AUS Defence Minister Remarks on Afghanistan
TRANSCRIPT: Interview With David Speers, Sky News
DAVID SPEERS: Minister, can I ask you about another matter? Finally, Afghanistan - as this year draws to a close and I suppose the fighting season in Afghanistan tends to wind down as they head into the winter months as well, what progress can you point to this year in Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Domestically first, I think the Parliamentary debate was a very good thing to do. I think that’s given a much wider and better appreciation of the challenge that we face and what we’re trying to do. So that was a good thing.
Secondly, the Lisbon Summit was very successful. It’s drawn together all of the strands of the military and political strategy and the commitment to transition and we now have a very good group of key players from NATO Secretary General Rasmussen to General Petraeus, a very good group of players, complementing personalities to drive the mission.
The regret, and I’ve said this in the Parliamentary debate, the regret is we’ve now got a very good military and political strategy and can move to implement it, but we are years late. The great regret of this is that the distraction of Iraq, not getting to a defined strategy much quicker sees us being in Afghanistan for a longer period of time.
DAVID SPEERS: Would you agree that there hasn’t been enough on the ground improvement this year?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. We think - and Secretary General Rasmussen said it, General Petraeus said it, our own CDF says it and the Prime Minister and I have said it in our general remarks - we think we’ve made progress in the last six months or so.
We are now in the traditional winding down as winter emerges. The expectation is that there will continue to be fighting, it will continue to be difficult, it will continue to be dangerous. The International Security Assistance Force will continue to do its job, including the use of special operations and special forces. But there will be something of a wind down.
So when spring re-emerges, that will be, we think, a key time. It will enable us to see whether we’ve consolidated gains and will also enable us to see whether the Taliban come back in strength or force. So next year will be a very important year, but we do think we have made a lot of progress into, to use the military terminology, in seizing ground and denying the Taliban of ground and space. And whilst we’re cautious about it, we are quietly, cautiously optimistic that we have made some ground on that front.
But more importantly, we think we’ve made some ground on the training front and the Afghan Security Forces being able to plan and take charge of the security for the Parliamentary elections this year was a good sign. They are also developing their own capacity.
We don’t want to be there forever, but we can’t leave tomorrow. So the only way to successfully meet our objectives is to put the Afghan Security Forces in the position of being able to lead those security operations. We still believe we’re on track to do that and meet the international community’s ambition of a transition by the end of 2014.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much.
DAVID SPEERS: You don’t want to give us a heads up on the anti-siphoning announcement we’re about to go to? You were there in Cabinet, of course, this morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: I’ll leave it to my namesake Stephen, I’ll leave it to Senator Conroy. I’ll just rejoice in the last Question Time for this year.
DAVID SPEERS: Indeed. We wish you well and a good Parliamentary break as well. Thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.