TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW ON SUNRISE, CHANNEL SEVEN
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 JUNE 2011
TOPICS: Afghanistan and loss of Sapper Rowan Robinson
MELISSA DOYLE: Well, Defence Minister Stephen Smith joins us now from Brussels. Stephen, good morning to you. Thanks for your time today.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning. Good morning, Mel.
MELISSA DOYLE: We've got a Yahoo7 poll and it's found 72 per cent of Australians do not support the war in Afghanistan. So explain why we can't bring our soldiers home now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, it doesn't surprise me in the face of the terrible fortnight that we've had - four tragic deaths, Rowan Robinson overnight, so no surprise in that context, that people would be questioning why we're there.
The reason we're there is because we think it's very important that Australia does its bit to help stare down international terrorism.
We know that in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area in the past that's been the breeding ground where a range of terrorist atrocities have been planned and Australians have been on the receiving end of terrorist atrocities. Whether it's in Indonesia or in the United States or in Europe and we want to satisfy ourselves that if there's a terrorist atrocity in the future that we've done everything we can to help prevent it.
That's the reason we're there and we're there with a 48-member International Security Assistance Force to try and enable the Afghan security forces to take control and responsibility for security matters in Afghanistan. We hope to be able to do that by the deadline that's been set by the international community, by the end of 2014.
DAVID KOCH: You see, that's what's got people a bit confused as well because you say we're part of a bigger coalition, which is absolutely right, but the Netherlands has pulled out, even Barack Obama is talking about reducing US forces in Afghanistan, even more than he planned, in the coming months. So why are we still so steadfast about being there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're not the only ones who are steadfast. We're part of a 48-member international force-
DAVID KOCH: But they're all-
STEPHEN SMITH: Most importantly-
DAVID KOCH: They're all moving out.
STEPHEN SMITH: -I think it's supported by - well, they're not all moving out. That's just not right. Most importantly we're supported by United Nations mandate.
The United Kingdom, for example, have got 10,000 troops in the field. They're reducing their complement by 400 to 500 so they'll have 9500.
President Obama has said that after the surge of between 30,000 and 40,000 troops 12 to 18 months ago, he wants to look at a drawn-down in the middle of this year. We'll wait and see the details of that but we're expecting that that will be quite small.
Importantly, there's also been a surge of Afghan troops. We've now got nearly 300,000 Afghan security forces, both police and army, who we're training up to do the job. So yes, it is the case that Canada have pulled out their combat forces but they have remained with a substantial training effort.
I was in the Netherlands yesterday, spoke to their Deputy Prime Minister. Yes, they've pulled out their combat troops but they're committed to police and army training. So it's not right to say that everyone is pulling out.
I'm here in Brussels for a meeting of NATO defence ministers and, as I say, we've got NATO and non-NATO countries absolutely committed to seeing the transition to Afghan-led responsibility and we're part of that. We've got 1550 and we're on track to do our job in Uruzgan Province in the south of Afghanistan.
MELISSA DOYLE: Okay but, Stephen Smith, can I ask you very, very quickly - sorry, we are out of time - Angus Houston said the Taliban is on the back foot. Is there a line in the sand and a time will come where we say, okay, we've done enough that we can do? I mean, it's never going to be fully completed. We're never going to wipe out every single terrorist. What is the line in the sand where we say, you know what, this is all we can do without losing any more lives unnecessarily, we're out of there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Unfortunately in the northern summer fighting season, we've been saying for weeks that we have to steel ourselves for fatalities and terribly we've had them.
We have to steel ourselves for more but we are on track to hand over responsibility in Afghanistan for security matters to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan national and local police by the end of 2014.
We don't want to be there forever. We want to get out but a realistic timetable is the 2014 timetable. It is the case that we've been in Afghanistan for a long period of time and my own analysis which I've put out into the public arena is that when the history of Afghanistan is written the position that we're in now is a position that we've arrived at six or seven years too late but we are on track, in our view.
We've got a political and a military strategy that we believe will work but it is tough, we do have the Taliban on the back foot but they will fight back and we're seeing the terrible consequences of that in the last couple of weeks but we are very confident that we will ultimately prevail and that's certainly the view of the people that I've spoken to in - in Brussels today and I'll continue those talks over the next couple of days.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. All right, Stephen Smith, we wish you well with those talks. Thank you for joining us this morning.