STEPHEN SMITH: Well - and that's why it's been roundly condemned by everyone from Defense Secretary Panetta to the Commander of ISAF forces, General John Allen to my United Kingdom colleague, Philip Hammond, and I join that round of condemnation.
It's terrible behaviour. It doesn't reflect the values and the virtues of the International Security Assistance Force, nor does it reflect the values and virtues of NATO. It'll be exhaustively investigated and those responsible held accountable. But yes, it is a setback and it's regrettable, but it's also contemptible and deserving of the condemnation that it's got.
KARINA CARVALHO: How concerned are you that there'll be reprisal attacks like what we saw in February after the burning of the Koran, inadvertently, by US soldiers?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Afghanistan remains a difficult and dangerous place. And while we have made up considerable ground in terms of security in both Uruzgan where we are, but Afghanistan generally, we know that the Taliban have resorted to high-profile propaganda-motivated attacks, as we've seen in Kabul recently, whether it's suicide bombings, assassination attempts and the like.
So, we're ever alert and vigilant about those efforts. It's entirely possible that the Taliban will seek to link these images to further attacks, but that is the manner in which they have been conducting themselves, together with the other terrorist organisations, whether it's the Haqqani group, over the last 12 to 18 months.
KARINA CARVALHO: But after those Koran burnings, it wasn't just the Taliban, it was regular Afghans that took to the streets and were outraged and protested. Are you worried that it's going to make the mission of winning the hearts and minds of Afghans even more difficult?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's no doubt that the Koran burning, that the terrible tragic murder of many Afghan civilians by a lone US soldier, that these have been setbacks, and there's no point being starry eyed about that.
But it's also the case that very many of the leaders of the Afghan community also understood either that the terrible acts and the killing of civilians were the actions of one person acting alone and that the leadership of the United States and the International Security Assistance Force also roundly condemned the Koran burning.
So, I hope that the response is not along the lines that you have indicated, but equally, there's no point in pretending that it's a serious and a bad incident. But there's also no point in turning a blind eye to the fact that as we move down the road to transition by the end of 2014 that, from time to time, there will be setbacks, either on the security front or in other areas, such as what we've seen today and the ones that we've just discussed.
KARINA CARVALHO: Now, as you mentioned, all of this does come at a time when countries are looking to finalise their withdrawal timetables, including Australia. What assurances have the Afghan Government sought from Australia and what promises have been made from Australia about post-2013 support for Afghan forces?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Afghan Government hasn't sought any assurances from Australia, because our position is of longstanding and well known: That is, that we are committed to completing our mission in Afghanistan, to ensuring that Afghanistan can't again become a haven for international terrorists, that we're on track for transition to - transition, both in Uruzgan and in Afghanistan generally by the end of 2014.
But in our case, in Uruzgan, as I and the Prime Minister have indicated recently, we may well get there in advance of 2014.
We've also made it clear that we believe we need to have a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. There's a prospect that at the Chicago summit, the Prime Minister will be able to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan.
But we've also indicated, as I have previously when I've been in Brussels, including on your show, indicate that we are prepared to contemplate ongoing training after 2014 in specialist or high-level areas, such as officer training or artillery training. And we've also indicated that-
KARINA CARVALHO: How long is that commitment expected to last?
STEPHEN SMITH: -Military advisors are also a possibility. And also, the possibility, under the right circumstances, of Special Forces, because it's clear, after transition, that the Afghan National Security Forces will continue to need some assistance back of house, so to speak, from the international community.
KARINA CARVALHO: Minister, how long is that commitment likely to last?
STEPHEN SMITH: Oh, we'll have to take it step by step. The two post-2014 transition issues that we're discussing here in Brussels, and will be discussed by prime ministers and presidents in Chicago in May is resourcing the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014, so that they can continue to take responsibility for security, and also, what presence, if any, there'll be from the international community. And we've indicated for some time now, along the lines that I have indicated.
But how long such a contribution might continue by the international community will depend on the wishes of the Afghan Government and conditions and circumstances on the ground. But our analysis is that after the transition, after the major training and mentoring has concluded, that there will still need to be some assistance from the Afghan- from the international community to Afghanistan, including on the non-military side, capacity building and development assistance.
KARINA CARVALHO: So, how much money then is Australia likely to commit to Afghanistan post 2014? We've seen the Brits at the meeting that you're at commit $110 million a year to the Afghan National Security Forces, and I asked that because there were questions asked about Australia's - when Australia announced the early troop withdrawal, about whether it was a political move rather than a military move. I also wanted to know, is it a financial move in order to save money in the Defence Budget?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, you know, we need to be careful to use the correct language. We're not talking here about a withdrawal; we're he... talking here about a transition to Afghan-led security responsibility.
As that transition occurs, there will be less need on the ground for our trainers and mentors, and there'll be an orderly drawdown of that as we complete the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility, and that's entirely consistent with the agreements reached by the international community and supported by the Prime Minister and I at the Lisbon Summit in 2010.
So far as our contribution to ongoing support for the Afghan National Security Forces, Bob Carr, the Foreign Minister, who's here with me, both he and I have made it clear in our meetings today, whether that's been, for example, with US Defense Secretary Panetta or UK Defence Secretary Hammond or Minister Wardak from Afghanistan and other colleagues, we've made it clear that we are prepared to make a contribution, but we haven't come to any conclusions yet about the size or the amount.
We may be in a position to announce that in the run-up to [indistinct] at Chicago, but we're working our way through what would be a fair share, so far as Australia is concerned.
We're also making the point that the international community should be looking to countries, other than NATO and International Security Assistance Force countries to make a contribution. In other words, countries who haven't made a military or combat contribution, now is an opportunity for them to make a contribution to peace and stability in the Afghanistan region.
KARINA CARVALHO: Stephen Smith, we know you're very busy in Brussels and have many commitments, so we thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.