TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KIERAN GILBERT, PM AGENDA, SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 31 OCTOBER 2011
KIERAN GILBERT: The Defence Minister today has released the names of the three Australian diggers killed by an Afghan National Army soldier. They are 22 year old Corporal Ashley Birt, 27 year old Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, and 26 year old Captain Bryce Duffy, all shot dead by an ANA soldier on Saturday morning in the Kandahar province. Defence Minister Stephen Smith joins me now from Perth. Minister thank you for your time.
You have described this as a shattering blow when it comes to confidence. Isn't the reality here that this attack will undermine essentially the whole purpose of the mission in mentoring the ANA soldiers?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't believe that'll be the long-term impact. Of course, given that this is the second such type of attack over the last couple of months, it will have that immediate short-term blow, and the Chief of the Defence Force, General Hurley, and I and the Prime Minister have been quite frank about that.
But on the ground people will work to restore confidence and trust. Already we've seen the 6th Kandak from the 4th Brigade not being confined to quarters or to barracks but today doing administrative and training matters. In the course of the next few days we expect that Brigadier Khan will return their weapons and the like.
So we're working closely with the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army on the ground to get things back to a business as usual operating process, and also bear in mind we've had two terrible incidents like these - but we're dealing with about 7000 members of the Afghan National Security Force in Uruzgan, and over 300,000 in Afghanistan generally.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you know you made that point, it's not just the Australian attacks: there are other attacks on ISAF forces. As you're well aware, the British and Americans have suffered many attacks like this. Are you worried this is a concerted, organised, you know, program of infiltrators within the ANA, undermining the ISAF mission?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly we need to be very careful about the motivation of the Afghan National Army soldier concerned.
We're going to do an exhaustive assessment. We may never know the motivation. As with the previous instance, we never knew what the motivation was - and on balance we had concluded it was a rogue Afghan soldier. So whether it's an infiltrator, or whether it's a rogue Afghan National Army soldier, perhaps, we'll never know; but time will tell.
In terms of the overall number of these types of incidences, it's been 10 or a dozen in the first six months of this year across Afghanistan. But what it does do is it sends those shockwaves of lack of confidence and lack of trust.
The Taliban of course understand this, so where there are Taliban infiltrators, that is their objective. And I've been making it clear all year that during this period we had to expect that the Taliban, because they're not making ground up in the battle space, because they're not making up ground in Uruzgan or elsewhere, they have resorted to high profile propaganda motivated suicide bomb attacks and the like.
But in terms of-
KIERAN GILBERT: But Minister it's not the only way that the force is being undermined from within. There are, you know, there has been intelligence leaked from within the ANA to the Taliban and to insurgents.
We saw that blast in Kabul at the weekend seemed impeccably timed on the NATO convoy for example. And we're just hearing reports now of another deadly blast in Kandahar outside the US International Relief and Development Agency, so it does seem like they're well equipped in terms of intelligence as well.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I wouldn't concede that and I wouldn't overstate that. What we do know is that for all of this current so-called northern fighting season they have not made up any ground in terms of the battle space. They haven't made up any gains or grounds in terms of overall security. And the International Security Force continues to make up ground out in all of the areas of Afghanistan.
They've resorted to these high profile attacks, and the regrettable thing is that too many of them have been successful. The terrible attack yesterday in Kabul which coincided with the tragedy in our own case and I've relayed my own condolences to United States Secretary of Defence Panetta in that respect, perhaps the worst example is the successful assassination of former President and head of the High Peace Council Rabbani.
So yes they have been successful, whether it's the Taliban or whether it's the Haqqani network.
The reason they are doing that is to undermine confidence, undermine political will, because they know if it comes to a straight security contest, the International Security Forces, NATO and the like, and the emerging and growing capacity of the Afghan national security forces, is preventing them from doing that.
But that's not to say like we've just seen-
KIERAN GILBERT: But you say that you won't overstate the intelligence that's being leaked, but it's pretty obvious isn't it - if you look at the attack on the NATO convoy in Kabul, they're obviously very lucky, or they knew exactly when it was going and where and when.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have never walked away from the fact we are dealing with a very resilient, well organised insurgency. We have never walked away from that.
And that's why we've always said that while we continue to make progress, there are going to be setbacks.
The two factors that I point to in terms of us making progress are the high profile propaganda style attacks which they have resorted to, is a reflection of lack of capacity to make up ground and secondly, until the assassination of President Rabbani we did see the very early signs of political outreach.
In the end Afghanistan will be settled not just by a military solution but also by a political solution. And the fact that there were outreach to the Taliban so far as a political conversation was concerned also reflected the progress that was being made on the security front, but we have to steel ourselves for terrible events like these.
That is their strategy. And the aim of that strategy is to undermine confidence in the Afghan authorities, and to undermine political will in the United States, in Europe, and in International Security Assistance Force countries like Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Chief of the Defence Force, Hurley, yesterday was asked whether or not Australian soldiers should trust and have faith in their ANA counterparts, he was asked this yesterday. He didn't state that. Would you be willing to give that message to Australians soldiers? Should they have faith, and trust their Afghan National Army counterparts?
STEPHEN SMITH: In the immediate aftermath of a terrible tragedy like this of course there is going to be shocks to confidence and shocks to trust. In the aftermath of the first terrible incidence which occurred a few months ago, trust was restored; and we got back to a business as usual operation - mentoring and training the Afghan National Army, them taking more responsibility for patrols and the like, and the assessment continues to be, not just from the Chief of the Defence Force and our people on the ground, that we're making progress in Uruzgan to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility by 2014.
That also continues to be the assessment of our NATO and International Security Assistance Force colleagues across the country. So we're on track for that but there will be setbacks. So Brigadier Khan, the commander on the ground of the fourth brigade of the Afghan National Army has taken a range of sensible procedures which if you want to you can describe as confidence building measures to make sure that the good working relations get back on track. But we should also understand this has come to a shock to our system, but also a shock to the Afghan National Army itself.
A range of senior Afghan military figures have expressed to Australian officials their shock, their dismay, their horror, and their condolence.
So this - you need to remember - also carried with it the loss of an Afghan interpreter. So this was an attack not just upon Australian but an attack also upon Afghans.
And there's been dismay on the Afghan side as well and you need to bear that in mind and take that into account.
KIERAN GILBERT: Stephen Smith, appreciate your time, thanks for that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you Kieran; thanks very much.