Our security is at stake in Afghanistan
July 12, 2010
If terrorists re-establish a training ground, they will strike at us again.
A NATIONAL government has no more important task than defending the nation, its people and their interests.
In recent weeks we have mourned the loss of six dedicated Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. We will not forget their service and our thoughts are with their families and loved ones. Australia is engaged in a vital mission in Afghanistan. We are there because our national security is at stake. This is why our commitment to the mission remains steadfast.
Our objective is clear: to combat the threat of international terrorism, to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a training ground for terrorists launching attacks against us and our allies.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some 100 Australians have been killed in extremists' attacks overseas. Eighty-eight Australians were killed in the Bali bombing in 2002. Four Australians were killed in the second Bali bombing in 2005. Our embassy has been bombed in Jakarta. Three Australians were killed in the Jakarta hotel bombings last year.
In each case, the terrorist groups involved had links to Afghanistan.
We remain committed to denying terrorists sanctuary, to stabilising Afghanistan and to our alliance with the United States.
Fighting terrorism is not the job of any one nation. It requires an international effort.
That is why coalition forces are in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate and with the Afghan government's full supprt.
Australia is one of 46 nations in the coalition that makes up the International Security Assistance Force - or ISAF. All 46 are committed to the shared strategy for progress in Afghanistan. The strategy, as was announced by President Barack Obama last December, aims to build Afghanistan's capacity to undertake its own security and stability.
It also recognises the importance of constructive engagement by Afghanistan's neighbours, which have a critical interest in Afghanistan's stability. None more so than Pakistan, whose co-operation and continued actions against extremists are vital.
Australia will continue to work with our allies where vital mutual interests are at stake.
We are still in the early days of the new strategy. As well as reaching out to the civilian population, a key strategy is for coalition forces to target insurgent strongholds. Naturally insurgents are fighting back, hard - because they know the stakes. In these circumstances, it is likely to get harder before it gets easier.
This raises the risk of further coalition casualties. Although the government and the Australian Defence Force are committed to the protection of our forces, there is no doubt that the war in Afghanistan is dangerous, and we may see further Australian casualties.
Progress in Afghanistan will be hard-won, and will take time. We need to maintain our resolve.
Security is a big priority, and we are steadily making progress in strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan National Army is becoming increasingly capable, and is partnering coalition forces more effectively.
It has a strength of around 119,500 - well on the way to the target of 172,000 troops by October 2011, with recruitment running ahead of schedule.
These Afghan forces are partnering coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is strongest.
Australia is contributing to this progress. Our Special Operations Task Group is at the forefront of disrupting insurgent networks. They are backed up by the Mentoring Task Force, which is working alongside Afghan partners to build their capacity to conduct independent operations throughout Oruzgan.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Chief of the Defence Force, has advised the government that we hope to hand over responsibility for the province of Oruzgan to the Afghan National Army in two to four years. As we transfer security responsibility to the Afghan forces, the Australian forces may move to a supporting role, as our forces so successfully did in Iraq.
We have an annual average of around 1550 ADF personnel in Afghanistan. With the support of our coalition partners, that is the level we need to carry out our mission. We do not want our troops in Afghanistan a day longer than necessary. But our troops cannot be brought home to a pre-set timetable. Conditions on the ground will dictate our decisions.
We are also working with international partners and the Afghan government to improve governance and delivery of services. These civilian efforts are vital to the international strategy. Ultimately, the Afghan government, in Kabul, in Oruzgan and in other provinces must take responsibility for governing and delivering basic services to their people. Our role is to assist.
In this we will continue to be clear to the Afghan government that we expect it to embrace its responsibilities, including the issues of corruption and the illegal narcotics trade.
There are encouraging signs in Afghanistan - more children in schools, better health and better infrastructure. But there is a long way to go. My government remains steadfast.