TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON, SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 19 APRIL 2012
TOPICS: NATO/ISAF Meeting; Afghanistan.
DAVID LIPSON: I spoke to Stephen Smith a little earlier from Brussels.
Minister thanks for your time. What has been the reaction from other NATO and ISAF countries to Australia's announcement that the bulk of Australian troops will be home by the end of next year?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well they understand that what the Prime Minister announced in her speech the other day is entirely consistent with the so called Lisbon strategy. And we've been saying for some time that we're on track to transition to Afghan led security responsibility in Uruzgan province by 2014 and possibly earlier, and my Defence Ministerial colleagues when they read the Prime Minister's speech understand that it falls squarely within that context and that framework.
So we're confident that Uruzgan will be included, either in whole or in part, in the so-called third tranche of transition provinces which we expect President Karzai to announce by the middle of this year. And that then sets the scene for transition in Uruzgan.
We'll take it step by step, we don't know when that will be complete but we do know that as that task is completed then the trainers and mentors who are there won't be needed in the same numbers.
DAVID LIPSON: Germany has expressed some surprise, saying that Australia did declare something different during alliance talks earlier in the year.
STEPHEN SMITH: Germany expressed some surprise at some of the newspaper headlines which they saw in Germany which were essentially an Australian withdrawal. Their Foreign Minister Westerwelle has had a meeting today with Bob Carr, our Foreign Minister, we've had a range of meetings today, and when they see the speech and when they see what we are saying in terms of the transition and our post 2014 transition commitments, which is to resource the Afghan National Security Forces and also to make our own post-2014 contribution, they understand it's entirely consistent with for example what I said last time I was here in February.
But it's not surprising, for example last time I was here in February Leon Panetta, the US Secretary of State for Defence, made some remarks about transition, and he saw a range of reporting which was along the lines of an early US withdrawal. And we may well see such headlines into the future because what needs to be understood is the process of transition and the orderly nature of it. And as we move successfully to giving the Afghan Army and Police lead responsibility in Uruzgan province then we won't need to the same number of trainers and mentors that we have there at present.
DAVID LIPSON: Afghanistan has also requested support in the form of helicopters, surveillance and communications and the like. Is there any chance that Australia could commit to those sort of military resources after 2014?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, what we've been talking in terms of is firstly making a fair share contribution to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces. We haven't concluded an amount, but there's a prospect, a real prospect the Prime Minister may be in a position to announce that at Chicago, at the Leaders' summit in Chicago. But secondly in terms of ongoing support or assistance on the military front we've made it clear that we are happy to contemplate training at a high or a niche level. We've indicated we're happy to assist in terms of officer training, doing that jointly with the United Kingdom and other countries. We currently do artillery training, we're happy to continue that, and there are other areas of specialised training where we may be of assistance.
We've also made it clear that military advisors, back of house military advisors, we can contemplate and also, in the right circumstances, Special Forces.
But in terms of that equipment or what they're described technically as enablers, it's really been the United States that has provided the bulk of the so-called enablers, including for us in Uruzgan Province. So we're not contemplating such measures, but we are contemplating ongoing assistance in terms of specialised training, military advisors, and also the prospect of a Special Forces contribution for counter-terrorism purposes, or for training the Afghan Special Forces themselves.
DAVID LIPSON: I know you can't give us a real indication of exactly how much money Australia would commit, but Britain has committed to about $110 million post-2014 each year. Is that in the ball park of what Australia could be offering up?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I wouldn't be speculating or speaking in hypothetical terms. We've made it clear, the Prime Minister has made it clear, and Bob Carr and I here have made it clear that Australia will make a contribution. It's important to continue to resource the Afghan National Security Forces because historically when the Russians left Afghanistan, the Soviet Union sustained the Afghan National Army for two to three years. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the cheques stopped coming, and that then saw effectively, the disintegration of the Afghan National Security Forces and the opportunity, which eventually saw the Taliban.
So it's important that there's a continuing resource commitment. We'll make our fair share, but we've also made the point that the contribution in our view should come not just from NATO countries and International Security Assistance Force countries like Australia, but also come from countries who don't currently make a military contribution, including countries from the region because greater peace and security and stability in Afghanistan benefits the region.
So we believe the net should be thrown wider than just NATO and ISAF. But we'll make our contribution known in due course and it'll be what we regard as a fair share, bearing in mind of course that Australia is the tenth largest contributor overall, the largest non-NATO contributor in a military sense, and the third largest Special Forces contributor.
So we've made historically, a substantial contribution. We believe that should be taken into account as well.
DAVID LIPSON: Just on another topic, photos have been published showing US troops posing with the corpses of suicide bombers. I want to get your reaction to that, and does this place our troops in-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, my reaction is the same as US Defence Secretary Panetta; it's contemptible, it deserves nothing other than condemnation. Leon Panetta made it clear to me in my meeting this morning, he's made it clear publicly that those responsible will be held accountable. So I join the condemnation of my colleagues. I've seen the public remarks of UK Defence Secretary Hammond. And in the broader context or the wider context, there's no point being starry-eyed about it. It is not a helpful contribution. It does not reflect the values and virtues of the contribution of the international community - through NATO, through ISAF - is making here. But there's no point beating around the bush; it is something of a set-back.
DAVID LIPSON: Does it make it more dangerous though for Australian troops?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the face of these incidents we always make sure that we continue to proceed on the basis that Afghanistan is a difficult and dangerous place and we have to be weary to the dangers. We take every precaution and we know that in recent times in the last 12 to 18 months, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network have resorted, because they can't make up ground that they've lost to us over the last 18 months to two years, have resorted to the high profile propaganda-motivated attacks, whether it's assassination attempts, suicide bombings and the like.
So we're always vigilant of those sorts of attacks. But it's not a helpful contribution. It deserves nothing other than the condemnation that it's received. We also need to understand that as we move to transition by the end of 2014 we will have bad days and there will be setbacks.
DAVID LIPSON: Stephen Smith, thanks very much for your time today.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you David. Thanks very much.