TRANSCRIPT: RESPONSE TO QUESTION WITHOUT NOTICE IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 19 September 2012
GAI BRODTMANN, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: My question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the Minister update the House on developments inAfghanistanarising from recent International Security Assistance Force operational decisions?
STEPHEN SMITH, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I thank the Member forCanberrafor her question. The question relates toAfghanistanand recent ISAF operational directions. As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have reminded us in a different context earlier today, these ISAF directions—International Security Assistance Force directions—follow five terrible fatalities, so far as Australia is concerned, and three of those from so-called green-on-blue or insider incidents. Yesterday, we saw the last of those five funerals, for young Sapper James Martin inPerth.
The first green-on-blue incident against Australia occurred more than 12 months ago and since that time we have been working very closely with General Allen, Commander ISAF, to improve the force protection mechanisms which apply in this area and to do everything we can to minimise the risk to Australian Defence Force personnel.
Regrettably and terribly, we have seen in recent times a growing number of such incidents directed, in the main, againstUnited StatesandUnited Kingdompersonnel, but against ISAF generally. Since our own first terrible incident more than 12 months ago, we have enhanced our force protection measures and taken a range of steps to minimise the risk. We have worked closely with General Allen in that respect.
In response to the terrible number of incidents recently and in response to heightened tensions as a result of the so-called Innocence of Muslims video, at the beginning of this week General Allen, Commander ISAF, issued a directive which does not have the effect, as I have seen reported, of ceasing all partnered operations between ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces; it has the effect that partnered operations are now to be conducted at Battalion or Kandak level, which is dealing with some 500 or 600 Army personnel, and that below that level—for partnered patrols, for example—the approval of the relevant Regional Command Commander is required.
InAustralia's case, in Uruzgan we are part of Regional Command South. So, to engage in partnered patrols we now need the approval of the regional Commander. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, as a result of that directive, no joint patrols were conducted, because that is below Kandak level. Today in Uruzgan our Commanders will be speaking with Kandak Commanders about the plans that the Kandak Commanders have for individual patrols so far as the ANA in Uruzgan is concerned, but also to now mount the case—to approach Regional Command South for permission—to resume joint patrols. I am not putting a timetable on that. That will be an operational matter. In the meantime, all of the Commanders have been asked to review force protection measures and to minimise risk against these so-called insider incidents.
As transition proceeds it will be the case, in the not too distant future, that it will be the Afghan National Army itself who will be conducting patrols by themselves asAustraliaand International Security Assistance Forces essentially retreat to an advisor role. In the meantime, our judgement of transition is that we continue to progress. It is, of course, continuing to be a difficult and dangerous circumstance and I know the ADF-