The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
I last updated Parliament on 10 May on a range of issues relating to Australia’s detainee management in Afghanistan, in keeping with my commitment to provide regular updates to the Australian people on detainee management and to be open and transparent on these matters.
I undertook at that time to update the Parliament more generally on Afghanistan following my attendance with the Prime Minister at the NATO / International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Leaders’ Summit in Chicago. The Summit followed on from the recent meeting in Brussels of NATO/ISAF Foreign and Defence Ministers which I attended together with Foreign Minister Carr.
At the NATO/ISAF Leaders’ Summit in Chicago on 20 and 21 May, the Prime Minister and I reaffirmed Australia’s long term commitment to Afghanistan.
This was a valuable opportunity for the international community to commit to supporting Afghanistan post-transition, after 2014, so essential to secure Afghanistan’s future.
Australia’s commitments to Afghanistan align with the key outcomes of the Chicago Summit.
Firstly, at Chicago the international community reviewed transition and mapped the way forward in Afghanistan to the end of 2014.
As President Obama said at the conclusion of the Chicago Summit, “…we leave Chicago with a clear roadmap. Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring our war in Afghanistan to a responsible end.”
In Afghanistan, transition is already in progress, with around half the population living in areas where the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have begun taking lead security responsibility.
The third tranche of provinces and districts will formally commence transition in the middle of this year, at which time three quarters of the population will be living under ANSF security lead.
It is expected that the final, and fifth, tranche, will begin transition by mid-2013, the so called Lisbon milestone.
At this point, with all of Afghanistan’s population under ANSF security lead, ISAF’s role will shift from combat to support.
Uruzgan will formally commence transition in the middle of this year, and will likely have fully transitioned to Afghan National Security Forces responsibility over the subsequent 12 to 18 month period.
Secondly, the international community is committed to continuing to fund, train and support the ANSF post-transition, to consolidate and build on the security gains of the transition strategy.
As the Prime Minister and I announced on 16 May, Australia will contribute US$100 million annually for three years from 2015 as part of international efforts to help sustain and support the ANSF beyond the end of the transition process.
It is essential that the international community provides the resources for ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of the ANSF beyond 2014.
Australia has already contributed substantially to the development and sustainment of the Afghan National Army (ANA), pledging in 2009 US$200 million over five years to the ANA Trust Fund.
Australia has a vital national interest in supporting Afghanistan’s stability and security after transition. Our commitment to ANSF funding reflects these enduring national interests.
Thirdly, at the Chicago Summit, the international community committed to supporting Afghanistan’s development in the long-term.
Australia’s longer-term commitment will be underscored by the Comprehensive Long-Term Partnership with Afghanistan, signed at the Chicago Summit by the Prime Minister and President Karzai.
This was foreshadowed by the Prime Minister in her statement to Parliament on 21 November 2011.
The signature of the Partnership confirms Australia’s bilateral commitment to Afghanistan, and sets out Australia’s enduring cooperation and relationship with Afghanistan post-2014.
It sends a signal to the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the region that the international community will not walk away from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Similarly, on 1 May 2012, the United States signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, which provides a framework for their long term bilateral relationship.
A number of our international partners, including NATO, the United Kingdom, France, India and Italy have signed similar agreements.
Visit to Afghanistan
In the lead up to my attendance at the Brussels Meeting of NATO/ISAF Foreign and Defence Ministers and the Chicago Summit, I visited Afghanistan on 10 and 11 April.
The visit served to reinforce confidence about the progress being made and the excellent work being carried out by Australian personnel.
It gave me a valuable opportunity to meet with a wide range of Afghan, ISAF and Australian officials and military personnel to discuss progress and preparation for transition.
The announcement of the inclusion of Uruzgan in the third tranche of provinces to enter transition is a testament to the key role Australian personnel have played in building the capacity of the ANA 4th Brigade and preparing Uruzgan for transition.
It provided me the opportunity to engage with our deployed ADF and civilian personnel on the challenging job that they are undertaking on behalf of Australia.
I was able to reiterate to our men and women in uniform the pride that the Government, the Parliament and the Australian people have in them, and in the work they are doing in Afghanistan.
The consistent message I get from Australian personnel, ISAF Commanders and Afghans is confidence that in Uruzgan transition is on track to hand over security responsibility to the ANSF over the 12 to 18 month period I referred to earlier.
While in Kabul, I met with a number of senior Afghan officials, both military and civilian including President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and Chief of Defence Staff General Karimi.
I was encouraged by my discussions. It was made clear that security had improved in Afghanistan, and that progress was positive, despite recent high profile Taliban attacks.
In particular, President Karzai and General Karimi commented on the strong relationship between Australia and both the Afghan National Army (ANA) 4th Brigade and the local population of Uruzgan.
During these discussions, one message was constant: the transition of security responsibility to the ANSF is on track.
Eighteen months ago at the Lisbon Summit, the international community and the Afghan Government set down a clear process and timeframe for transition of full security responsibility to the ANSF.
Australia’s own transition planning is entirely consistent with this strategy.
President Karzai announced on 13 May 2012 the third Tranche of provinces and districts to formally enter the transition process.
Australia welcomed the inclusion of Uruzgan Province in this third Tranche.
The ANA 4th Brigade is progressing towards being able to operate independently, and is increasingly assuming the lead for the planning, preparation and execution of tactical operations. The Afghan security presence is expanding across Uruzgan province.
We fully expect to be in a position to hand over security in Uruzgan Province to the ANSF over that 12 to 18 month period.
We must, however, continue to be present in support of the ANSF, and be combat ready to do so, until transition is complete.
This means, that as transition progresses, the ANSF will take on more and more responsibility for security. But ISAF partners must remain ready to support them, as required.
After the completion of transition, our commitment in Afghanistan will look significantly different to the commitment we have today.
Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan will not end with the transfer of security responsibility to the ANSF in Uruzgan Province.
Australia has made clear that we expect to maintain a presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, through training, military advisers, capacity building and development assistance.
Australia is already involved in institutional training through the Afghan National Army Artillery Training School. We will also contribute 25 personnel to the proposed United Kingdom-led Afghan National Army Officer Academy.
Beyond 2014 we are also prepared, under the right mandate to make a Special Forces contribution for counter terrorism and to train the ANSF to conduct counter terrorism operations.
The Special Operations Task Group (SOTG), in partnership with the ANSF, continues to disrupt insurgent networks by capturing key insurgent leaders.
The insurgent leadership is being taken off the battlefield by the hard work being conducted by the SOTG and their Afghan partners. Importantly, the flow of money from narcotics to the insurgency is also being disrupted.
Now more than ever, the ANA leads planning, preparation and execution of all major operations in the province.
The ANA 4th Brigade, along with our Mentoring Task Force and the Afghan National Police, is conducting Operation HAMKARI SHAMSHEER in eastern Uruzgan.
This complex operation was planned from the start by the 4th Brigade and involves a clearance of insurgents in an area that in the past has not had a significant Government presence.
This operation is currently underway, and will see a new patrol base built, which will mark a permanent ANA presence in that part of the province for the first time.
This new patrol base is being built to ensure the security gains made for the community during Operation HAMKARI SHAMSHEER are consolidated.
A recent development in Uruzgan Province has been the appointment by President Karzai of a new Governor, Amir Mohamed Akhundzada.
I met with Governor Akhundzada on my recent trip to Afghanistan. I encouraged the Governor to continue to build on existing security and development gains in Uruzgan Province, and to promote good governance.
Australia will work closely with Governor Akhundzada in the lead up to and through transition.
Australia appreciates the efforts of the former Governor, Omar Mohammed Shirzad, who was a close partner for Australia in Uruzgan.
In addition to the operational update, there are a number of broader issues concerning Afghanistan that I wish to update Parliament on.
The Australian Government is committed to transparency and providing information on civilian casualties in Afghanistan to the Parliament and the Australian people.
The ADF takes the issue of civilian casualties very seriously. The ADF operates under strict rules of engagement intended to minimise civilian casualties, and deeply regrets any loss of innocent life.
Today I update the Parliament on the status of inquiries into the following civilian casualty incidents:
On 2 November 2010, following an engagement between an ANSF and MTF 4 partnered patrol and insurgents in the Baluchi Valley region, it was claimed that a civilian had been killed by small arms fire.
On 27 March 2011, a small Afghan boy was seriously wounded, and an Afghan man was killed, during an engagement between insurgents and a partnered Afghan National Police Provincial Response Company-Uruzgan and Special Operations Task Group patrol. Sadly, the young boy, after receiving medical care, died from his wounds.
On 29 October 2011, Australian soldiers engaged and killed a man who approached their site at speed and failed to adhere to all directions to stop. Unfortunately, the Afghan male was unable to be saved.
An Inquiry was conducted into each of these incidents. The Inquiries are under consideration and I will advise on the outcomes of this consideration in due course.
On 1 May 2012, an Afghan boy was injured during an engagement between insurgents and Australian Special Forces and elements of the ANSF undertaking a partnered security operation. The boy is receiving medical treatment, and is expected to recover.
As the Department of Defence advised on 9 May, an Inquiry is underway on this matter. When completed, the Inquiry will be considered and I will advise of the outcome in due course.
Combat Fatality Reports
I now turn to an update on Inquiry Officer Reports into deaths of ADF soldiers in Afghanistan.
All Inquiry Officer reports into combat deaths which occurred in 2010 have been completed, the respective families have been briefed on the outcomes of the Inquiries and the outcomes of the Inquiries have been made public, or not, as appropriate.
In 2011 there were nine incidents resulting in the combat deaths of eleven soldiers.
Families members have been briefed in relation to five of the nine incidents.
Briefing the family members in relation to three of the nine incidents will be progressed as soon as possible.
Once the Inquiry Officer Reports have been considered by the families, the Reports will then be presented to the Minister for Defence for consideration for public release.
I regard the wishes of the family so far as public release is concerned as a relevant material factor to consider in publication of the Report beyond the family itself and others directly affected.
In relation to the ninth incident involving the 30 May 2011 crash of the Australian CH-47D helicopter in Afghanistan, on 4 April the Chief of the Defence Force advised that he had appointed a Commission of Inquiry into the incident in which Lieutenant Marcus Case was tragically killed.
Detainee Management Update
Since my statement to the House on 10 May 2012 on detainee management in Afghanistan, I can provide updates on a number of issues.
I have previously reported to the House on the temporary loss of CCTV footage at the ADF Initial Screening Area (ISA).
As noted in my report to the House on 9 February 2012, I asked Defence to investigate whether any of these failures in the CCTV footage coincided with allegations of detainee mistreatment.
I can now report that Defence’s review of detainee files has revealed that no additional allegations of detainee mistreatment were identified during the time of the CCTV outage.
As previously reported, the Government has agreed to extend the time selected detainees could be held in Australian custody at the ISA, prior to their release or transfer, for the purpose of comprehensive screening.
Comprehensive screening enables the ADF to determine whether a detainee has knowledge which could assist in the force protection of the ADF, ISAF and Afghan partners.
The length of time for which detainees can be held in the ISA may be extended beyond the current 96 hours (4 days) for an additional three days, and a possible further extension of three days.
As at 21 May 2012, approximately 20% of detainees apprehended by the ADF while on operations in Afghanistan have undergone interrogation within the ISA since interrogation operations commenced in February 2012.
Of these, around 25% of detainees interrogated by the ADF have been released within the initial 96 hour period as there was insufficient evidence to support their continued detention.
The remaining 75% of detainees interrogated by the ADF were held in Australian custody within the ISA beyond the initial 96 hour period on an initial three day comprehensive screening extension.
Approximately 40% of these detainees remained in Australian custody on a subsequent additional three days comprehensive screening extension.
Australia takes all allegations of detainee mistreatment seriously.
I have provided regular updates on complaints and allegations of mistreatment the ADF has received against it since August 2010.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 21 May 2012, there have been 97 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 87 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture.
To date, 82 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as unsubstantiated, while 15 allegations remain under investigation.
These allegations and the outcome of the investigations are reported to the ISAF and relevant humanitarian organisations.
Between 1 August 2010 and 21 May 2012, the ADF captured 12 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 six detainees, there was sufficient evidence to warrant their transfer and prosecution.
Three were subsequently transferred to US custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan, and three were transferred to Afghan custody at the NDS detention facility in Uruzgan.
Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS)
In January 2012, I was advised that the Inspector General of the ADF (IGADF) had commenced an Inquiry into allegations of flawed Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS) processes in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO).
Last week, I was advised that a number of further matters had been raised in the context of these allegations. In addition, concerns had also been raised in relation to the conduct of IGADF inquiries in the MEAO.
These matters are now the subject of separate Inquiries by the IGADF. I will advise on the outcomes as appropriate in due course.
In Afghanistan, our military and civilian personnel carry out their work in a difficult, arduous and challenging security environment, at substantial personal risk.
Since the beginning of 2012, ten soldiers have been wounded in battle. Eight of these injuries were sustained in improvised explosive device attacks and two were wounded during contact with the enemy.
The Government and the Parliament acknowledge the sacrifice of ADF members in fulfilling Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan.
We have also seen an Australian civilian wounded in Afghanistan for the first time.
Mr David Savage, an AusAID worker, was injured in a suicide bomb attack in Mirwais on 26 March 2012.
The Australian people value the contribution made by civilian personnel such as Mr Savage, working alongside their military colleagues, in Afghanistan.
Progress towards transition to Afghan led security responsibility is being made in Uruzgan province and across Afghanistan.
This progress towards transition is in line with the Lisbon Strategy and the plans of our ISAF and Afghan partners, as confirmed in Chicago.
The Chicago Summit was a success: in reviewing transition and mapping the way forward in Afghanistan to the end of 2014, in securing the international community’s commitment to continuing to fund, train and support the ANSF post-transition and to supporting Afghanistan’s security and development in the long-term.
Notwithstanding this success, Afghanistan continues to be difficult and dangerous; difficult and dangerous for our troops deployed there.
As we commence the northern fighting season, the thoughts of all Australians will be with our forces in Uruzgan and Afghanistan.