The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
This year, I have reported to the Parliament on three prior occasions.
In February, I provided an update to Parliament on progress in Afghanistan.
In May, I reported to Parliament twice, once on Australia’s detainee management arrangements and, on my return from Chicago, on the outcomes of the NATO/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Leaders’ Summit, which I attended with the Prime Minister.
Since my last statement, there have been three significant developments in relation to Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
On 17 July, transition formally commenced in Uruzgan Province, where the majority of Australian forces are based. This follows the Province’s inclusion in the third tranche of Provinces and Districts to enter the transition process, as announced by President Karzai on 16 May.
The start of transition in Uruzgan reflects the progress made by Australia and ISAF in training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and strengthening security and development. It is a welcome sign that transition in Uruzgan is on track for completion over the next 12 to 18 months.
The commencement of transition in Uruzgan is in line with the strategy agreed by the international community at Lisbon, and reaffirmed at Chicago, namely to transition the security lead from ISAF to the ANSF by the end of December 2014.
On 31 May, I announced that Australia will take on the leadership role of Combined Team-Uruzgan (CT-U) later this year.
CT-U was established in August 2010 under United States command following the withdrawal of the Dutch, with the role of commanding ISAF operations in Uruzgan Province. The United States has had the leadership of CT-U since that time.
Australia sees leadership of the CT-U as part of the transition process through which security responsibility will be transferred from ISAF to the ANSF.
Australia sees this as the appropriate time to take the leadership role in Uruzgan Province, to help ensure that transition in Uruzgan is effected in a seamless way. The United States has committed to continuing to provide enabling support in the Province, which it has done since August 2010.
Assuming leadership of CT-U will not require an increase in the overall average size of Australia’s presence in Uruzgan. Australia looks forward to continuing to work with our CT-U partners – the United States, Singapore and Slovakia – to progress transition in Uruzgan to the Afghan authorities.
Following the 4 August vote of no confidence by the Afghan Parliament in the Afghan Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, and Interior Minister, Bismullah Mohammadi Khan, Minister Wardak announced his resignation on 7 August.
I congratulate Minister Wardak on his successes as Defence Minister. I have worked closely with him and wish him well in his new role as Senior Presidential Adviser to President Karzai on army reform.
Deputy Defence Minister, Enayatullah Nazari, has been appointed Acting Defence Minister.
The appointment of Afghan Ministers is of course a matter for the Afghan Government and I am committed to working with my new Afghan counterpart when appointed to ensure the transition process in Uruzgan is effected seamlessly.
Tragically, since my last Ministerial Statement, Australia has also lost another soldier in Afghanistan.
Sergeant Blaine Diddams from the Special Air Service Regiment was killed on 2 July during a small arms engagement with insurgents.
The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel and I spoke all on the condolence motion for Sergeant Diddams on Tuesday.
I again offer my condolences to the family, friends and mates of Sergeant Diddams.
Sergeant Diddams was our first fatality this year and our thirty-third overall in Afghanistan. His was the sixteenth fatality from our Special Operations Task Group – from the SAS, from the Commandos and from the Incident Response Regiment.
Since the beginning of 2012, 21 ADF personnel have been wounded in battle: 14 were involved in improvised explosive device attacks and seven were wounded during contact with the enemy. 234 soldiers have now been wounded in Afghanistan.
The Parliament, the Government and the Australian people acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice of ADF members in the service of our nation.
Our sense of responsibility can never match the sorrow felt by the families and friends of those killed in action, or those families picking up the pieces after a loved one has suffered serious wounds or injuries.
Australia’s Post-2014 mission
Australia is committed to support Afghanistan through to transition in December 2014 and beyond.
Australia demonstrated this commitment to the people of Afghanistan and the international community at the Chicago Summit, with the signing of the Long-Term Comprehensive Partnership between Australia and Afghanistan.
The Comprehensive Long-Term Partnership demonstrates that Australia is committed to supporting Afghanistan beyond 2014, through cooperation in the areas of security, trade and development, and building the capacity of Afghanistan’s national institutions.
Australia is not alone in its long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
The United States has signed a long term Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan.
A number of our ISAF partners, including the United Kingdom, France and Italy, as well as India and NATO have also signed similar Agreements.
Beyond our training mission in Uruzgan and the completion of nation-wide transition by the end of 2014, Australia will maintain an ADF presence in Afghanistan, in recognition that Australia has a vital national interest in supporting Afghanistan’s stability and security after transition.
The ADF will continue to support the development of the ANSF through the provision of training and advisory support, including at the Afghan National Army (ANA) Officer Academy in Kabul.
We will also consider a Special Forces contribution, under an appropriate mandate.
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 sustain and support the ANSF beyond transition.
Our commitment to ANSF funding reflects our enduring interest in Afghanistan’s long term security and stability.
These commitments send a strong 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.
Australia’s training and mentoring forces in Uruzgan will be drawn down and returned to Australia in line with the ISAF transition strategy, as determined in Lisbon and Chicago, and agreed by the Afghan Government.
Australia has played a key role in preparing Uruzgan for transition.
Transition in Uruzgan reflects the progress made in training and mentoring the ANSF and strengthening security.
Transition in Uruzgan is on track for completion over the next 12 to 18 month period.
Australia’s Mentoring Task Force and Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) have worked closely with their Afghan and ISAF counterparts to improve security and build the capacity of the ANSF.
As transition progresses, the size of Australia’s training and mentoring presence will become progressively smaller.
We will, however, continue to be present in support of the ANSF, and be combat ready to do so, until transition is complete.
The Taliban will continue to test the transition process particularly through high profile propaganda style attacks and assassination attempts.
The Taliban’s strategy will be to try to undermine confidence in the Afghan Government, in particular in areas where transition occurs.
It is important that we remain prepared for difficult periods to come.
Security within Uruzgan has improved, due in no small part to Australia’s efforts in mentoring the 4th Brigade of the ANA.
On 24 June, Mentoring Task Force - Four (MTF-4) handed over its mission to a new rotation of Australian troops from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (RAR), known as the 3 RAR Task Group. That change in name is in accord with ISAF naming conventions for transition.
During MTF-4’s tenure, the ANA 4th Brigade has increased in confidence and competence.
3 RAR Task Group is continuing to build on these gains through the summer season.
There are now almost 5,000 ANSF members in Uruzgan, with almost 4,000 serving in the ANA 4th Brigade.
The ANA has increasingly assumed the lead for the planning, preparation and execution of tactical operations. This has allowed Australian forces to concentrate on partnering Afghan head quarters and logistics functions.
Afghan forces and ISAF have extended security to areas in Uruzgan where previously insurgents enjoyed far greater freedom of manoeuvre.
The ANSF and Australia’s SOTG continue to degrade insurgent lines of funding and equipment, lowering their morale and willingness to fight in and around Uruzgan.
The ANSF is taking an active role in these partnered operations.
Reflecting the increased responsibility of the ANSF, Australian Special Forces work closely with Afghan partner forces on many missions.
SOTG now conducts operations with a partner ratio of 50% of the force size, up from 30% during the last rotation. The ANSF have conducted 55 operations independent of Australian participation.
ANSF and Australian Special Forces have combined to remove a large number of insurgent commanders from the battle field.
The loss of commanders is a significant blow to the insurgency and hampers their ability to coordinate and conduct attacks against Afghan and ISAF forces.
ANSF and SOTG members have confiscated approximately US$11 million (Afghan street value) of narcotics, depriving the insurgency of vital funding in Uruzgan.
This included the destruction of over 3000kg of hashish, 2000kg of opium and 100kg of heroin from nearly 60 drug caches. Over 800 weapons were recovered or destroyed, and over 160kg of explosives destroyed during the last rotation.
On 1 July, the 205th Atul or “Hero” Corps of the ANA, assumed lead responsibility for security operations in Regional Command (South).
Regional Command (South) encompasses the southern Afghan provinces of Daykundi, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul. It is the first Regional Command in which Afghan security forces have taken the lead for security across the Command’s entire geographical area of responsibility.
High Profile Attacks
Despite progress being made, Afghanistan remains a dangerous environment, as evidenced by the recent series of bombings in Nimroz and Kunduz Provinces earlier this week on 14 August.
Nearly 50 people were killed and more than 130 wounded as a result of these appalling attacks, with Afghan civilians the majority of victims.
These attacks are aimed at achieving a propaganda effect and undermining Afghan and international confidence in the progress that is being made on transition.
Green on Blue Incidents
Members are only too well aware of the dangers our personnel face in Afghanistan and the potential for so called “green on blue” incidents or “insider attacks”.
The causes are complex and range from Taliban infiltrators to real or perceived grievances affecting Afghan soldiers, policemen or locally engaged staff.
There are more numerous so called “green on green” incidents, involving members of the ANSF carrying out attacks against their fellow ANSF colleagues.
There have been no “green on blue” incidents involving ADF personnel this year, but there has been an unfortunate rise in the number of these incidents involving our international partners.
Earlier this month, ISAF implemented force protection enhancements across Afghanistan as a result of an increase in these insider incidents.
Australian force protection measures are robust and were already in line with the adjusted ISAF measures.
Our overall relationship with our Afghan partners is positive and productive, with its members as equally horrified by such incidents as we are.
We should not judge an entire organisation based on the terrible actions of a few. It is vital that we, along with our ISAF colleagues, continue to partner the ANSF closely in the field.
Combat Fatality Reports
In my 24 May Ministerial Statement update I advised that all Inquiry Officer reports into combat deaths which occurred in 2010 have been completed, the respective families briefed and the outcomes of the Inquiries made public, or not, as appropriate.
In 2011 there were nine incidents resulting in the combat deaths of eleven soldiers.
Since my 24 May Ministerial Statement, family members have now been briefed in relation to seven of the nine incidents. The Inquiry Officer Report into the death of Lance Corporal Andrew Jones was released publicly on 29 June. The completion of the Inquiry Officer Reports into the deaths of Sergeant Wood and Sergeant Langley was publicly advised on 29 June. The completion of the Inquiry Officer Report into the death of Private Matthew Lambert was publicly advised on 20 July.
The Inquiry Officer Report into last year’s “green on blue” incident on 29 October, resulting in the deaths of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin is currently being considered within Defence. I expect to be informed of the Inquiry outcomes in the near future. Family members will briefed as soon as possible.
Once an Inquiry Officer report has been considered by the family, the Chief of the Defence Force will make a recommendation to me as Minister for Defence about whether the report should be made available to the public generally.
I regard the wishes of the family as a relevant material factor to consider when deciding whether to make a report available to the public generally.
The ninth incident involves the crash of the Australian CH-47D helicopter in Afghanistan on 30 May 2011 in which Lieutenant Marcus Case was tragically killed. The Chief of the Defence Force appointed a Commission of Inquiry into the incident on 24 March 2012, and the Commission commenced its hearing phase on 30 July 2012 and is presently sitting.
I am also advised that the team inquiring into the death of Sergeant Blaine Diddams is in Afghanistan and that this Inquiry is proceeding.
Detainee Management Update
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 now update on detainee management issues in Afghanistan.
Australia approaches its responsibility for ensuring detainees are treated with dignity and respect with the utmost seriousness and is committed to conducting its detention operations in accordance with our domestic and international legal obligations.
Australia’s detainee management framework for operations in Afghanistan has two priorities:
First, removing insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, ISAF and Afghan lives; and
Second, ensuring humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.
The framework is consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict and the relevant Geneva Conventions on international humanitarian law.
In line with my commitment to transparency, since I announced Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan in December 2010, I have provided four specific updates on detainee management [17 February, 11 October and 24 November 2011 and 10 May 2012], and seven separate Statements to Parliament on Afghanistan [23 March, 12 May, 7 July, 13 October and 24 November 2011, and 9 February and 24 May 2012] which also include reference to detainee management.
Australia’s detainee management framework sets out the circumstances in which it is appropriate for Australian forces to transfer people they detain to Afghan or US custody in Afghanistan.
These transfers are supported by arrangements agreed with the US and Afghan Governments, which include assurances and safeguards regarding the appropriate treatment of detainees.
These arrangements also ensure access for Australian officials and human rights and humanitarian organisations to monitor the welfare of such detainees.
Australia’s detainee management framework is robust and reflects best international practice and governance arrangements.
Australia’s detainee management framework is underpinned by the deployment of professional ADF personnel trained in the Laws of Armed Conflict, appropriate detainee handling, rigorous recording and reporting requirements, and a high priority placed on addressing all allegations of mistreatment reported to Australian officials, including ADF members.
After capture, detainees are held at a purpose-built screening facility – the Initial Screening Area (ISA) – at the Multi-National Base Tarin-Kot in Uruzgan.
The screening facility is under constant closed circuit television (CCTV) camera surveillance and the facility is open to regular inspection by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Detainees in ADF custody are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, sustenance, suitable sleeping arrangements, medical care, and other amenities.
Once initial screening is complete, the detainees are transferred either to Afghan or US custody, or released if there is insufficient evidence to justify ongoing detention.
Those assessed as posing a less serious threat are transferred to the Afghan National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot.
Those assessed as posing a more serious threat are transferred to the United States-run detention facility in Parwan province. This provides a level of security appropriate for high-risk insurgents.
The transfer of control of the Detention Facility in Parwan from US to Afghan authorities is progressing and is scheduled to be completed next month.
When detainees are transferred, the ADF provides evidence packs to support further investigation and possible prosecution under Afghan law.
Detainee management is complex and implementing a strong and effective detainee management framework in Afghanistan requires constant attention.
I continue to receive ongoing and regular advice from the Department of Defence on the implementation, review and oversight of Australia’s detainee management framework and any issues that may arise in the course of operations.
This includes responding to changes to ISAF’s detention policy, engaging with international and Afghanistan human rights and humanitarian organisations, learning from past lessons and experience, and working with our Afghan partners towards transition of responsibility for detainee management.
To ensure we meet our own high Australian standards and continue to improve our systems, Australia’s detainee management processes in Afghanistan are subject to regular audits.
Since the introduction of Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan on 1 August 2010, following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan, three comprehensive audits of the detainee management framework have been undertaken, with one more comprehensive audit planned for 2012.
The last comprehensive audit undertaken in May this year included a review of the interrogation capability which commenced in February this year, a review of the CCTV systems at the ADF’s Initial Screening Area, and consideration of practices and processes at the point of capture. The audit found that all detention activities conducted at the ADF Initial Screening Area 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 essential to verify that a strong governance framework remains in place and that we are able to address any issues that might arise.
As part of our detainee management framework, Australian officials monitor the welfare of all detainees transferred from ADF custody to Afghan or US custody.
This is to ensure that detainees continue to be treated humanely following transfer from Australian custody.
Australia’s monitoring regime includes a Detainee Monitoring Team-led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Detainee Monitoring Team visits each detainee shortly after transfer and approximately every four weeks after the initial visit. We continue to monitor detainees up until they are sentenced, after a criminal prosecution, or released. This reflects the practice of our ISAF partners.
Between 1 August 2010 and 11 August 2012, the Monitoring Team conducted 106 monitoring visits. This includes: 51 visits to the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot; 16 visits to the Tarin Kot Central Prison; and 39 visits to the Detention Facility in Parwan.
These visits are an essential mechanism to ensure detainees apprehended by Australian forces are treated appropriately.
To date, our monitoring of ADF-apprehended detainees in Uruzgan and Parwan has not identified serious issues of concern that would warrant consideration of the suspension of transfers to these facilities.
Separate and in addition to the comprehensive audits of the detainee management framework, the first audit of Australia’s detainee monitoring processes is currently underway.
An audit team of officials from the Department of Defence and from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is reviewing Australia’s detainee monitoring regime in Afghanistan.
The audit team will report on the adequacy of current training provided to personnel involved in detainee monitoring, and on the effectiveness of current practices and procedures and where necessary, make recommendations on possible improvements.
I will provide an update to the House on the findings of this audit in due course.
It is a condition of Australian transfer that current amenities at facilities meet standards suitable to local conditions.
In line with our desire to ensure appropriate treatment of detainees, the ADF is considering proposed upgrades including, for example, to the amenities at the National Directorate of Security facility in Tarin Kot in Uruzgan.
Proposed refurbishments by the ADF will further improve such standards.
Numbers of Detainees Apprehended
During the period 1 August 2010 to 11 August 2012, the ADF has detained 1653 suspected insurgents. Of these: 115 detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at the National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot and 83 detainees have been transferred to US authorities at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
Between 1 August 2010 and 11 August 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 National Directorate of Security detention facility in Uruzgan.
In February 2012, I announced the deployment of trained ADF interrogators to Afghanistan to question detainees apprehended by the ADF. Interrogation expands the ADF’s ability to obtain information of operational and tactical value to help protect Australian personnel, ANSF, and the local population.
Interrogation is conducted by ADF personnel who are qualified in interrogation, that is, only those personnel who have received specialised training undertake interrogation activities.
In February I also advised that the Government had agreed to extend the time selected detainees could be held in Australian custody at the Initial Screening Area, prior to their release or transfer, for the purpose of comprehensive screening.
Any interrogation is undertaken during the approved period of extension for 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.
As at 11 August 2012, approximately 28% of detainees apprehended by the ADF while on operations in Afghanistan have undergone interrogation within the Initial Screening Area since interrogation operations commenced in February 2012.
The length of time for which detainees can be held in the Initial Screening Area may be extended beyond the standard 96 hours (four days) for an additional three days, and a possible further extension of three days.
Since the introduction of interrogation in February, on the advice of the CDF, I have authorised the extension of detention for one detainee for a further period of twenty days.
That detainee was assessed as having valuable information that would directly assist the force protection of Australian, ISAF and Afghan personnel.
The detainee was treated humanely and with dignity and respect at all times while in Australian custody.
A review of the detention was conducted after every five day period to ascertain a continuing requirement to detain for interrogation. The CDF and I were advised of the outcomes of each review, including the detainee’s fitness for further detention.
ISAF, Afghan authorities and human rights organisations were advised of the extension of detention.
At the end of the further extension of detention, the detainee was transferred from ADF custody. The detainee was assessed on transfer as in a fit and sound state.
Incidents and Allegations
Allegations of Mistreatment
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 11 August 2012, there have been 141 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 125 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture.
To date, 123 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as unsubstantiated, while 18 allegations remain under investigation.
In Australia’s detention operations, the term ‘allegation of mistreatment’ is used to describe any perceived or alleged incident involving an individual who is in Australian custody.
When a detainee is brought into our Initial Screening Area, each detainee is specifically asked if they have any complaints about their treatment.
Any complaint is treated as an allegation.
This terminology does not imply any wrong doing on the part of the ADF, simply that a person 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.
Every allegation of detainee mistreatment received or observed by the ADF is required to be reported through the Australian Military Chain of Command.
Once reported, allegations are promptly assessed or investigated.
This process may include taking witness statements, examining any medical evidence, as well as reviewing records and CCTV footage.
Allegations and the outcomes of any assessments are reported to ISAF and key human rights and humanitarian organisations.
Treatment of Detainees by ANSF
Not only is Australia committed to holding our own personnel to the highest standards on detainee management, if ADF personnel become aware of concerns regarding the treatment of detainees by our ISAF or Afghan partners, this is treated with the utmost seriousness.
If a detainee consents, the specific allegation is brought to the attention of the Afghan authorities for investigation.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 11 August 2012, 46 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the ANSF at the point of capture. These allegations have been referred to the ANSF for investigation.
During operations with ANSF in Uruzgan, Australian forces promote adherence to human rights standards and other international legal obligations relevant to the treatment of detainees and the protection of the local civilian population.
As part of the ADF’s role in training and mentoring the ANSF, Australia provides human rights training to Afghan personnel and advise Afghan personnel on the correct procedures for handling detainees under applicable International law.
As well as the training provided to the ANSF by Australia, the ANSF in Uruzgan receive specific human rights training which covers detention operations from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The ADF also provides Afghan personnel practical advice on these issues in the field.
Australia’s Initial Screening Area was designed to be Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) monitored 24 hours a day to ensure the humane treatment of detainees in our custody, and to protect the ADF personnel working within the Initial Screening Area from erroneous allegations.
I have previously reported to the House on the temporary loss of CCTV footage at the ADF Initial Screening Area.
The CCTV system helps ensure the safety of detainees and staff, and provides the ability to review footage in the event of any questions regarding any allegations or incidents that occur in the facility.
A functioning CCTV system is important to the operation of the Initial Screening Area, in order to maintain Australia’s reputation and protect our personnel from vexatious allegations of mistreatment.
CCTV footage can be reviewed as part of ADF’s process for assessing allegations.
CCTV is an integral part of Australia’s governance measures for detention operations within the Initial Screening Area.
As I have previously reported to the House, two new CCTV systems were installed at the Initial Screening Area to support the introduction of the interrogation capability and to strengthen the existing system.
The new systems include an increased number of cameras and improved redundancy measures to ensure that all interrogation sessions, and other areas of the facility, are monitored 24 hours a day.
The system is operating significantly better than the previous system with minimal impact on continued detainee operations.
While there have been several short outages of the CCTV system, standard operating procedures for CCTV outages were initiated allowing for the continuation of detainee operations and for the continued protection of the welfare of detainees.
Allegations of Procedural Misconduct
On occasion, issues arise with respect to the implementation of our detainee operations. I now update the House on those issues.
In February 2011 I advised the House that in late January 2011 the ADF Investigative Service (ADFIS) initiated an investigation into allegations made by a Defence member that previous members of the Detention Management Team in Afghanistan, responsible for managing the ADF Initial Screening Area at Multinational Base-Tarin Kot, may not have complied with procedures relating to the management and administrative processing of detainees.
In my last statement to the House in May, I provided an update on these allegations noting that three members of the previous Detainee Management Team had been charged with disciplinary offences relating to falsification of service documents.
I can now advise that in June this year, a fourth member of the previous Detainee Management Team was also charged.
I can also advise the House that the first of the hearings for these disciplinary offences occurred on 27 July 2012. The accused ADF member was initially charged with ‘falsification of a service document’ but this charge was substituted at trial with a charge of ‘prejudicial conduct’. The accused entered a plea of guilty to the charge and received a ‘severe reprimand’.
Further hearings are expected to occur later this year.
There continue to be no allegations or evidence to suggest that any detainees were mistreated by the Detainee Management Team.
As this matter is subject to continuing disciplinar