Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky News

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The Hon Andrew Hastie MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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Ella Kenny 0437 702 111

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27 August 2021

CHRIS KENNY: Andrew Hastie served in Afghanistan for the Australian SAS. He's now the Assistant Defence Minister and he joins me now live from Perth. Thanks for joining us, Minister. The first thing I want to do is give you an opportunity to say what you want to say about that disastrous attack, about the impact on our ally, and of course our soldiers who are there working with them.  

THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good evening, Chris. Good to be with you and your viewers. Well firstly I'd like to remember the American fallen, the 13 Marines who gave their lives overnight.  Our whole-of-government effort, which included our ADF personnel, our DFAT personnel, and Home Affairs personnel were able to do their jobs and evacuate more than 4,000 people because of the security provided by US Marines and other coalition forces. Our soldiers would have stood shoulder to shoulder with those troops on Abbey Gate – indeed they did only hours earlier. So our hearts go out to the families in the United States and our hearts go out to the many Afghans who were killed and wounded as well. It's a very tough day indeed.  

CHRIS KENNY: Is this chaos and trauma we're seeing in Kabul right now a direct consequence of the weakness of Joe Biden's foreign policy?  

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, there will be a time to dissect how we came to this point but at the moment, Chris, the good news is we got out more than 4,000 people in very trying circumstances. The RAAF air crew, the soldiers on the ground, and our DFAT and Home Affairs personnel did an excellent job. But I think the attack overnight reminds us that we live in a fallen world: evil exists, evil people do evil things, and weakness in the face of evil is provocative. So, I hope the United States hunts down those responsible for these attacks and puts them in the grave, as the United States did to Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda; al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS in Iraq and Syria; and Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force Commander as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. They need to fear us. This is basic deterrence, and our adversaries must fear us which is why we need to go after these people, and I hope the United States gets them.  

CHRIS KENNY: But you mentioned the fact that weakness is provocative. Do the Americans just grow tired of fighting evil and in showing weakness now that has been provocative to terrorists and the Taliban?  

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, we've been in Afghanistan for 20 years. It's a long time. I joined the ADF at 18 or 19, starry-eyed and idealistic, and like many veterans who have served there, I've come to realise the limitations of military force. The Afghan people are wonderful people but at the moment the Taliban are in control, and we've been fighting the Taliban for 20 years. I'm a believer in Clausewitz's dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means. And, after all our military campaigning, did we create a better political reality? Well, there were glimpses of it, certainly: we saw young girls going to school, we saw people having more freedom than they ever had under the Taliban in the 1990s. But we've seen all that lost and squandered over the last couple of months and that's really hard for veterans to see. But nonetheless, Chris, those who served in Afghanistan, members of the ADF, 39,000 of them, we know 41 of them gave their lives – their service was noble and honourable. And I think for a free people to survive and continue they need to have soldiers, sailors and airmen who will fight and protect them, and we saw that over the 20 years in Afghanistan, with members of the Australian Defence Force willing to lay down their lives to serve our country.  

CHRIS KENNY: Yes, but we see that no more. I want to ask you about your personal story because you've told me before how 9/11, those attacks on 9/11 actually inspired you, motivated you to join the Army and serve your country. Twenty years on, with 9/11, the 20th anniversary just weeks away, what are your thoughts having sacrificed as much as you did to see it all turn out to be futile like this?  

ANDREW HASTIE: It's tough, Chris, but as a former US President said: success is never final, failure is never fatal. I still believe in the United States as a force for good in the world. Of all the empires, if you will, over history, the US I think has been the most benign. Sure, there have been plenty of mistakes made in the last 20 years and I know first hand what it's like to make mistakes on the ground tactically. But I still believe America  

CHRIS KENNY: But you mentioned – Joe Biden is saying now – sorry to interrupt, Joe Biden is saying now that he's sending special forces in, in his own time, to take out the terrorists who have conducted this atrocity. The symmetry here is just astounding. This is history repeating. That's why America went into Afghanistan that 20 years ago?

ANDREW HASTIE: Sure. Well, Chris, if you think about Australia now, and I'll cast your mind back to the Defence Strategic Update in July of last year, the Prime Minister gave a speech at the Australian Defence Force Academy and he said the world post pandemic is going to be more dangerous and disorderly. We're seeing that danger and we're seeing that disorder right now, and it's a reminder to Australia that we need to be able to defend ourselves. We need to build ourselves up over the next decade, and we're doing that with our $270 billion Defence spend. But also, we need to hang on to that security partnership that we have with the United States. It's more than 100 years old, Chris, and sure, there'll be a time to discuss these things, and I'm sure they are being discussed behind closed doors. But there are strategic adversaries out there who would do us harm, do the US harm, and so despite mistakes that have been made, I still believe that we need to work closely with the United States. 

CHRIS KENNY: Donald Trump copped a lot of criticism, I believe unfairly. He copped a lot of fair criticism on other issues, but he was unfairly criticised for demanding that America's allies and partners do more. Do we see the opposite problem now?  We need America's allies, including us, to try and inject some steel into Joe Biden's spine?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, we've got people like the Prime Minister, Peter Dutton, Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister. We have very close relationships; indeed, I've got close relationships with the United States. I took a phone call from a US Congressman only a few days ago who I met in Perth some years ago, ringing me up to let me know on behalf of the Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee in the US Congress, that the United States has our back. That relationship is close. I'm a believer in, you know, wounds from a friend can be trusted while an enemy multiplies kisses. We'll have discussions behind closed doors. But on Sky, right now, I want to affirm the US alliance and my heart is with the US Marines, and the families, who are grieving the loss of their comrades today.  

CHRIS KENNY: Understandably. And just finally, Minister, I want to ask you about the 9/11 anniversary on 11th of September this year. What will we see in Kabul from the Taliban and others? Are you filled with dread at what sort of commemoration we could see in Afghanistan?  

ANDREW HASTIE: We'll see some of the ugliest propaganda since the days of ISIS. It'll be tough to watch, it'll be tough to watch. But we must reflect on the gains and the wins that we had over the 20 year period. We haven't had much terrorism in Australia as a result of our participation in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And the reality is, Chris, as I said, weakness is provocative. We can't just sit back and expect our adversaries to leave us alone, sometimes you've got it meet them head on. That's why we went into Afghanistan. Again, it's a long 20 year period which we're talking about. There will be plenty of discussion about that. There are lots of armchair generals on Twitter, as you well know. I'm not going to add my voice to them, suffice to say – ADF veterans can be proud of their service. The US is still a force for good in the world. They're our security partner going forward, and so we need to keep building our relationship in the decade ahead.  

CHRIS KENNY: Thanks so much for joining us, Andrew, I appreciate it.  

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks very much, Chris.  

CHRIS KENNY: Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie there live from Perth. It's great to have someone with his background in that position, isn't it?

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