TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON, AM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 20 FEBRUARY 2013
DAVID LIPSON: Minister, thanks for your time today. You've had a chance to speak to Karzai, to ISAF, to your own Generals, over the last couple of days, do you have any more of an idea of exactly when the drawdown will begin, and when it'll end this year?
STEPHEN SMITH: There's no doubt that both in Uruzgan, and in Afghanistan generally, transition is on track. So we are absolutely confident that by the end of this year, we would have been able to transition security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces. And, of all of the visits I've been on to either here in Tarin Kot, or to Kabul, there's never been a visit where all of the conversations have been about the end of transition and what we might do after 2014. But we still need to take it step by step, but we are absolutely confident that we can transition in Uruzgan by the end of this year.
DAVID LIPSON: You told the troops here today that no one will remember how we got into this war, but they'll all remember how we got out. Can you expand on that?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've been here a long time, and we've been here, in some respects, too long, in part caused by what I describe as the Iraq distraction. And so, when people look back, the Australian community, they will see how we leave, they'll remember how we leave, and we want to make sure, we're very strongly committed to making sure, that we finish the job, and we transition to the Afghan Security Forces, we leave them in a position to be able to do the job, and we leave having made a fine contribution to helping to stare down international terrorism.
It continues to be a difficult job, it continues to be dangerous. The risk profile changes, but there still are risks. So we want to see the job completed and well done, we also want to make sure that our soldiers, our men and women, are careful and take care of themselves. Whilst there's always a risk of further fatalities and further casualties, we don't want to see any more.
DAVID LIPSON: Do you have hope for Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Afghans themselves, when I speak with President Karzai, when I speak to Foreign Minister Rassoul, when I speak to the Defence Minister and when I speak to his other senior colleagues, whether it's the people responsible, the Ministers responsible for peace and reconciliation efforts, or for reintegration efforts, they are all very confident of an improved security arrangement. And they're looking for transition, and they're looking beyond security issues to provide their people with better quality services and better opportunities.
And so, they are very confident that the Afghan National Security Forces will be able to do the job when transition occurs in 2014.
DAVID LIPSON: Won't be easy though, will it?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's never easy. But as part of the discussions we had yesterday, when I sit down and have a discussion with Defence Minister Mohammadi, with Minister Stanekzai, Chairman Rabbani of the High Peace Council, Minister Ghani, we always make the point that in the end, you can do so much by improving security, but if you want to see an enduring peace in Afghanistan, in the end you've got to have a political settlement, you've got to have some political rapprochement, and that's why the efforts of those Ministers, Minister Stanekzai, Minister Ghani, Chairman Rabbani, their efforts to try and have discussions with the Taliban about peace and reconciliation, they are very important.
And President Karzai and Foreign Minister Rassoul also cede this, that it's not just about security, it's about trying to have peace and reconciliation talks with those members of the Taliban who are prepared to throw down their arms and their weapons and abide by the Afghan constitution. So, these efforts are now running in parallel with the security efforts and the transition effort.
DAVID LIPSON: Stephen Smith, thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David, thanks very much.