TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 FEBRUARY 2013
TOPICS: Afghanistan transition; 2013 Defence White Paper
DAVID SPEERS: Minister, thanks for your time. You've given an update on the progress in Afghanistan. How many Australian troops will be home by the end of this year and how many will be staying in Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've made it clear, both the Prime Minister, myself as Defence Minister and the Chief of the Defence Force, that as we go through the course of this year we will of course stay within our 1,550 average presence in Afghanistan but we will have people going in temporarily to do the logistics and extraction. We'll have other forces coming out so it is a bit hard, as I said in the Parliament today, to be precise about that until we get really to the middle, to the end of this year.
What I really wanted to do is to not create the impression that suddenly we'll go from 1,550 to zero. It'll be staged. We've still got to make judgements about extraction and removal of capabilities and the like, so we're taking it step-by-step. But we will see temporary deployments of extraction forces and temporary deployment of others as the responsibilities and the jobs change.
DAVID SPEERS: Tell us a bit about what those extraction forces will be doing. A lot of equipment there, I guess, that has to come back. Is that their main role?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's a huge logistical exercise. We've got to do everything from making judgements about what equipment we leave in Afghanistan, whether for the Afghan National Security Forces or whether it might be of some value to us in our post-2014 role, training and the like. Whether it might be worthwhile for other international forces who are staying and performing a role or whether we bring it back home or destroy it.
We've got to make those judgements.
DAVID SPEERS: What sort of equipment would we possibly be leaving in Afghanistan for them to use?
STEPHEN SMITH: We haven't made that judgement yet, but for example, we no longer need to use our ASLAVs. We're bringing them back. So we've essentially got to do that due diligence and make judgements about what we leave behind, either for ourselves or for the Afghans or for other international partners and what we bring back home.
And with some equipment, the potential will be that the cost benefit analysis is that we're better off leaving it behind. That may well see some equipment destroyed and we've also got to do the job of remediating those areas that we have had a presence in, whether they're operating bases, operating posts, and indeed in due course what we have to do at the multi-national base in Tarin Kot.
DAVID SPEERS: Now when we look at what's going to happen next in Afghanistan, these decisions I know are yet to be made, but where are they at, the conversations on this? Where are we up to in terms of assessing what we might leave in Afghanistan in terms of personnel, and in particular, Special Forces?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we're just about to start that conversation with NATO, with ISAF, and importantly with the United States. It's no secret; the NATO Secretary General has himself said this, that in the first instance we need to get some precision from the United States about what the United States sees as the scale of its draw down. What the United States agrees with Afghanistan about what presence the United States will leave in Afghanistan post 2014 and what role any United States forces left behind will play.
And that scene when President Karzai was in Washington earlier this year in January, the start of a discussion between the United States and Afghanistan about what we would call the Status of Forces Agreement what they are calling a security partnership agreement.
And so once that is clearer then we'll be able to make a judgement together with NATO, together with ISAF countries about what role we might play. We've made it clear that we are in the market for ongoing, high level training like the officer training school and if there's an appropriate mandate for a Special Forces contribution, either counter-terrorism or training itself.
DAVID SPEERS: Given this is going to be a year of transition not just for Australian but other forces as well, is there a greater danger that we'll see more of these opportunistic attacks as you've called them? The green on blue attacks. The sort of high profile attacks do put our soldiers at great risk.
STEPHEN SMITH: I made the point in the Parliament that Afghanistan continues to be dangerous. There are risks. The risk profile changes, so for example now that the Afghan infantry Kandaks are operating independently, we're not doing joint patrols on the ground but there's still the ever present risk of the roadside bombs of, as I have mentioned and you've referred to, the high profile propaganda motivated suicide attacks.
So the risks continue and we're very, very conscious of that. And so we have to steel ourselves for that prospect but whether it's the Chief of the Defence Force, whether it's our Commander in the Middle East Area of Operations, we are all acutely aware of that and the risks and the changing risk profile.
DAVID SPEERS: And just finally, Minister, can I ask what progress there is on the Defence White Paper, which is due this year? Can you give us any update on when we're likely to see that?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've committed ourselves to a White Paper in the first half of this year. Realistically it will be in the second quarter; April, May, June. As chance would have it, in the last couple of days I've received from the Secretary of the Department of Defence what I regard as the first working draft from the Department.
You may have seen earlier references to an alleged leaked draft of the White Paper. That was an internal document that didn't come to me. It didn't even go to the Secretary of the Department of Defence.
So I've now got what I regard as the first working draft. I'll obviously study that carefully. There'll be changes made to that and in the not too distant future we'll be in a position to start consulting other relevant national security agencies, whether it's the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or our intelligence community. But we're on track for a White Paper in the second quarter of this year.
DAVID SPEERS: We look forward to discussing that down the track. Minister, thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, David. Thanks very much.