Minister for Defence
Stephen Smith MP
Tabled in conjunction with a Ministerial Statement
on 9 February 2012
The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
I last reported to the Parliament on 24 November 2011, with a particular emphasis on detainee management. Prior to this, I had updated Parliament on Afghanistan on four other occasions in 2011.
This is my first report to Parliament for 2012.
International Commitment, Transition and Post-Transition
I attended the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 4 February.
Defence Ministers met at a critical time for the international community’s commitment in Afghanistan ahead of the NATO/ISAF Leaders’ Summit in Chicago in May.
Defence Ministers continued their consideration of the international community’s post-2014 commitment to Afghanistan.
The international community has reached the point where key decisions now need to be made about the post-2014 international commitment in Afghanistan. A clear, consistent message about the future from NATO and ISAF is essential for Afghanistan, its neighbours - especially Pakistan - and also for the Taliban and insurgent groups.
Australia believes that there are three key decisions to be agreed at the Chicago Leaders’ Summit:
First, to reaffirm – as Defence Ministers did in Brussels – the commitments on security transition the international community made in Lisbon, namely to transition to Afghan led security responsibility across the country by 2014.
Important progress has been made with the implementation of the first two tranches of districts and provinces to transition to Afghan-led security.
When these two tranches of districts have transitioned, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will provide lead security for up to 50 percent of the Afghan population.
As United States Secretary of Defense Panetta has recently noted, when the final tranche of districts and provinces commences transition to Afghan-led security in mid-2013, the international community and Afghanistan will have achieved a key Lisbon milestone.
As both Secretary Panetta and NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers said in Brussels, ISAF forces will of course still need to be in support and prepared to undertake combat operations in support of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) until the end of transition in 2014.
Second, the international community and Afghanistan will need to determine and agree the size and shape of the ANSF that is sufficient to ensure and sustain security for Afghanistan in the longer term beyond 2014.
Having determined this in consultation with the Afghan Government, the cost of sustaining the ANSF needs to be agreed as well as a fair burden sharing arrangement for consideration by the broader international community.
Third, the international community must make an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. The NATO-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership and comparable bilateral national agreements - including with Australia - are an important start.
Last month, President Karzai signed frameworks for cooperation between Afghanistan and the United Kingdom and other European partners, including France and Italy.
Afghanistan and the United States are continuing to work towards their future strategic partnership framework.
These partnership agreements represent an important evolution in the relationship between the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners and reflect the international community’s long term enduring commitment to Afghanistan.
As the Prime Minister said in her statement to Parliament on 21 November 2011, Australia also seeks an enduring relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014.
After 2014, Australia will maintain links with Uruzgan province, but our role will necessarily have a more national focus.
As well, the international community must, in the context of the Chicago Summit, agree a basic mission profile of NATO-led post-2014 post-ISAF engagement to support, assist and advise the ANSF to ensure stability is sustained beyond 2014 and to achieve our objective of never again allowing Afghanistan to be a training ground for international terrorism.
The Mission profile necessary to achieve this could include but not necessarily be limited to:
- Support for the further professional development of the ANSF, including through the provision of institutional and high level niche training;
- Providing the ANSF with continued access to key enablers and capabilities, and
- A continued international Special Forces presence to help the ANSF develop the necessary capability, and where necessary, to undertake operations essential to prevent Afghanistan from again being used by terrorists to plan and train for attacks on innocent civilians abroad.
Australia has made clear that we expect to maintain a presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, potentially through training, military advisers, capacity building and development assistance and a Special Forces presence.
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. We are exploring options for an Australian contribution to the delivery of training at the Academy.
ISAF Campaign Progress in Afghanistan generally
In Brussels, I met senior NATO/ISAF Commanders and my Defence Ministerial colleagues from Afghanistan and a number of NATO/ISAF contributing countries including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The resounding view is that good security progress continues to be made on the ground in Afghanistan.
We agreed that there has been positive momentum in the mission and that we must continue to consolidate security gains in 2012.
Although the circumstances continue to be difficult and dangerous, we are on track to transition to Afghan led responsibility to the ANSF by 2014.
Combined ANSF and ISAF operations continue to maintain gains over the insurgency, despite the high-profile attacks that ISAF has experienced during the past six months.
These high profile attacks have been used by the insurgency as propaganda to undermine the progress made and the confidence in the Afghan Government and ISAF.
Combined Team Uruzgan: Progress in Uruzgan
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.
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 advising 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 during 2012.
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, and possibly earlier.
On that trajectory, there is an expectation that Uruzgan will be included in the third tranche of districts and provinces to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility.
There is an expectation that the decision on the third tranche of transition will be made in the course of the first half of this year and that transition to- Afghan-led security will then take place over the following 12 to 18 months.
Australian troops continue to work with our ISAF colleagues from the United States, Singapore and Slovakia in Combined Team Uruzgan.
Australia’s mission to train the ANA 4th Brigade is progressing well, with an expanded Afghan influence throughout the province.
Australian Mentoring Task Force – Three (MTF-3) handed over to Mentoring Task Force – Four (MTF-4) on 24 January.
Over the eight months that MTF-3 conducted operations in Uruzgan, the level of ANSF competence grew, with the local forces becoming more and more independent in planning security operations.
The 4th Brigade is now leading operations with the MTF in tactical support and the majority of ANA patrols are now conducted independently.
The 4th Brigade Headquarters and the 2nd Kandak are now assessed as being effective with advisor support.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) are more frequently conducting combined security operations, and are increasingly doing so without requests for direct ISAF support.
This has reduced the freedom of movement and activity of insurgents in Uruzgan.
During the past two months, the ANSF, and in particular the ANA, has uncovered significant insurgent caches in Uruzgan, including almost 13,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, nearly 70 anti-personnel mines and almost half a tonne of chemicals used to make explosives.
The removal of weapons, ammunition and explosives from the area is a serious blow to the insurgency in Uruzgan, and will make Uruzgan and surrounding provinces safer for Afghan civilians, the ANSF and ISAF partners.
The missions that led to the discovery of these caches were planned and led by the ANA, and clearly demonstrate the enhanced capabilities and confidence of the 4th Brigade in Uruzgan, and those of the ANP with whom they operate.
The focus of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in 2012 will be to further develop ANA confidence and capacity, including in medical, logistics, mechanical and construction skills.
Special Forces contribution
Australia is the third largest contributor of Special Forces in Afghanistan, with personnel deployed to the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) based in Tarin Kot.
The SOTG continues to work alongside their Afghan partners to disrupt the insurgency and reduce their revenue stream from narcotics, as well as counter the insurgent leadership.
In support of our efforts to build an effective and professional ANSF in Uruzgan, the SOTG has begun partnering with the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on operations to assist in making them as professional and capable as possible in the lead up to the transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces.
While the tempo has been lower during the northern winter months – when access routes constrict and the Taliban regroup after the summer ‘fighting season’ – the SOTG have had a number of recent successes.
On 2 December 2011, the National Interdiction Unit (NIU), operating with the SOTG and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), lead a mission in Helmand province to clear an identified narcotics production facility and network, which resulted in 1785kg of poppy seed being destroyed.
During this operation the combined force elements were heavily engaged by insurgents in seven separate contacts, resulting in a number of insurgents being killed, and without any Australian or coalition casualties.
On 30 December 2011, the ANSF and SOTG seized and destroyed 3.75 tonnes of ammonium nitrate during an operation in Zabul Province.
Ammonium nitrate is a key component of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
It is estimated the amount of ammonium nitrate seized was enough to make approximately 290 IEDs. The cache was destroyed in location.
On 3 January 2012, the ANSF and the SOTG detained a high-level insurgent commander in Uruzgan Province with several other persons of interest during a cordon and search operation.
The insurgent commander was suspected of leading a network of 30-50 insurgents responsible for manufacturing and emplacing IEDs and supplying IED parts to insurgents in the Tarin Kot area; and was also believed to be responsible for leading a number of assaults and kidnapping of Afghan civilians.
On 8 January, an operation lead by the NIU, supported by the SOTG and the DEA, destroyed a major drug manufacturing operation in Helmand Province.
The joint operation uncovered 110kg of heroin, 90kg of opium and large amounts of precursor chemicals with an estimated Afghan street value in excess of US$7 million.
In 2011, tragically four Australian soldiers were killed and a further ten wounded as a result of so called ‘green on blue’ attacks, namely an attack by an Afghan National Army member on a member of the ADF.
On 30 May 2011, Lance Corporal Andrew Gordon Jones was shot and killed by ANA soldier Shafied Ullah at Patrol Base Mashal in the Chora Valley in Uruzgan.
On 29 October 2011, Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt, and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin were shot and killed by ANA soldier Darwish Khan at Forward Operating Base Pacemaker in Shah Wali Kot in northern Kandahar. Seven Australian soldiers were also wounded, one Afghan interpreter was killed and two other Afghan interpreters and an ANA soldier were wounded.
On 8 November 2011, three Australian soldiers were shot and wounded by Mohammad Roozi at Patrol Base Nasir in the Charmestan Valley (to the north east of Tarin Kot).
Regrettably, Australia shares the experience of 'green on blue' attacks with a number of other nations.
France recently suffered four fatalities and 15 wounded in an incident in January 2012 and more recently a US Marine was killed in a similar attack in Helmand Province.
The UK has also recently felt the impact of similar incidents.
Force protection of ADF and Australian Government personnel remains the Government’s highest priority in Afghanistan.
Immediately following the 29 October incident in which we lost three of our soldiers, the relevant Afghan unit was temporarily disarmed and training and mentoring of the unit was suspended.
While I will not go into the detail for the obvious security reasons, adjustments to our force protection measures were made.
However, no force protection can comprehensively guard against a person who is intending to commit a crime.
The ADF continually reviews its force protection measures, to ensure the risks of such attacks are minimised.
I spoke to Afghan Defence Minister Wardak twice about these matters at the time and again recently in Brussels. The Chief of the Defence Force was also 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 taken action in response to these matters.
We have also been in contact with ISAF Commanders and 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 renewed.
On 4 February, COMISAF General Allen presented his analysis of killings by Afghan security force members to the meeting of NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers in Brussels.
General Allen said that while the incidents have increased in number over the past year, they remain isolated incidents, largely reflecting local grievances.
General Allen also advised that he had agreed with his Afghan counterparts to develop a “counter-infiltration action plan” to more closely screen and monitor Afghan recruits.
These terrible incidents will not alter our commitment to training the 4th Brigade Afghan National Army to a point where it is capable of taking the lead security role in Uruzgan.
There continues to be a close partnership between Australian and Afghan soldiers operating in Afghanistan, and the terrible actions of a few individuals should not be seen as indicative of the commitment of the vast majority of our Afghan partners.
Australia supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process recognising the conflict in Afghanistan will not be ended by military force alone.
The international community has a key role to play in supporting such efforts, particularly to help the Afghan Government deal from a position of strength.
The Taliban is coming under substantial military pressure and we need to continue to push them to a point where they know they cannot win.
This pressure will continue to be applied and will get the parties closer to a point where a political settlement is a viable option.
Some recent signs of progress towards reconciliation are encouraging, including the Taliban announcement of their willingness to open a political office in Qatar.
While the prospect of dialogue is encouraging, we must recognise that any “peace” talks are likely to be long, complex and inevitably subject to setbacks.
A key aspect of this will be getting the insurgents to lay down their weapons, renounce violence and support the Afghan constitution.
Detainee Management update
Australia takes the issue of detainee management very seriously and has a robust framework for detainee management in Afghanistan.
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.
Second, the need to ensure humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.
Australia’s 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 continuing welfare.
Update on detainee allegations
Australia continues to make clear its commitment to open and transparent detainee arrangements in support of ADF operations in Afghanistan.
Between 1 August 2010 to 3 February 2012, Australian forces apprehended 1200 detainees.
Of these, 159 were transferred to Afghan custody at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) in Tarin Kot or US custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
The remaining detainees were released following initial screening.
In the same period, the ADF 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 US custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan, and three were transferred to Afghan custody at the NDS detention facility in Uruzgan.
In the same period 71 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the ADF.
To date, 57 of these allegations have been fully investigated and were found to have no substance.
The remaining 14 allegations remain under review.
These allegations and the outcomes of the investigations are reported to ISAF and relevant humanitarian organisations.
Deployment of an interrogation capability
In my November 2011 statement to Parliament, I announced that the Australian Government had approved the deployment of a team of nine, including six trained interrogators to Afghanistan to question detainees apprehended by the ADF.
On 1 February I announced this capability had deployed to Afghanistan and is now operational.
The deployment of this capability enables the ADF to play a greater role in the collection of vital information on the insurgency, and supports the protection of Australian and ISAF personnel as well as the local population.
It also supports the gathering of evidence to assist in the potential prosecution of detainees through the Afghan justice system.
Interrogation is a comprehensive questioning process which is aimed at collecting intelligence on the insurgency. It is conducted within strict legal guidelines to prevent physical and mental mistreatment.
ADF interrogators are highly-trained and ethical professionals. Their duties in Afghanistan will be in accordance with stringent guidelines and will strictly comply with Australian international and domestic legal obligations. It will be strictly limited to approved methods.
In support of this capability, I also announced in November that the Government had agreed to extend the time selected detainees could be held in Australian custody at the Initial Screening Area in Tarin Kot, prior to their release or transfer, for the purposes of comprehensive screening. This will allow the ADF more time to determine whether an individual should be released or transferred, or has knowledge which could assist the ADF and our ISAF and Afghan partners.
The length of time for which detainees can be held in the Initial Screening Area may be extended beyond the current 96 hours (4 days) for an additional three days, and a possible further extension of three days.
This approach is consistent with the interrogation timelines of our ISAF partners.
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.
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.
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.
If sufficient evidence is available, detainees may be transferred to the custody of the Afghan National Directorate of Security at Tarin Kot or to the US-run Detention Facility in Parwan. Detainees are released if there is insufficient evidence to link them to the insurgency.
Under Australia’s detainee management framework, the ADF screens and questions detainees in a purpose-built facility, which is open to inspection by humanitarian organisations.
A monitoring team of Australian officials regularly visits transferred detainees to monitor their welfare and standards of treatment.
The proposed interrogation of ADF-apprehended detainees has seen the installation of a new Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system. This new CCTV system replaces the existing system within the Initial Screening Area, and has been designed and purpose-built to support the conduct of the interrogation and questioning of detainees.
The new system has been upgraded to include a greater number of cameras and improved redundancy measures to ensure that all interrogation sessions are monitored. The recording and monitoring of these sessions will support the ADF and the Government’s commitment to transparency on detainee management issues in Afghanistan.
Other Detainee Matters
I have previously 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 have also previously noted failures in the CCTV system at the Initial Screening Area. I have asked Defence to investigate whether any of these failures coincided with allegations of detainee mistreatment.
I will advise on the outcomes of this investigation in due course.
I will continue to provide regular public updates on detainee management matters and this interrogation capability including as part of my regular reporting to Parliament on Afghanistan.
Australia takes its responsibilities for detainee management seriously, and ensures that detainees in Australian custody are treated humanely, with dignity and respect, in accordance with our international and domestic legal obligations.
Inquiry Officer Reports
When an Australian soldier is killed in combat an Inquiry Officer Report is prepared in order to determine the circumstances surrounding the death and any lessons learnt.
A number of factors led to a delay in releasing Inquiry Officer Reports into combat deaths in 2010. An inquiry into a fatality requires careful consideration, however, it is clear that insufficient resources and priority were afforded to processing inquiry reports from 2010.
There have regrettably been delays in the Inquiry Officer process in respect of a number of our fallen, most recently with the deaths of Privates Chuck, Aplin and Palmer.
The Chief of the Defence Force has apologised for this as have I.
The CDF has put in place a number of measures to address the deficiencies identified in the lack of resources and priority attached to processing Inquiry Officer reports within Defence. In addition to giving priority to closer oversight of the progress of reports, the steps underway to remediate the issues within the Commission of Inquiry Directorate are:
- Appointing a high calibre and experienced senior Army lawyer to lead the Directorate;
- Appointing a non-legal Chief of Staff to provide oversight, prioritisation and monitoring of all matters that are referred to, and processed within, the Directorate;