TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON, SKY NEWS PM AGENDA.
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: Progress in Afghanistan; Chief of Police in Uruzgan
JOURNALIST: Stephen Smith, thanks for your time. Firstly, you had some pretty important meetings this afternoon. Can you take us through - particularly the meetings with some of the local enforcement Chiefs here?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I had a very important meeting with Governor Shirzad. It's the third time I've met Governor Shirzad. He came to Australia as a Senator in the Parliament, on a parliamentary delegation where he was appointed Governor. I met him in Kabul on my last visit here and now met him together with his Security Chiefs - the local Brigadier, the Chief of Army, the Chief of Police and also the Chief of the National Security Directorate, and had a very good meeting with him going through the improvements that have occurred to the security arrangements in Uruzgan Province and also the need to do more so far as development assistance and capacity building is concerned to deliver services to his local people.
JOURNALIST: The new Chief of Provincial Police, Mattiullah Khan, has in the past been labelled a warlord who's been engaging in a sort of protection racket. He's now of course a formal Police Chief. What are the implications of that elevation of his power, and how did you find him meeting for the first time?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well a number of things - firstly he has a reputation which we are well aware of. But I think it's important to understand that in Uruzgan, in Afghanistan, there are lots of tribal complexities, lots of tribal loyalties, and also lots of tribal competition. And he is a person who in the past has been subject to a range of allegations, very many of which come from tribal rivals. And Australia has said - over a period of time - that if anyone has any substantive allegations to make against anyone, they should take those forward to the Afghan authorities.
So that's a general point, but he's been appointed by the Afghan authorities, he's been appointed by President Karzai to be the local Police Chief. We ask two things of him - firstly that he does his job as Police Chief, and secondly, that he cooperates fully with the Governor.
And I was very pleased to see that today the Governor had his three Security Chiefs there - the local Chief of Army, the Chief of the Fourth Brigade, Brigadier Zafar, his local National Security Directorate Chief, Colonel Kahn Muhammed, and also his Police Chief, Mattiullah Khan.
And all of us agreed that the security arrangements in Uruzgan had improved and the Taliban was very much on the back foot in Uruzgan.
JOURNALIST: So you're not concerned that he's becoming too powerful particularly after the transition after Australians and the rest of ISAF withdraws from Afghanistan.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in terms of hierarchy, in terms of authority, he is responsible to, and reports to Governor Shirzad. And President Karzai has made that point clear. He's the local Police Chief. He's responsible to the Governor of the Province, Governor Shirzad and we have complete confidence in Governor Shirzad. He's got off to a very good start as Governor. We're working very well with him. But it also is the case that a combination of Army, Police, and the National Security Directorate, working closely with Australia, working closely with Combined Team-Uruzgan, working closely with the International Security Assistance Force has seen a substantially improved security position in Uruzgan with the Taliban on the back foot.
And that's a good thing.
JOURNALIST: You've also met with your US counterparts here. Is there anything that you can tell us that came out of that meeting?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I met again formally with Combined Team-Uruzgan, headed up by the United States in partnership with Australia, and we have very much an on the ground shared assessment that we have made up considerable ground over the last 12 to 18 months, but also consolidated that including over the current summer fighting season.
When you look at the statistics, it's quite clearly the case that over the last 12 month period, the number of violent incidents which have been started by the Taliban in Uruzgan has reduced considerably, and in some respects the best evidence for the fact that they are now faltering on the ground has been that they've engaged in a number of high profile assassination attempts, high profile suicide bombings and the like, both in Kabul, but also elsewhere. In very many respects, whilst regrettably some of those have been successful, including the terrible assassination of former President Rabbani, in very many respects that's the best evidence that on the ground the Taliban is in difficulty, and we have degraded and denuded their capacity considerably over the last 12 months.
JOURNALIST: How would you rate morale here amongst the Aussies?
STEPHEN SMITH: Amongst the Australians, it's very good. I went and visited as you know one of our forward operating bases, a patrol base. They're doing a very good job in terms of training. And they are throwing themselves into their work. We know that it continues to be difficult and dangerous work. The threat of IEDs, the roadside booby traps is ever present.
So it's difficult and dangerous work.
But they're doing a very good job.
And Governor Shirzad and his colleagues again made the point to me as my Afghan interlocutors always do of the great respect that they hold the Australian soldier in, both in terms of combat prowess, but also the way in which the Australians deal with and treat the local people. So they're held in very high regard. They're doing a very good job.
JOURNALIST: Just finally, are we winning and are we on target for the 2014 [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we certainly very strongly believe that we are on track to transition. We're very pleased with the way in which the Afghan Kandaks are coming on. We believe we are very much on track to transition security-led responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces by 2014.
And that's the view shared by not just the Australian Officers here but also the Combined Team-Uruzgan United States Officers. So we're very pleased with the progress that we've made, where we are, but we know that the gains we've made can easily be turned around if we're not careful and we have to be ever vigilant. But we are very pleased with the progress that has been made so far as transition is concerned and we're confident that we're on track for transition by 2014.
JOURNALIST: Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.