Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 17 NOVEMBER 2010
SCOTT BEVAN: And tomorrow Australia's Defence Minister flies out for the NATO Summit inLisbon where the Afghanistan conflict will be at the top of the agenda. Before leaving, Stephen Smith spoke to ABC political correspondent Greg Jennett about the talks.
GREG JENNETT: Minister, this Lisbon Summit brings together every major player in the Coalition. How will you and Australia measure the success of this meeting?
STEPHEN SMITH: The objective of the meeting is to better define the transition strategy. The last international community meeting on Afghanistan was in Kabul itself in July-August where the KarzaiGovernment and the international community set 2014 as the target for transition. Since that time there's been a much stronger determination on the part of the international community to transition to Afghan responsibility for security. So Lisbon, which is a NATO and an ISAF - an International Security Assistance Force - meeting will start to step out that transition to Afghan-led responsibility.
GREG JENNETT: And what does that mean precisely? Are we talking about province by province timetables for complete transition?
STEPHEN SMITH: It'll be, as we say, conditions-based and so, as a consequence of that, there won't be a transition day. It won't occur on one day. It'll be province by province, district by district.
One of the things we do have to do though is to try and set some objectives about when the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are ready so there's a lot of effort going on to try and work through some objective measures. But that will also be a qualitative feel for when their security forces are ready. So, for example, one very good sign recently was the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces to take security responsibility for the most recent Parliamentary elections.
GREG JENNETT: So decisions on when the mission is complete won't necessarily be dictated by the metrics? There will be some other, as you say, qualitative or harder to define measures?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. It will be a combination. We do need to try and have some objective measures but there will also be a qualitative judgment.
We remain, in our view, in Australia's view, of the view that in Uruzgan Province we're still on a timetable to transfer authority to the Afghan National Army and police over a two to four year timetable which is consistent with the international community's objective of transition by 2014.
GREG JENNETT: And how would the international community dovetail in with that if, perchance, we were slowing down or not on track and yet the US felt that it was thoroughly satisfied it was on target for 2014 withdrawal? Is there enough flexibility that Australia isn't left stranded?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Australia won't be left stranded because one of the things that we've seen, and it's one of the things that I also believe has been appreciated much better as a result of the Parliamentary debate, is the understanding that we're not there by ourselves or there just with the United States, we're there under a United Nations mandate which has been renewed repeatedly; renewed last month unanimously by the Security Council. So we have a UN mandate with a 47-nation-strong international force.
So the transition to Afghan security responsibility will be on a different timetable province by province or district by district. The objective is 2014 but even when the transition to responsibility occurs, as the Prime Minister has made clear in our Parliamentary debate, there will still be things to do even when there's a transition as a result of our training and mentoring role that won't see us out the door the next day. There will be other things for us to do and the detail of that we won't be able to determine or decide until we get much closer.
GREG JENNETT: And there are civilian and development components to that as well including police. Has a decision been made yet on extra police support?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, we're still giving consideration to the request that we received when I was last in Kabul, looking up to the possibility of an additional 15 or so Australian Federal Police for additional police training purposes. So we're giving consideration to that.
It's unlikely that we will have come to a conclusion in advance of the Lisbon Conference.
GREG JENNETT: But pending soon or is it likely this year?
STEPHEN SMITH: Oh yes, well, it'll be over the next few months we'll be able to make a judgment about that, I think.
GREG JENNETT: So is Australia comfortable with a US position that says it starts drawing down in July 2011?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've never seen those two positions as being inconsistent. Because we want to effect the transition to Afghan responsibility for security it's entirely consistent to say as we start to make progress on that training we can start a drawdown. That's entirely consistent with an assessment which says - and we want to and we think we can get to the training job complete by 2014.
GREG JENNETT: But if you look within the boundaries of Uruzgan Province are they decisions thatAustralia gets to have a say on?
STEPHEN SMITH: We of course get - have to have a say on how we think the objective measure or judgment should be made. Firstly we obviously get a say in how we think things are going in UruzganProvince but one of the things that we are appreciated for is that we have a range of our senior officers embedded into General Petraeus's headquarters and so individually our officers also have the capacity to put a view and also to influence.
GREG JENNETT: You said in October that Australia had been working hard on measuring its performance in terms of training the ANA in Uruzgan and you'd take some of that analysis to Lisbon. What sort of story is that analysis going to tell?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's an analysis which will tell a story of progress. We're not proposing to overegg it or overstate it but we do think we're making progress. We are…
GREG JENNETT: Ahead of or behind benchmarks that have been laid down?
STEPHEN SMITH: We still believe, on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force and the service chiefs and the people on the ground, we still believe that we are within our two-year to four-year transition timetable. We think we can meet that.
One good measure was the capacity in Uruzgan Province of the Afghan National Army and police force to take that direct responsibility for security for the recent Parliamentary elections. We know the Taliban sought to disrupt them but we also know those efforts were unsuccessful. The Afghan authorities took lead responsibility and Australia and other International Security Assistance Force members were effectively held in reserve. So that was a very good sign. It doesn't mean that they're ready to take over entirely, either in quality or in quantity, but it was a very good sign and we'll be making that point as well.
GREG JENNETT: And you and the Prime Minister will be going to Lisbon upon the completion of a long-running Parliamentary debate. How much store do you put on that as a representative readout of the national mood on this?
STEPHEN SMITH: We will say the same as the Foreign Minister and I said to our American colleagues. The Parliamentary debate we thought was a very good debate, a good debate for the Parliament but also a good debate for the issue because I think it made much clearer a range of things.
Firstly, very strong bipartisan support for the mission, a much greater understanding that we're there to train and mentor and transition to security responsibility for the Afghans. Also I think a much better understanding that it's not just us and the United States, it's a United Nations-mandated, 47-country, international security force. And a much better appreciation that we are doing everything we can in terms of protection of our people, the force protection issues, but also I think an appreciation that quietly but cautiously we think we are making progress.
GREG JENNETT: And do you think anything about that Parliamentary debate has convinced the public to adopt a similarly optimistic view?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think the Australian public are always very sensitive to Australians serving overseas, particularly when casualties are involved and particularly when they don't necessarily every day touch and feel the reason why we're there. The reason why we're there is because we want to stopAfghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area being a breeding ground for international terrorism.
GREG JENNETT: Minister, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks.
SCOTT BEVAN: Defence Minister Stephen Smith speaking there with political correspondent GregJennett.
Printer friendly Version