Minister for Defence
Stephen Smith MP
Tabled in conjunction with a Ministerial Statement
19 June 2013
The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
This is my third report to the Parliament this year.
I last reported to the House on 16 May, presenting an update on Detainee Management, Australian Defence Force (ADF) inquiries into civilian casualties, Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS) processes and local source allegations.
On 7 February this year I presented an update on transition in Afghanistan. As this process gains pace and we look towards the very substantial drawdown of the ADF in Uruzgan at the end of this year, it is appropriate to again update Parliament and the Australian people on progress towards transition.
This update follows on from my visit to Afghanistan on 2 June.
Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan
It is worth pausing to remember what led to Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan, because we have been there a long time. We began operations in Afghanistan for clear reasons and with a clear mission.
Following the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States, Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty and announced an ADF contribution to international operations against terrorism, deploying a Special Forces Task Force of around 150 personnel to Afghanistan. This initial deployment finished in December 2002.
In September 2005, a Special Forces Task Group of around 190 personnel was redeployed to Afghanistan for twelve months until September 2006 in support of international efforts targeting key insurgents. Two Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 110 personnel commenced operations in support of the Special Force Task Group.
In February 2006, the then Government announced that a 240-personnel Reconstruction Task Force would be deployed to Afghanistan in August of that year for a period of up to two years in support of the Dutch-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Uruzgan Province. In August 2006, the Government announced that an extra 150 personnel would be sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the Reconstruction Task Force and to provide enhanced force protection.
In April 2007, the then Government announced the re-deployment of around 300 Australian Special Forces personnel to Uruzgan as the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG), and noted at the time that the total expected ADF deployment in Afghanistan was to ‘peak’ at approximately 1000 personnel by mid-2008, including the Reconstruction Task Force (RFT), the RTF Protection Company Group, the Special Operations Task Group, and an RAAF air surveillance radar capability.
In February 2008, following a careful review of Australia’s strategy in Afghanistan and consultation with our international partners, this Government announced an increased focus on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan Province. These changes were announced “noting that the Government of Afghanistan needs to be able to develop the security forces which will provide the security for their own citizens into the future”.
To achieve the increased focus on training, the Government announced that Australia would deploy an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team of around 50 personnel to train one Afghan National Army (ANA) Kandak (battalion) in Uruzgan Province. The core of the mentoring team would be infantry officers and senior non-commissioned officers, as well as force protection troops and assets.
At that time, the authorised strength of Australian personnel in support of Australian operations in Afghanistan was around 1100.
On 29 April 2009, the Government announced an increase in Australia’s troop commitment in Afghanistan from 1100 to 1550 personnel. The primary focus of the increased troop commitment was two additional Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams of approximately 100 personnel to train the ANA 4th Brigade to take security responsibility for Uruzgan Province.
The increased contribution also included 70 additional personnel for the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force; an increase of approximately 70 personnel to the number of HQ embedded staff; an enhanced engineering element of approximately 40 personnel; an Election Support Force of approximately 120 personnel; and an additional 50 logistics and transport personnel, including one additional C-130 aircraft and support crew.
Following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan in August 2010, Australia worked in close partnership with the United States, Singapore and Slovakia as ISAF’s Combined Team – Uruzgan (CT-U), including as the civilian Director of the Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team. New Zealand also participated in CT-U through one rotation of forces in 2010-2011.
In October 2012, Australia assumed leadership of CT-U from the United States, allowing Australia to directly manage the transition process to Afghan security control in the province.
Evolution of Role from Mentoring to Advisory to Transition
In July 2012, transition to Afghan security lead in Uruzgan for the four infantry Kandaks and the two combat support and combat service support (logistics) Kandaks of the 4th Brigade of the 205 Hero Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) commenced.
In November 2012, the Government announced that all four Infantry Kandaks of the ANA 4th Brigade were now operating independently without advisers in Uruzgan Province.
The commencement of independent operations by the 4th Brigade Infantry Kandaks was a significant step in the process of transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan and confirmed that transition was on track in Uruzgan Province.
With the commencement of independent operations by the four Infantry Kandaks, the ADF transferred control of joint Forward Operating Bases and Patrol Bases in Uruzgan Province to the 4th Brigade.
Australian troops no longer operated from Forward Operating Bases or Patrol Bases in Uruzgan Province and consolidated their presence at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot.
The ADF Task Group shifted emphasis from partnering and mentoring at Kandak level to advising at Headquarters 4th Brigade level and at the Afghan Operational Coordination Centre – Provincial in Uruzgan.
Independent operations for the 4th Brigade Infantry Kandaks did not mean the end of a role for the ADF in Uruzgan.
The ADF continued to advise the two combat support and combat service support (logistics) Kandaks of the 4th Brigade.
The ADF task group remains combat ready to assist Afghan Forces should the need arise and the Special Operations Task Group continues to conduct partnered combat operations to disrupt the insurgency.
The 4th Brigade’s operational tempo in the first half of 2013 has been a successful series of clearance operations. These operations were conducted with support from elements of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan National Police (ANP), and the Afghan Local Police (ALP). The support provided by, and to, the ANP remains important to maintaining security in the Province.
The success of the clearance operations is a good example of the growing confidence, improved leadership and war-fighting capability of the ANSF.
The ADF remains on track to complete its mission and hand over operational responsibility for security for Uruzgan to the ANSF by the end of December this year. Our role in Uruzgan will continue as at present until the end of this year. By year’s end we will see at least 1000 Australian personnel return home.
Consistent with this progress, as the Prime Minister and I announced in March, Multinational Base – Tarin Kot will close at the end of this year, seeing the completion of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan.
Progress continues to be made on transition across Afghanistan. ISAF has either closed, or transferred the majority of bases to Afghan forces. With 18 months left until transition is complete across the country, Afghanistan has now moved to the moment when the ANSF has taken full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.
Despite transition and the increasing capability of the ANSF, Afghanistan will remain challenging, particularly in areas removed from population centres. The Taliban will continue to target the ANSF and Afghan authorities and ISAF through propaganda motivated attacks including high profile suicide bomb attacks as again seen in Kabul on 10 and 11 June as well as yesterday, 18 June itself.
The use of roadside bombs, the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), will continue to endanger ANSF and ISAF personnel and the lives of ordinary Afghan civilians.
Australia welcomes the announcement yesterday 18 June of the fifth and final tranche of transition, which sees Afghanistan’s final Provinces and districts enter transition.
With the inclusion of these final districts into the transition process, Australia welcomes the achievement of the “Chicago milestone”, where the ANSF officially takes the national lead for security responsibility for all the districts in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, all of which have now entered transition.
Throughout Afghanistan, the ANSF is growing more competent and capable.
The ANSF participate in all operations and are in the lead in 95 per cent of these – from routine tasks, including combat service support missions, medical evacuations and route clearance operations to high-level tasks such as special operations.
The ANSF indigenous training capability is increasingly developing with the ANSF delivering up to 90 per cent of their own training.
In keeping with this trend, on 11 April this year, the Australian-led Artillery Training and Advisory Team (ATAT) officially completed its mission to establish a fully autonomous ANA School of Artillery and the ADF personnel have returned home.
Australia’s 2014 Role
In 2014, the Australian commitment in Afghanistan will include a commitment of around 75 personnel, including instructors/advisors, support staff and force protection at the ANA Officer Academy in Kabul with our British and New Zealand colleagues.
In Kandahar, the ADF will continue to provide advisory support to the 205 Corps of the ANA through an advisor and force protection complement of over 50. The ADF will also maintain its commitment of 10 advisors to the Logistics Training Advisory Team in Kabul.
Australia currently has over 100 staff embedded within a range of ISAF Headquarters. The embed commitment in 2014 is expected to evolve as ISAF prepares for the post-2014 train, advise and assist mission.
A possible Special Forces role remains contingent on Government consideration and consultation with the United States and ISAF over Australia’s possible post-2014 Special Forces role.
Post-2014 NATO-led Mission
At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, ISAF nations and the Afghan Government agreed to work together to establish a new NATO-led post-2014 mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF.
We are well down that path. At the recent NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 4 June, the Concept of Operations for the post-2014 train, advise and assist mission was endorsed by Ministers.
Operational planning for the post-2014 mission will continue to develop through the remainder of 2013.
Australia’s post-2014 role
Australia is prepared to maintain an ADF presence in Afghanistan to support stability and security after the completion of nationwide transition at the end of 2014.
Australia will continue to provide training and advisory support to the ANSF through the NATO-led train, advise and assist mission to Afghanistan.
Under an appropriate mandate, Australia is prepared to make a Special Forces contribution, either for training or for Counter Terrorism purposes, or both.
The actual size and scope of Australia’s post-2014 ADF contributed is yet to be determined.
As well, Australia will contribute US$100 million annually for three years from January 2015 as part of international efforts to sustain and support the ANSF beyond transition, a continuation of the US$200 million Australia committed in 2009 to help sustain the ANA in Uruzgan Province over the five years from 2009 until the end of 2014.
Reflecting our long-term interests in a stable Afghanistan that can be responsible for its own security, Prime Minister Gillard and President Karzai signed the Comprehensive Long-Term Partnership in Chicago in May 2012.
In May 2012 the United States also 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.
These commitments send a strong signal to the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the region that Australia and the international community will not walk away from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
The Tasks Ahead
Currently, Australia has about 1,650 personnel in Afghanistan and around 800 additional personnel providing support from locations within the broader Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO). The increase in deployed personnel above the average of 1,550 is due to the over 150 personnel whose task is to commence redeployment, repatriation and remediation activities as part of the transition process.
During my most recent visit to Afghanistan, on 2 June, I was briefed on the significant progress Australian personnel have made in remediating buildings and facilities, and in preparation for redeploying Australian personnel and the transition of security responsibilities in Uruzgan to the ANSF. This complex task is on track, and cargo continues to be removed from Multi National Base – Tarin Kot.
Since the beginning of January, the ADF has used 25 cargo ship trips to bring home major materiel back to Australia, including:
- 13 Australian Light Armoured Vehicles;
- 92 Protected Mobility Vehicles (Bushmasters);
- 4 Unimog trucks;
- 23 general cargo loads, which have included vehicle components, uniforms, weapon mounts and a large range of other material.
Material was flown from Afghanistan to Dubai and then loaded onto ships. In the coming weeks and months the ADF plans to return approximately 100 pallets of general cargo per fortnight.
Australia does not intend to leave military equipment behind.
Over the last six months, the ADF has reduced its inventory of equipment in the Middle East Area of Operations by around two million individual items.
The withdrawal of equipment through Pakistan has also recently begun with the first ground shipment underway.
Locally Engaged Employees
As Australia prepares to leave Afghanistan, we are also making sure those who have assisted our efforts are supported. Many locally engaged Afghan employees have provided valuable support to Australia’s whole-of-government mission in Afghanistan.
The Government recognises that some of these employees may be at risk of harm due to their support for our efforts in Afghanistan and has a moral responsibility to support those who have assisted us.
On 13 December 2012, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and I announced a visa policy which will offer resettlement to Australia to locally engaged Afghan employees at risk of harm as a consequence of their employment in support of Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
This policy is targeted towards locally engaged Afghan employees at the greatest risk of harm. It is consistent with the policy that the Government put in place in 2008 for locally engaged Iraqi employees who supported Australia’s mission in Iraq.
This is a whole-of-government policy that is being implemented not only within the Department of Defence, but also the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Under the policy, locally engaged Afghan employees interested in resettling in Australia will firstly need to be assessed by their employing Australian agency against specific threat criteria. This will consider the level of direct support the applicant has provided to Australia’s mission in Afghanistan as well as its public profile, location and the period of employment.
If certified as eligible by the relevant Australian agency, the locally engaged Afghan employees will then be able to make an application for a visa under Australia’s Humanitarian Program. They will be required to meet the standard visa criteria including health, character and security requirements.
Successful applicants will be resettled under Australia’s Humanitarian Program, administered by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They will have access to the same suite of resettlement services as any other humanitarian entrants, including accommodation support, basic assistance to set up a household, English language courses and help to access government, community and health services.
Defence and other agencies have received a number of applications for certification under the first step of the process.
The Department of Immigration has also begun to receive applications for visas under Australia’s Humanitarian Program under the second step of the process.
As I said when I announced the program in December 2013, it is possible that the total number of locally engaged Afghan employees resettled to Australia will be in the hundreds. Every decision will be made on a case by case basis.
I now provide an update on detainee operations in Afghanistan in accordance with my commitment to provide regular updates on detainee management and to be open and transparent on these matters.
Australia has a responsibility to treat detainees with dignity and respect and is committed to managing detention matters in accordance with our domestic and international legal obligations.
Numbers of Detainees Apprehended
During the period 1 August 2010 to 14 June 2013, the ADF detained 1909 suspected insurgents. Of these: 158 detainees have been transferred to the National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot and 106 detainees have been transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan, now known as the Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan.
Detainee Management Framework
Since 1 August 2010, when Australia’s current detainee management framework in Afghanistan was introduced, five comprehensive technical audits of the framework and an audit of Australia’s detainee monitoring program have been conducted, with the most recent audit completed in April 2013.
It included a review of Australia’s interrogation capability, which has been operating since February 2012, consideration of practices and processes at the point of capture, and a review of the ADF’s transitioning detainee management requirements including the scheduled closure of the Initial Screening Area (ISA) in the last quarter of this year.
The audit found that all detention activities conducted at the ADF ISA over the period of the audit were in full compliance with Australian policy, Australia’s international and domestic legal obligations and ISAF requirements.
These audits are an essential part of Australia’s strong governance framework and enable the ADF to proactively address any issues that might arise. Australia can be proud of its detainee management framework in Afghanistan. Australia has achieved its operational requirements in a manner consistent with Australian values and our legal obligations.
As part of our detainee management framework, Australian officials monitor the treatment, welfare and conditions of all detainees transferred from ADF custody to Afghan custody.
Between 1 August 2010 and 14 June 2013, the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team, comprised of Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence, conducted 143 monitoring visits. This includes: 64 visits to the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot; 25 visits to the Tarin Kot Central Prison; and 54 visits to the Detention Facility in Parwan/ Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan.
In February 2012, I announced the deployment of trained ADF interrogators to Afghanistan.
Interrogation is a comprehensive questioning process, which is aimed at collecting intelligence on the insurgency.
Interrogation expands the ADF’s ability to obtain information of operational and tactical value to help protect Australian personnel, the ANSF, and the local population.
It is conducted within strict legal guidelines to prevent physical and mental mistreatment.
Interrogation is conducted by ADF personnel who are qualified in interrogation. Only those personnel who have received specialised training are authorised to conduct interrogation activities.
From February 2012 to 14 June 2013, approximately 41 per cent of detainees apprehended by the ADF in Afghanistan have undergone interrogation within the ISA.
Allegations of Mistreatment
As I have previously stated, Australia takes all allegations of detainee mistreatment seriously.
Since August 2010, I have provided regular updates on complaints and allegations of mistreatment the ADF has received.
When a detainee is brought into the ISA, they are specifically asked whether they have any complaints regarding their treatment.
Any complaint received is treated as an allegation.
This terminology does not imply any wrong-doing on the part of the ADF, simply that an individual has made an allegation or complaint about the treatment they, or another individual, has received or witnessed during the course of their interaction with the ADF or the ANSF.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 14 June 2013, there have been 201 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 175 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture. To date, 198 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as being unfounded. Three allegations remain under review.
Treatment of Detainees by ANSF
Australia is committed to holding our own personnel to the highest standards on detainee treatment. If ADF personnel become aware of concerns regarding the treatment of detainees by our ISAF or Afghan partners, this is also treated seriously.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 14 June 2013, 62 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the ANSF at the point of capture on partnered operations. The investigation of these allegations is a matter for the ANSF.
As part of the ADF’s mentoring, ANSF personnel receive human rights training and advice on the correct procedures for handling detainees. They are also trained on the applicable international legal obligations for the treatment of detainees and the protection of the local civilian population.
The ANSF in Uruzgan also receive specific human rights training from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which specifically covers the application of those rights when conducting detention operations.
The ADF also provides Afghan personnel practical advice on these issues during partnered operations.
If ADF personnel witness any instances of mistreatment of detainees who are under the control of Afghan forces, they are required to report the matter to Australian authorities so it may be raised with Afghan authorities.
Suspension of transfers to the National Directorate of Security Detention Facility in Tarin Kot
As I advised last month, on 15 March 2013, the ADF suspended the transfer of detainees to the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Tarin Kot, after allegations of mistreatment were raised by non-ADF transferred detainees.
Australia has raised our concerns about this matter with Afghan authorities, Afghan and international human rights organisations and ISAF.
Australia has reiterated the importance of the proper treatment of detainees and the need to investigate any allegations of detainee mistreatment in a robust and transparent manner.
I did so again during my 2 June visit to Kabul.
Australia has been informally advised by Afghan authorities that they are in the process of laying charges against a number of Afghan officials as a result of the allegations of detainee mistreatment at the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot.
It is appropriate for Australia to await the outcome of the Afghan investigation into this matter, and advice on any action to be taken, before Australia will consider a resumption of the transfer of ADF-apprehended detainees to Afghan authorities in Tarin Kot.
At the time of suspension on 15 March there was one ADF transferred detainee in the NDS detention facility. He was visited by Australia’s Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team on 12 March and he advised that he had not been mistreated. That detainee was transferred to the Tarin Kot Central Prison on 19 March, where he is still subject to regular monitoring visits.
Since the suspension has been in place, two detainees have been transferred to the Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan. Twenty detainees have been released from the ISA.
Lessons from Afghanistan
The National Security Interest
In my first statement on Afghanistan to the Parliament as Minister for Defence on 20 October 2010, I said “[t]here can be no more serious endeavour for any country or Government than to send its military forces into conflict”.
To send its men and women in uniform into harm’s way, a country or Government must have a clear national security interest reason to do so. In my 20 October 2010 statement I said:
The Government’s strong view is that it is in our national interest to be in Afghanistan.
On the 11th of September 2001, al-Qaeda killed over 3000 people from more than 90 countries, including our own, in its terrible attacks in the United States.
The Taliban, which harboured al-Qaeda within Afghanistan, refused to condemn al-Qaeda or cooperate with the international community to bring it to account.
The international community, including Australia, could not stand by and allow such a threat to persist. So we and others, under a United Nations mandate, still in existence and renewed unanimously by the Security Council in successive years, removed the Taliban from power.
The 11 September attacks were also an attack upon our long-standing Alliance partner, the United States. Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty after the September attacks. That decision was supported by both sides of this Chamber.
Australia’s contribution in Afghanistan is also an expression of the common interest we share not just with the United States, but the other  countries of NATO and the International Security Assistance Force in countering international terrorism.
Since the 11th of September, over one hundred Australians have been murdered – along with many more from other nations – in terrorist attacks around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Indonesia and India.
Terrorism in Afghanistan and in its neighbourhood remains a real threat.
Afghanistan needs the help of the international community, including Australia, to build its capacity so that terrorists are unable to re-establish the type of presence that enabled such terrorist attacks.
Australia’s national security interest in our commitment to Afghanistan – past, present and future – is clear: to prevent Afghanistan from again being used by international terrorists to plan and train for attacks abroad on innocent civilians, including Australians in our own region and beyond.
The Use of Military Force
Our experience over the last ten years in Afghanistan has highlighted some important general lessons for the use of military force.
It has reinforced the well known point that it is the easiest thing in the world to get involved in major commitments, but it is substantially more difficult to get out.
That is why, when a Government makes a decision about a military intervention, it must very, very carefully consider whether that intervention is required in a country’s national security and national interests.
In the case of Afghanistan, there was strong international community and bipartisan domestic support for the intervention in Afghanistan with the now 50 country strong ISAF, mandated by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001.
If there had not been a continually renewed UN mandate for Afghanistan, the international community would have withdrawn years ago.
Progress in Afghanistan was substantially undermined as a result of Iraq, which was not the subject of a UN mandate and which did not have bipartisan domestic support in Australia and overseas.
International community focus shifted from Afghanistan in the latter half of 2002, in the lead up to the Iraq War. This allowed the Taliban to regroup in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region and reassert and rebuild its influence in southern Afghanistan from 2003 through 2005. As a result, from 2006 onwards, ISAF forces faced fierce opposition from a resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
Focus shifted back to Afghanistan in 2008.
The subsequent surge of international troops and resources into Afghanistan and the sharper international focus led to the transition process and where we are today but the regrettable fact is that valuable years, a half dozen years, were lost to the Afghanistan mission.
International Decision Making
From the earliest days, the Government was forthright in demanding a place at the international table when key decisions were made on Afghanistan.
My Ministerial predecessors Ministers Nelson, Fitzgibbon and Faulkner did very valuable work on this front.
Australia insisted that strategic level decisions on Afghanistan were taken by the International Security Assistance Force, not just by NATO.
While the Government was prepared to put our men and women in uniform into harm’s way to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism, we were equally determined to ensure that from 2008 Australia was part of the decision making process for the international community’s strategy on Afghanistan.
Strategy and Mission
At the Summit in Lisbon in November 2010, leaders from Afghanistan and the NATO and ISAF countries agreed that a conditions-based transition to Afghan led security begin in 2011, with the aim of completing transition by the end of 2014.
NATO and ISAF members also made an important long term commitment to support Afghanistan beyond the transition of security responsibility.
These commitments were reaffirmed by the international community at the Chicago Summit in May 2012.
The international community also agreed at Chicago to continuing to fund, train and support the ANSF post-transition, to consolidate and build on the security gains of the transition strategy.
This is in recognition that it is essential that the international community provides the resources for ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of the ANSF beyond 2014.
The international community also committed at the Chicago Summit to supporting Afghanistan’s development in the long-term, including through the signature of long term strategic par