TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LAURA JAYES, LUNCHTIME AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 14 MAY 2012
LAURA JAYES: Joining me now from Perth is the Defence Minister Stephen Smith. Thanks for joining us Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure, Laura.
LAURA JAYES: So the message we see from there, from Brigadier Noble is that Australians - Afghans are watching us very carefully. Do you think the Afghan National Security Forces will be ready to takeover in Uruzgan within 18 months?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, certainly that's the basis upon which we're planning, it's the basis upon which the International Security Assistance Force is planning, it's also the basis upon which President Karzai has made his decision and announced that overnight.
So we welcome very much the fact that all of Uruzgan Province has been included in the third tranche. That accorded with our recommendation to ISAF and also to the Afghan authorities but we do need to make sure that we get the outcome.
So the expectation is 12 to 18 months, but we'll take that as it comes. But the second point which has just been made by our representative in ISAF, our Deputy Chief of Staff in ISAF is that we also need to ensure that the international community, including Australia, sends a signal to Afghanistan that we won't desert Afghanistan after the end of 2014 and that's why Australia's been saying we're prepared to commit to continuing resources to the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014 and we're also prepared for a presence in Afghanistan to continue to assist, whether that's trainers, whether that's advisors, whether it's Special Forces. And these are two of the key area that'll be considered in Chicago next weekend.
LAURA JAYES: Yes, it's a week out from Chicago. You must have a better idea of what the Government is willing to commit in terms of financial stability. There has been a figure thrown around that it's going to cost western nations around $4 billion every year to ensure stability there. So what is Australia's fair share?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we've made it clear that we think the international community should continue to make a contribution to resourcing the Afghan National Security Forces, that was one of the lessons of the Russian departure from Afghanistan. The Russians continued to contribute to the Afghan National Security Forces for a couple of years after they left, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union the cheques stopped coming and that then saw the collapse of the Afghan National Security Forces and the rise of the Taliban.
So we're not proposing to make that mistake, we will make what we have indicated is a fair share to that contribution. The contribution should come not just from NATO and ISAF countries but in our view also from other countries in the region who haven't necessarily made a military contribution but we may be in a position to make that announcement in the run up to Chicago or at Chicago itself.
That'll be a matter for the Prime Minister.
But we've also made it clear that with proper authorisation we can look at continuing post 2014 to have advisors there, and also potentially Special Forces there, because we expect there will continue to be a counter-terrorism need as well- but that conversation will also start in Chicago but we've made it clear in principle that they're the sorts of areas where we think we can make an ongoing contribution.
LAURA JAYES: Minister Smith, what are the tangible measures of success in Uruzgan province, particularly with the handover of Australian troops to the Afghan National Army? There's a lot said about Afghan National Army troops just being Afghan ready. I noticed when I was there a month ago on the ground that yes, they are increasingly showing a lead role but they don't have things like key equipment like the robots for IEDs and one thing that was really quite noticeable is that they don't have the facilities to actually take care of their war wounded.
So would we also look within ourselves and would Australia contribute to that medical side of things and also equipment?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, so far as all of those so-called enablers are concerned in Uruzgan Province- where we work with what is described as Combined Taskforce Uruzgan- where we work very closely not just with the United States but with a small number of other International Security Assistance Force countries, the so-called enablers are provided by the United States.
And the United States have made it clear, not just through the Commander of Combined Taskforce Uruzgan on the ground in Tarin Kot but also through senior officials including through General Allen, the Commander of ISAF, those so-called enablers will continue until we get to transition.
So that's the contribution that the United States makes so far as Uruzgan province is concerned. That will continue until we get to the transition stage or the transition environment and what enablers remain and the provision of enablers is one of the post-2014 contribution discussions that Australia, the United States and International Security Assistance Force needs to have and that's one of the reasons why the summit in Chicago next weekend is so important, because we will start to consider for the first time the detail of these arrangements.
What is the contribution by the international community to the Afghan National Security Forces to ensure is can continue and what sort of contributions - military, whether it's Special Forces, whether it's advisors, whether it's the so-called enablers will continue to be made to Afghanistan and how that will be structured and how different International Security Assistance Force countries will contribute to that.
So we're starting that conversation now which is why the Chicago summit is so important, not just because it lets us know that the transition strategy determined at the Lisbon summit in November 2010 is on track but we can start now to look at the detail of these important features post-2014.
LAURA JAYES: Also, 2014 will be a year in which Presidential elections are held in Afghanistan, do you think this summit should also consider a post-Karzai environment and that being that - those Presidential elections being a possible flare- up where the Taliban might take advantage of that transition and that change in the political landscape.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well certainly when we talk about transition we tend to focus on the post-2014 transition to Afghan-led security responsibility, but there is also a transition taking place so far as Afghan governance and Afghan democracy is concerned.
So, yes the next Afghan presidential election is scheduled for 2014- under the Afghan constitution President Karzai is limited to two terms so we need to also take into account the transition that is occurring there. That of course will be a matter for the Afghan people and the Afghan institutions of state, its democratic institutions of state but it is the case that we have seen that Taliban - because they can't make up ground in the field we have seen them resorting to the high profile, propaganda-style attacks and assassinations.
So we are only too well aware that there is the potential for the Taliban to disrupt the Afghan elections in 2014 but all of us are aware of that, from President Karzai down. But the transition from one Government to another will also be a very important feature of 2014 and a very important part of Afghanistan emerging to take full responsibility for its own affairs.
LAURA JAYES: Minister Stephen Smith, thanks so much for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Laura, thanks very much.