TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE, CHANNEL SEVEN NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 23 JUNE 2011
TOPICS: US troop drawdown in Afghanistan
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Barack Obama has announced the start of a US drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, with 33,000 to be brought home next year. Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Australia's commitment in Afghanistan won't be affected by the US decision. For more, I'm joined by Defence Minister Stephen Smith. Good afternoon Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good afternoon.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: If America is pulling out troops, why aren't we?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what we're seeing is the withdrawal of the surge that President Obama effected about 18 months ago. At the end of the drawdown of the surge by summer - the northern hemisphere summer - next year the United States will still have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's twice the number that were in Afghanistan when President Obama (indistinct) following President Bush.
We've got about 1550 troops on average in Oruzgan Province and we believe that that number is required to complete our mission in Oruzgan, which is to train the Afghan National Army so that they can take responsibility for security in there by the end of 2014. So we very strongly believe we're on track to effect that.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: If there are fewer US troops there, does it mean our soldiers will have less support?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in Oruzgan Province itself, we don't believe that there will be any implications - significant implications or adverse implications. We're working very well with the United States forces in Oruzgan Province.
But, at the same time as we see this drawdown, we've seen over the recent period the Afghan National Army and police forces increase in size by about 100,000. We've got now nearly 300,000 Afghan soldiers, local police and national police. And, as more of those are trained, as the Afghan security forces become better and better equipped to carry out the security forces, then other countries like the United States and the International Security Assistance Force can reallocate their own resources. But we believe we're on track to train the Afghan National Army in Oruzgan on the international community's deadline of the end of 2014.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Okay, thank you very much for your time today, Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.