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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: email@example.com
17 August 2021
Let's go to Peter Dutton now, the Defence Minister. Peter, a lot happening in Afghanistan this morning. Thank you for your time. Obviously this is a rapidly evolving situation. We’ve seen those images, those desperate people and those chaotic withdrawals. How do you with any certainty land a plane there at that airport and guarantee the safety of crew and try and get people out?
Well good morning, guys. The first point is that at the moment you can’t. That’s clearly the case and these are terrible, terrible scenes. There needs to be order restored to the airport so that there can be safe passage of planes in and out and so that we have the ability to move people – whether they’re Australian citizens or American citizens, Canadians, New Zealanders – in and out of that airport. So it’s in a state of flux at the moment, and we need to see order restored, and hopefully that takes place sooner than later.
Do you honestly think that’s going to happen? And do you think that you will have an opportunity to get in and to get those Australians out? Not just the Australians out, but the Afghans who helped our troops on the ground and their families?
Well, I think we’re well placed in our country because we took advice from our military planners to get out ahead of the withdrawal date. We are were criticised at the time for doing that, but I think in the end it was the right decision to make. We removed our embassy staff.
Now, we do have some Australians who are left there who are working in NGOs and who are contractors in the country, they might be dual nationals for example, who have decided to stay and people who have decided to stay in recent months obviously have a definite reason as to why they’re staying in Afghanistan, but we’ll provide assistance to withdraw them, and that will take some time.
We’ll work through obviously the planning that we’ve got in place. We had pre-deployed last week, I authorised the Australian Defence Force to make those plans and to pre-deploy equipment as well as troops, and some of that is in place and some of it is on route, but we won’t be landing into Kabul in these circumstances.
And obviously we’ve got a base close by, which is safe and secure in the UAE. That’s where we’ll stage from. But we’ll work with the Americans and others, including the Turks etc to make a very difficult, tragic situation as best as it can be.
I mean, I’m not sure of the complexities involved, but I’m sure they’re significant in trying to – I mean who do you have the dialogue with? The US or do you try and establish some sort of contact and dialogue and diplomacy with the Taliban now to ensure the safety of the withdrawal?
Well Karl, the US is in discussion with the Taliban in terms of the safe movement of people to and from. The Taliban has provided that equipment. I think the aim of the Taliban here, frankly, is to see foreign troops out of their country as quickly as possible.
I think we shouldn’t lose sight, though, of why we went into Afghanistan 20 years ago. We’d had a major attack in the United States, thousands of people had died, and I think one thing that we should remind ourselves of today is that we haven’t had a major terrorist attack in our country in 20 years because of the efforts of our troops – American troops, the allied troops there otherwise – and we should never, ever forget that.
We have been well served by their service. They should be proud of their service. Our country is proud of their service and we would have, I think, suffered multiple terrorist attacks of a significant scale had we not gone into Afghanistan 20 years ago. It was always going to be a difficult departure. Nobody wants to see the tragedy of these scenes, but the reality is, in this part of the world, there have been horrific scenes for centuries and it’s a very, very difficult thing to watch, but as I say, it’s a very difficult part of the world.
So you don’t think Afghanistan will now return to becoming a breeding ground for terrorists?
I think, as President Biden has said this morning, the Americans have the capability to strike both with manned and unmanned aircraft now. They have over-the-horizon capability in terms of their counterterrorism efforts and if they see a problem festering then I have no doubt that they will act and they’ll act in their interests and they’ll act in the interests of their allies. There are always going to be difficult parts of the world and the Middle East for all of our lives and, no doubt, for the lives of our children and grandchildren and beyond, will be a difficult place – regrettably, sadly, tragically.
Pete, the US President had some, I think, pretty confronting things to say about our time in Afghanistan. He effectively washed his hands of what’s happening there now. He also said that the US and its allies should never have been there for nation-building. They should never have been there to set up a democracy. And he continued on and on about that. I mean what does that say about our involvement?
Well Karl I think it says of American activity that they’re either damned if they’re in place and they’re damned if they withdraw and that’s been the reality in many conflicts. You could stay in Afghanistan for another 20 years, for another 100 years and you may or may not see peace. Let’s be realistic about it. But our objective when we went into Afghanistan was to make sure that we could stop Al-Qaeda from committing another 9/11 attack in America or in Australia or elsewhere and to make sure that it wasn’t a launching pad for that next attack.
Now we’ve achieved both of those, but it’s 10 years since Osama Bin Laden was located, and we have spent, I think, a lot of effort, along with our allies, in training up Afghanis, but in the end as President Biden pointed out, if people aren’t prepared to stay and fight for their own country, it’s very hard to see how America would stay in that scenario.
So do you have an issue with the way that the US President has handled the withdrawal?
No I don’t Ally. As I say, I think they’re damned if they take one option and they’re damned if they take the other one. If they’re there for another 20 years – and don’t forget, this time last year nobody was saying in the presidential race where both the Republicans and the Democrats had committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan, that that was a bad idea, nobody was advocating that America should stay for another 20 years or her allies should stay for another 20 years – and withdrawal was always going to be difficult.
I think the surprising factor here was the rate at which the country was overtaken by the Taliban, and surprise from the President down. Tragically people abandoned their post and left the country in an even more precarious position and that’s the circumstance in which we all find ourselves now.
The whole thing is just bloody sad and what’s happening this morning there is terrible. All the very best in getting Australians out. And unfortunately for those who can’t get out, they’re going to be left with that mess. Peter, thanks for your time today.
Thanks guys. Thank you.
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