The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
I last reported to the Parliament on 12 May, which followed my visit to Afghanistan with the then Chief of the Defence Force to commemorate Anzac Day with our troops deployed in Uruzgan Province and to speak to Afghan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners in Kabul.
My report on this occasion follows my attendance at the meeting of NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers in Brussels on 8 and 9 June, the beginning of the northern summer fighting season and United States President Obama’s Statement on Afghanistan on 23 June.
This report comes at a difficult time for Australia with the tragic deaths of five Australian soldiers in recent weeks and a further three wounded.
This week’s death of Sergeant Todd Langley reminds us again that this has been a tough period for our Army, a tough period for the Australian Defence Force and a tough period for our nation.
We pay tribute to his sacrifice, and the other 27 Australian soldiers we have lost and to the 182 wounded in Afghanistan.
We offer our condolences to the families, friends, colleagues and loved ones of our fallen soldiers. Our thoughts are with them.
Our thoughts are also with our wounded and injured soldiers and their families. We wish them a speedy recovery.
The terrible loss of our soldiers always sees a focus on Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
It is essential that Australians understand why we are there and why it is important for us to continue to play our part.
Why we are there
The Government’s strong view is that it is in our national interest to be in Afghanistan, not just with our Alliance partner the United States (US), but also with 46 other members of an international community assistance force acting under a United Nations mandate.
Australia’s fundamental goal is to prevent Afghanistan, especially the Afghanistan Pakistan border area, from again being used by terrorists to plan and train for attacks on innocent civilians, including Australians in our own region and beyond.
To achieve that goal we must help prepare the Afghan Government to take lead responsibility for providing security for the Afghan people.
To do so we must stabilise the security situation and mentor and train the Afghan security forces.
To leave now would be to put at risk the recent gains so hard fought for.
To leave now would be to risk opening a vacuum into which international terrorism could move into and again flourish.
The international community now has both the military and political strategy in place, the resources to match it and the people on the ground to deliver it.
It has taken the international community too many years to get to this point, but the surge, and our special forces operations, are working.
There is no doubt that additional ISAF and Afghan resources have enabled combat and enforcement operations to occur with more confidence and to greater effect.
Partnered Special Forces operations have killed or captured insurgent leaders, taking them off the battlefield and disrupting insurgent activity across Afghanistan.
Partnering, training and mentoring – replicated as it is across the country – is building Afghan security forces.
The US/NATO/ISAF surge has been more than matched over the same period by a surge of 100,000 in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which now number some 300,000.
There are more Afghan soldiers and police officers and they are more capable.
Australia remains confident that between now and the end of 2014, we will effect a transition to Afghan-led responsibility for security in Uruzgan.
As Afghan forces take on more front line roles, this allows us to perform other tasks, including institutional or niche higher level training.
But while the nature of Australia’s commitment will evolve, it will not diminish. The recent gains, so hard fought for, cannot be put at risk.
Our objective in Afghanistan will not be achieved by a military solution alone, but these military gains are essential in building the pressure on the Taliban to open up possibilities for reintegration, reconciliation and political settlement.
Only by keeping the military pressure on will Taliban insurgents concede they can not win militarily, that time is not on their side and they cannot wait out the international community.
United States drawdown
In 2010, some 33,000 additional United States troops were put into the fight in Afghanistan, along with an additional 7,500 troops from other NATO/ISAF partners.
On 23 June, President Obama announced that the United States would commence a drawdown of this surge force.
The President announced that 10,000 United States troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 23,000 surge troops will be drawn down by the end of the northern summer next year.
When the drawdown of the United States surge troops is complete, the United States will still have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The surge has already achieved its intended goals.
It has degraded the Al Qaeda network, which President Obama described as now being “under more pressure than at any time since 9/11”. This has, of course, been reinforced by the death of Osama Bin Laden.
It has reversed Taliban momentum.
It has also assisted in building Afghan capacity, which will allow responsibility for security to fully transition to Afghan-led security.
Australia sees no inconsistency between a drawdown of forces starting this year and the strategy agreed to at the Lisbon NATO/ISAF Summit last year to transition security responsibility to an Afghan lead by the end of 2014.
As the Prime Minister has said, Australians will want to know what the drawdown means for Australia’s mission in Uruzgan.
Australia has around 1550 troops in Afghanistan.
The advice from the new Chief of the Defence Force is that our current troop presence remains appropriate for our mission of training and mentoring the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army to take the security lead in Uruzgan Province by the end of 2014.
As a result of discussions with US counterparts and officials, I do not expect there will be any serious or adverse implications for Australian troops in Uruzgan Province.
The detail of the drawdown of US surge forces has yet to be determined and will be decided on by ISAF Commander, currently General David Petraeus and soon to be General John Allen, with whom I met recently in Brussels.
Australian military and civilian officials have already been in close consultation with their US counterparts and will remain in close consultation with them as the detail of the drawdown is worked through.
High Profile Attacks
There will of course be set-backs on the way to transition. As recently as last week the Haqqani network launched an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.
This was a terrible attack. Such attacks are to be expected and we have already seen a number, for example, the 21 February suicide attack in Kunduz province, the 15 April killing of the Kandahar police chief, the 18 April attack on the Defence Ministry in Kabul and the 28 May killing of the police chief for northern Afghanistan.
These attacks are aimed at achieving a propaganda effect and are aimed at undermining Afghan and international confidence in the progress that is being made on security, governance and development and on transition.
ISAF Campaign progress
Afghan and ISAF security forces are making progress in Afghanistan. It was clear to me at the recent NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers’ Meeting that my counterparts share this assessment.
Together with ISAF, the Afghan security forces are expanding security across the country and forcing the insurgency onto the back foot.
Campaign progress – Uruzgan
Security within Uruzgan has improved markedly. This, in part, is due to the successful partnering of the Mentoring Task Force with the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA). It has been instrumental in supporting the expansion of the ANA in Uruzgan.
Australian Mentoring Task Force – Two (MTF-2) recently handed over to Mentoring Task Force – Three (MTF-3). During its eight month deployment, MTF-2 was able to patrol further and supported more ANA elements than any previous Australian Task Force. It established a strong platform for subsequent Australian forces to concentrate on mentoring and development of the ANA.
Through partnered operations and mentoring of Afghan security forces, MTF-2 assisted in the expansion of the ANA’s presence in the Mirabad Valley and the Deh Rawud and Shahid-e Hasas districts.
It conducted over 2,500 patrols, was involved in more than 100 small arms fire engagements with insurgents and located over 100 improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It also assisted the ANA 4th Brigade in locating more than 380 weapon and explosive caches.
Over November and December 2010, Afghan forces planned and led a joint operation with MTF-2 to clear the West Deh Rafshan district and establish a permanent presence with the construction of Patrol Base Samad. During the month-long operation, 86 weapon and explosive caches were found.
Over a three-week period from late December 2010 to mid-January 2011, the ANA and their Australian and US mentors conducted an operation to strengthen security in the Mirabad Valley.
The clearance operation resulted in a new permanent security presence, known as Platoon House Hamid, being established by the ANA and their Australian mentors at Sorkh Lez, previously an insurgent safe-haven. During the operation, the partnered forces also discovered 19 caches.
From February to March 2011, Afghan forces partnered by Australian Defence Force personnel conducted an operation which involved the construction of a new Patrol Base in the Kuchkel/Heydar area of the Mirabad Valley, south-east of Tarin Kot.
The new Patrol Base Mohammed was the first to be specifically built for the Afghan security forces and it provides another area of Uruzgan with enhanced security.
From March to April 2011, a platoon of ANA soldiers from the 3rd Kandak of the 4th Brigade and their Australian mentors conducted an operation to establish a permanent ANA presence in Sorkh Lez.
The operation concluded with the partnered forces relocating from their temporary Platoon House, to the newly constructed permanent patrol base, Patrol Base Hamid, which will enable the ANA to further strengthen security in the Mirabad Valley.
In May, I advised the House about the success of Operation TIGER’S AVALANCHE, an ANA operation led by the 2nd Kandak of the 4th Brigade and supported by Australian and US soldiers from Combined Team Uruzgan. The operation was planned by the 4th Brigade and executed by its 2nd Kandak.
During the operation, 39 insurgent caches were discovered including more than 2,400 rounds of ammunition, over 40 Rocket Propelled Grenade warheads and grenades, explosives and components for improvised explosive devices.
MTF-2 and the ANA 4th Brigade recently conducted a clearance operation of the Charmeston Valley and surrounding regional population centres. During the seven-day operation, 12 insurgent caches were discovered.
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 6 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.
Special Forces Operations
Australia is the third largest contributor of Special Forces in Afghanistan with personnel deployed to the Special Operations Task Group based in Tarin Kot.
Working with their dedicated Afghan partners, the Provincial Response Company Uruzgan from the Afghan National Police, the mission of our Special Forces is to target and disrupt insurgent networks in and around Uruzgan Province. The Special Forces mission is also to build the capacity of the Provincial Response Company ahead of the transition to Afghan-led security.
As I have previously advised the House, from time to time our Special Forces are authorised to operate in adjoining provinces on operations that have security benefits in Uruzgan Province. This involves operations to maintain pressure on insurgent leadership in Uruzgan, and its surrounding provinces including Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Daykundi.
The operations of our Special Forces and their Afghan partners are currently focused on targeting insurgent networks known to be operating in Uruzgan Province and along key access routes into the Province and region, to disrupt insurgent fighting preparations in Uruzgan.
These operations continue to improve security in Uruzgan Province and since March this year have led to the removal of over 20 insurgent leaders from the battlefield.
Removing key insurgent leaders from the battlefield disrupts the flow of money and supply routes that insurgent leaders command. This in turn undermines the insurgent network and prevents the harm the insurgents intend for our soldiers, ISAF partners and the local Afghan population.
The improved security situation resulting from these operations has permitted the Afghan police to establish a stronger presence in remote areas of Uruzgan province, and for the Mentoring Task Force to perform their task of training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade under a reduced threat from insurgent interference.
This security improvement has also allowed the civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team to increase its efforts to build the Afghan Government’s capacity to deliver basic services and provide economic opportunities to its people.
It has also allowed the Provincial Reconstruction Team to extend its reach into areas of Uruzgan not contemplated last year.
Three recent operations demonstrate the value of partnered Australian and Afghan Special Forces operations.
On 1 June, the Taliban’s Shadow District Governor for Chora, Mullah Gul Akhund, was killed in an exchange of fire with a partnered Afghan police and Australian Special Forces operation. While securing the area, the partnered force found and identified the body of prominent insurgent bomb maker and tactical commander Shah Mamood.
Mullah Gul Akhund was a district-level insurgent commander responsible for the coordination of several cells dispersed across central Uruzgan. He was wanted by Afghan authorities for ordering the assassination of government officials and tribal elders, and ordering multiple attacks on ISAF and Afghan forces.
Mullah Gul Akhund is known to have played a key role in the manufacture and facilitation of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). He recently returned to Uruzgan to coordinate the 2011 insurgent fighting season.
Both Mullah Gul Akhund and Shah Mamood had direct links to the senior insurgent leadership and represented a clear threat to Afghan and ISAF forces, as well as Afghan locals in the area.
On 24 June, two insurgent commanders, Mullah Ghulam and Mullah Gharfour, were killed during an exchange of fire with a partnered Afghan police and Australian Special Forces operation in the Shahid-e Hasas district.
Mullah Ghulam was deputy to the Khod Valley district commander and a senior IED facilitator. Mullah Gharfour, was also an expert in the construction and emplacement of IEDs, and trained numerous insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Both of these men had direct links to the senior regional insurgent leadership.
On 2 July, a senior district level insurgent commander was detained in a partnered Afghan police and Australian Special Forces cordon and search operation. The insurgent leader was a significant threat to Afghan and ISAF forces and the local population, a key IED facilitator and well connected to the senior insurgent leadership.
National Interdiction Unit
Following a request from the Afghan Government, Australian Special Forces have commenced the provision of enabling support – such as cordon security, logistical and medical support – to the Afghan National Interdiction Unit (NIU) as it conducts counter narcotics operations to disrupt the Taliban’s revenue stream from narcotics trafficking.
Australia’s support to the NIU has reduced the insurgency’s ability to fund itself by targeting the sale of narcotics. This support, commenced at Afghan government request, has subsequently led to a series of successful operations in and around Uruzgan.
In 31 days of combined operations from mid-May to June, drugs and cash to the value of US $2 million were recovered. This included over 70 kilograms of heroin, almost 3,000 kilograms of opium, and 1,355 kilograms of hashish. The United States “street value” of the drugs is estimated at more than US $40 million.
Over the course of the operations, 33 weapons, including AK-47 rifles were recovered, along with 27 rocket propelled grenade rockets, 70 anti-personnel mines, 28 grenades, mortars and rockets, and several thousand rounds of ammunition.
During operations, 8,220 kilograms of drug-making chemicals and 1,035 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, used in the manufacture of home-made explosive devices, were found, as well as three opium process facilities and 21 narcotic caches.
The quantity of cash, drugs, weapons and munitions recovered or destroyed during the combined operation will likely lead to a less effective insurgent fighting season in Uruzgan province.
Training and mentoring
The ADF remains on track to complete its mission and hand over complete operational responsibility for Uruzgan to Afghan Security Forces by the end of 2014, as part of the Inteqal, or transition, process.
The ADF is making progress in training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan. There are now almost 5,000 Afghan security forces in Uruzgan, of which over 2,000 are serving in the ANA 4th Brigade. Australia has provided a wide range of training for our ANA partners in core military skills, as well as headquarters planning and combat enabling support.
The arrival of 6th and final Kandak in February has also improved the 4th Brigade’s operational capability. Australia commenced mentoring this Kandak in late June, with a full mentoring team also partnering on lower level tactical operations.
Even more encouraging, the ANA has increasingly assumed the lead for the planning, preparation and execution of tactical operations, allowing Australian forces to concentrate on partnering Afghan Command and Control and Combat Support functions.
One of the Afghan Kandaks that Australian forces partner in Uruzgan is now close to being able to conduct fully independent operations, with the others making steady progress.
Australian Forces will be in a position to move from their partnering of ANA tactical operations to broader assistance, such as logistics and service support, in the first quarter of next year. This is as Afghan security forces assume further responsibility for the provision of security across Uruzgan.
The completion of the first Australian-run Explosive Hazards Reduction Course was an important step in providing Afghan forces with the necessary skills to maintain and enhance the improving security environment in Uruzgan Province.
Australian Army Engineers from Combined Team – Uruzgan developed and implemented the course to train and qualify Afghan personnel to deal with the threat of IEDs and unexploded ordnance.
Australia also provides institutional trainers to ISAF. Australia is the lead nation responsible for the Afghan National Army Artillery School in Kabul, providing 20 ADF personnel to mentor their Afghan counterparts.
The Artillery School is a key ISAF initiative, and it is also the first military school in Afghanistan to develop and run a literacy program.
The Artillery School recently graduated a class of 165 trained Artillerymen. The recent graduates have formed a new battery within the ANA, and have deployed into Kandahar to support operations with Afghan and ISAF combat elements.
Afghan National Army Trust Fund
The Afghan National Army Trust Fund (ANA Trust Fund) is an important initiative to assist in developing the ANA’s capacity and capability, and it complements Australia’s training and mentoring efforts.
Australia is the largest contributor to the ANA Trust Fund. The Trust Fund supports the ANA by meeting sustainment and support costs, as well as equipment and infrastructure requirements.
Australia has continued its commitment to supporting the development of the ANA by contributing a further US$40 million to the Trust Fund. This is the second tranche of a commitment to provide US$200 million to the ANA Trust Fund over five years.
Part of Australia’s contribution to the ANA Trust Fund will be used to support a NATO Training Mission project to build permanent barracks for the ANA 4th Brigade in Uruzgan. This project will help build a self-sufficient and sustainable security presence in Uruzgan following transition.
Part of the Australian US$40 million contribution from last year is supporting critical ANA command and control capabilities such as secure phones, laptops and video teleconferencing to ANA headquarters and to soldiers on the ground. The project has been extended to include the ANA 4th Brigade in Uruzgan.
Our contribution last year is also assisting the installation of the Afghan National Defence University’s Information Technology infrastructure. This will provide Information Technology services for all academic teaching facilities used by the ANA, including academic and staff offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, student barracks, and language, physics, chemistry and computer science laboratories.
Australian forces continues to support the delivery of development assistance in Uruzgan, while at the same time supporting the transfer of responsibility for reconstruction tasks to civilian efforts, coordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade civilian?led Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The ADF will continue to provide force protection for the PRT, as well as trade-training and managed works teams.
The ADF Managed Works Team, working as part of the PRT, continues to help deliver important infrastructure projects to the people of Uruzgan. The ADF also continues to develop infrastructure to support education in Uruzgan Province. Boys’ education has been enhanced in Tarin Kot through the construction of a Boys’ Primary School and Boys’ High School.
The ADF is also supporting the development of girls’ education through the construction of the Tarin Kot Girls’ School, which incorporates both primary and high school students. The Girls’ School is seen as the flagship institution for female education in the Province.
The ADF Engineers of the Managed Works Team are delivering projects outside of Tarin Kot. The Sorkh Morghab region, to the north of Tarin Kot, has benefited from a number of projects including a community health centre and a 1,000 person capacity mosque.
This development has been supported by the improvement of roads and water crossings in the area, most notably with the construction of the Kowtwal Crossing, which improves access for residents to markets and services in the provincial capital.
The ADF Managed Works Team has also provided a new headquarters for the provincial Ministry of Energy and Water. This is an important step in building local capacity and emphasising the importance of irrigation and water access in Uruzgan.
The priorities for the Trade Training and Managed Works teams is determined by the PRT in consultation with the Uruzgan Provincial Government, and consistent with the Provincial Administration’s Development Plan.
Australian representatives within the PRT build relationships with key provincial tribal leaders and political actors as well as engage with the Afghan Government to identify projects and capacity building including through participation in ‘shuras’ with local communities. Once complete, Defence hands over the day-to-day running or management of the established project to local authorities.
The process of transition is a reality and Australia is confident that we are on track for the transition of security responsibility to Afghan security forces in Uruzgan by the end of 2014.
We very much welcomed President Karzai’s March announcement of the first tranche of seven provinces and districts that would transition to Afghan-led security.
The transition in those seven provinces and districts is scheduled to commence this month, and will see Afghan forces lead and conduct security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.
It is anticipated that later this year, a second tranche of provinces and districts will be announced as ready to commence the transition process.
Transition will progress across Afghanistan as conditions allow.
Transition will not be an even process, it will be district by district, province by province.
Australia does not expect that Uruzgan will be among the first districts and provinces to transition.
Australia stands ready to assist Uruzgan in this process. We will remain closely engaged with our partners involved in the first tranche of transitioning provinces and districts – to learn from them and inform our own transition of lead security responsibility for Uruzgan to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Patience will be necessary. As the Prime Minister has said there is no point in transitioning out early, just to transition back in again.
Transition does not mean the end of the international community’s support to Afghanistan.
At the NATO/ISAF Summit in Lisbon in November last year, ISAF partners welcomed the signing of an enduring partnership agreement between Afghanistan and NATO. This provides a framework for NATO-led assistance to Afghanistan beyond the conclusion of the transition process.
The recent NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels reaffirmed this international community commitment to Afghanistan in the longer-term.
Australia expects to remain in Afghanistan following the transition to Afghanistan-led security. This could be with Special Forces, security over-watch, capacity building, institution building or training roles.
The recent NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels also agreed that it was now timely to start a conversation about our post-transition objectives, mandate and structure.
In this context, preliminary work has commenced, studying possible configurations of our continuing civilian and military presence in Afghanistan following transition in Uruzgan and beyond 2014.
Reconciliation and reintegration
At the London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010, the international community committed itself to the principles of reconciliation and reintegration.
At that Conference, I said that the conflict in Afghanistan would not be ended by military force alone and that a long-term solution in Afghanistan also required political dialogue and, ultimately, reconciliation between the people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban will only come to the negotiating table when they are under military pressure to do so and when they realise that they cannot simply wait out the international community.
It is clear that the Taliban is under military pressure.
Keeping military pressure on the Taliban will reinforce the need to reconcile and reintegrate.
Australia supports an Afghan-led reconciliation and reintegration process.
Reconciliation and reintegration are a matter for the Afghan people, and must be led by the Afghan Government.
The Afghan Government has laid down the conditions for reintegration and reconciliation – individuals must renounce violence, sever links with terrorist organisations, and respect the Afghan Constitution.
As I mentioned in my May update to the House, in March this year Uruzgan Governor Shirzad hosted delegates of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Shura, at the conclusion of which some 45 former insurgents presented them themselves as reintegration candidates.
Since the Shura in March, Governor Shirzad has continued to work actively on reintegration. There are now additional insurgents willing to consider laying down their arms in favour of reintegrating into a peaceful life in Uruzgan. While still at an embryonic stage, progress on integration is indicative of the broader military progress being made against the insurgency in Uruzgan.
There has also been the very early movement towards political discussions as recently made public by the then US Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates.
The international community, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, has a key role to play in supporting this endeavour. There has been small movement towards this with the April visit by Pakistani political and military leaders to Kabul and the June visit by President Karzai to Islamabad.
Detainee management update
Australia takes its responsibility for detainee management very seriously.
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 Afghanistan in April, I again visited the ADF Initial Screening Area and was briefed by the team who run the facility. They remain committed to supporting the removal of insurgents from the battlefield while ensuring the humane treatment of detainees.
In the period 1 August 2010 to 3 July 2011, Australia apprehended 788 detainees. Of these, 93 have been transferred to Afghan authorities and 46 to US authorities. The remainder have been released following initial screening.
Since 1 August 2010 to 3 July 2011, 23 allegations of mistreatment from 21 detainees have been made against the ADF. Of these allegations, 18 have been thoroughly investigated. They have been found to have had no substance and were dismissed.
Five more recent allegations remain under review.
Any allegation of detainee mistreatment is promptly investigated and the outcome is reported in full to ISAF.
Over the same period, from 1 August 2010 to 3 July 2011, the ADF have captured six people who were subsequently released, then recaptured. Four of the individuals in question were released as there was insufficient evidence to warrant their continued detention.
In the case of the fifth and sixth individuals, the second time each was apprehended there was sufficient evidence to provide a link to the insurgency. In accordance with Australia’s detainee management framework, the fifth detainee was transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan and the sixth to