the wounding of two Australian soldiers in Iraq in 2007 had been incorrectly released into the public domain as having occurred in Afghanistan.
The current figure also includes an incident in which an Australian Special Forces soldier was wounded in Afghanistan on 12 October. The information on this incident was not publicly released initially as the operation was on-going.
I also take this opportunity to advise of the recent wounding of two Australian soldiers in separate incidents. An Australian soldier from Mentoring Task Force – Three, sustained a minor wound when he slipped and fell whilst conducting a dismounted security patrol in the Chorah District of Uruzgan Province on 2 November.
In a separate incident an Australian Special Forces soldier sustained a minor wound whilst conducting an operation to disrupt insurgent networks in Zabul Province, Afghanistan on 19 November.
213 Australian soldiers have been wounded in action and 50 Australian soldiers have suffered wounds this year in Afghanistan.
Health and Wellbeing of ADF Personnel
In her Parliamentary Statement on Afghanistan, the Prime Minister acknowledged the wounds that our soldiers have suffered: lacerations and contusions, concussion and traumatic brain injury, amputations, fractures, gunshot and fragmentation wounds, hearing loss.
The Prime Minister also said, “Our country will recognise and respect our wounded as well as our dead. Our country will take care of these Australians as they have taken care of us.”
The care of wounded, injured and ill ADF personnel – and the support of their families – is a high priority for the Government.
Our servicemen and women deserve the highest quality medical care – regardless of whether they are on deployment, at home, or beyond their service.
In this work, Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are working seamlessly together to bring together support arrangements across these departments.
We must successfully implement the range of enhanced support measures we have commenced, including the Support for Wounded, Ill or Injured Program and the Simpson Assistance Program to support the needs of severely wounded, injured or ill individuals and their families.
In his Parliamentary Statement on Afghanistan, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Science and Personnel acknowledged that we ask a lot of our service men and women in Afghanistan.
Working in the ADF is a tough and very dangerous job. Our people are exposed to difficult situations and recent weeks have been very difficult.
In recognition of this, Defence temporarily increased its support to deployed personnel, with the deployment to Afghanistan of a further two psychologists to support the troops affected by recent events. This was in addition to the already deployed team that is dedicated to providing quality mental, pastoral and welfare care to our troops in the Middle East. An Army psychologist was also deployed to Germany to assist our wounded soldiers who were evacuated there for emergency treatment.
An important element of our care for our service men and women is looking after their mental health and wellbeing.
A total of more than $93 million that has been invested by this Government