Transcript - Stephen Smith Interviewed By Abc's Fran Kelly

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MINISTER FOR DEFENCE

STEPHEN SMITH, MP


TRANSCRIPT: 

INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, RADIO NATIONAL

BREAKFAST, ABC

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 19 OCTOBER 2010


FRAN KELLY: The Federal Parliament begins a debate on Afghanistan today. Nearly a

decade on from the original deployment, MPs on all sides will have their say on whether

Australian forces should stay the course or be withdrawn.

In a moment Greens leader Bob Brown who leads the charge for a troop pull out. But first

Defence Minister Stephen Smith joins us in the Parliament House studio. Minister good

morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, do you ever put the two words Afghanistan and victory in the

same sentence?

STEPHEN SMITH: I put the words Afghanistan and completing our mission together. I

think it is important to understand precisely what we are seeking to achieve in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was once a hot bed of international terrorism for al-Qaeda. It is still at risk of

becoming that again. So our mission is to

prevent Afghanistan from becoming a breeding

ground for international terrorism which is a risk to Australia and Australians. 

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To do that we've got to put the Afghan security services, the army, the police in the position

to run their own affairs, run their own security arrangements, to take care of security. And

that's why our mission in Uruzgan Province is a training mission and, of course, we're part

of a 47 nation coalition in that respect.

FRAN KELLY: Alexander Downer was the Foreign Minister when we committed to

Afghanistan in the first place and he says in an article in The Spectator

magazine, we've

already achieved our initial mission getting rid of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well it is the case that we have seriously undermined al-Qaeda but it is

not the case that Afghanistan is free from becoming a breeding ground either for al-Qaeda or

for the Haqqani Network or for other terrorist groups and again becoming a threat

internationally. 

So if we were to leave tomorrow,

which is the argument of some, my grave fear is that that

risk would emerge very quickly. 

We can't be there forever, we don't want to be there forever, but we can't leave tomorrow. So

what is our way forward? Our way forward is to do what we've been doing, which is to try

and train and mentor the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan Province, the Afghan National

Police in Uruzgan Province to take care of their own security arrangements,

to prevent that

from occurring. And that is replicated by the United Nations' mandated International

Security Assistance Force throughout Afghanistan itself.

FRAN KELLY: So it's fair to say that our mission has changed or morphed since we've been

there, that as Alexander Downer again says in that article says; victory is impossible. At one

point we were thinking of something else, not training the security forces.

STEPHEN SMITH: Look I think a couple of things. I think in future years when people look

back they'll see a couple of things which are very clear. One was we were there initially, not

just Australia but the United States and others

and then we either left or reduced the

resources, distracted by Iraq. That was a mistake.

Secondly, when we came back in 2005-2006 I think it is the case and it took us too long to

actually define and focus on what was realistic, what was achievable and what was actually

required.

We've seen in recent times, literally in the last 18 months, two years the Riedel Review, the

McChrystal Review, the Obama Review and a series of significant international

conferences; the Hague, London and Kabul itself and looking forward to Lisbon.

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I think we've now got a defined international strategy which will work, it's not just a military

strategy, it's a military and political strategy. It's got to put the capacity in the hands of the

Afghans to run their own affairs, particularly so far as security's concerned. 

But it also means at some stage it has to be a political rapprochement,

which is why

Australia has been strongly supporting the notions of reconciliation and reintegration. I think

it took us too long and when I say us, I mean the international community generally, too

long to really get down to define what we had to achieve, what risks we were trying to offset

or stare down. I think we've now got that strategy. 

The problem is, of course, that it's taken us nine and half years to get there and that's why

political will and the patience of domestic constituencies is now an issue not just in the

United States and Europe but also here, which is why the debate is a good thing.

FRAN KELLY: So nine and half years to develop the strategy or refine the strategy and

really no wonder that most Australians probably haven't kept up with these changes in

mission. Do you think that most Australians would be aware that we're in a war that can't be

won in any conventional sense, that that's not the aim?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't use that terminology but…

FRAN KELLY: No but most Australians - well we call it a war, you see, that's the problem

isn't it? A war suggests victors and losers. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the old style analysis of war if you like, the experience of very

many Australians, World War One, World War Two, that's right. 

But I define it differently. We need to put Afghanistan, particularly their security forces, in a

position of managing their own affairs. We can only do that not by

staying forever but by

training them. To leave them in a position where there is political stability. Of course,

at

some stage there has to be some form of political reconciliation with those members of the

Taliban who want to

renounce

violence, who want to accept the Afghanistan

Constitution

and who want to live in peace with others. That won't be the case with all of them, with

hardcore terrorists. But these things are now being progressed in a methodical way. 

FRAN KELLY: Where are we at with negotiations with the Taliban? I mean where -

how

far has that progressed?

STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly,

at the London

Conference last year I made it very clear that

Australia strongly supported reintegration and reconciliation efforts. 

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Indeed we indicated we would contribute over $25 million over a period of time

to support

those efforts and $6

million of that is already being utilised. In the first instance those

discussions have to be effected by the Afghan Government itself and,

as you would have

seen from reports and suggestions in a very preliminary way, those things are occurring. 

In the end there has to be some form of political reintegration, some form of political

reconciliation so that Afghanistan is stable,

not just for Afghanistan itself but also for its

region. 

The other key factor, of course, which has

implications not just for Australians in Uruzgan

but more generally,

is Pakistan. And the truth is Australia was one of the first countries to

realise we had a significant problem not just in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, but an

existential threat to Pakistan itself, which is why over the last three years we've considerably

enhanced our engagement with Pakistan and being together with the US and the

United

Kingdom at the forefront of efforts to draw the Pakistan problem to the international

community's intention. 

FRAN KELLY: Though one of the problems is as we engage with Pakistan, there's also

plenty of evidence to suggest that Pakistan is still engaging with if not just the Taliban then

al-Qaeda too. 

STEPHEN SMITH: There is no doubt that Pakistan has improved considerably. Both the

Pakistan Government and security forces have improved considerably its efforts but there is

a long way for Pakistan to go. 

FRAN KELLY: I think one thing - well a couple of things; people will want to hear about an

exit plan in this debate, as part of this debate. How close are we to withdrawal? Does that

two to four year timeline still hold?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't talk in terms of a defined time. We are saying that to complete

our mission…

FRAN KELLY: Because it's dangerous to do that?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think that if you put a particular time on it then you miss the point.

The point is we want to put the Afghan security forces in a position to manage their own

affairs. That's, to use the jargon, conditions or metric based. We think that we can do that in

Uruzgan Province on a two to four year timetable. 

The international community at the Afghanistan Conference in Kabul itself believes that it

can be done on a 2014 timetable and the NATO ISAF Lisbon Summit in November of this

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year will set out the roadmap for that. So two to four years in our view is realistic. That's the

advice we have from the CDF and we think we can make that. 

FRAN KELLY: And so for people listening to this - to this debate over the next two weeks

acutely, will they get some clear benchmarks to - that describe as you just say there, our task

is to allow -

get the Afghan people to a point in the Uruzgan province where they can

manage their own affairs. What would that look like? Will you spell out clear and

measurable objectives?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that will be the objective of the Lisbon

Conference. I think we

have to, I think Peter Gration has made the very good point today that you can't…

FRAN KELLY: But forget the Lisbon Conference, what about the Australian Government?

Presumably you and the Defence Force are looking at clear and measurable objectives?

STEPHEN SMITH: We have to be able to measure the capacity of the Afghan National

Army and the police force. It can't be an entirely subjective thing. And we've done a lot of

work on that in the past, we continue to do so and we'll provide the benefit of our own

analysis to the Lisbon Conference in November. But it's something which has to be done

objectively. 

FRAN KELLY: So we still don't have them? The Australian Government and our Defence

Force still don't have a clear set of national objectives for…

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, no that's not right. The national objective is very clear. It is to put

the Afghan security forces, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police in a

position of managing their security. That's why the entire focus,

effectively, of our effort is

on training. That's been the case for the last couple of years. 

As I said earlier, one of the mistakes that has been made was firstly leaving Afghanistan

effectively in 2002 and then when the international community re-focused

in 2005, 2006

after the Iraq distraction, taking too long to focus on these objectives. We now have a very

good focus. The key now is implementing those

objectives

effectively in a reasonable

timetable. 

FRAN KELLY: And just very briefly, when we do a cost-benefit analysis of this war at the

end, will it be worth

it not just in dollars but in lives lost, 21 Australians soldiers, thousands

of Afghan civilians including children?

STEPHEN SMITH: We continue to have a very significant threat from international

terrorism, not just in Afghanistan but elsewhere. Regrettably that will be a feature of life for

Australia and the rest of the world for a long time to come. Staring down international

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terrorism is unambiguously in our national interest and that's what we're doing in

Afghanistan. 

FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran, thanks very much. 






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