Transcript of Press Conference - Canberra
MON 22 OCTOBER 2012
Subject(s): Death of Australian soldier in Afghanistan; Australia’s mission in Afghanistan
PM: As the Chief of the Defence Force and Minister for Defence have advised the nation, overnight our time we have lost a 24 year-old soldier in Afghanistan.
I offer my most sincere condolences to the family and friends of this young man. My thoughts are with them; my very loving thoughts are with them at this time of great stress and distress for them. My thoughts are also with his mates.
We cannot at this stage give a great deal of information about the circumstances in which this young man died. The operation in which he died is still ongoing.
We’re also not in a position to give a great deal of detail about the young man himself. Understandably his family have requested privacy at this time.
But what is clear is we have lost a brave soldier who was going about difficult and dangerous work in Afghanistan. That is clear to us.
And his loss will be mourned by the whole nation.
Having just been in Afghanistan, I can say that our troops there are in good spirits. Their morale remains high even though during the course of this year they have seen a great deal of loss. And they are very determined to see the mission that we have set ourselves through in Afghanistan; a mission with a defined strategy and a defined end point.
But none of that makes absorbing the news of this loss any easier. The news of every loss is as hard as the news of the first loss. So there will be a lot of people grieving today and our thoughts are with them in their grief.
I’ll take questions but only on this matter.
JOURNALIST: Is there any doubt in your mind that the defined strategy will be reached by the defined end point?
PM: No there is not. Our mission is on track. We’re on track to train the Afghan national security forces which is our mission in Uruzgan province. We also take the fight to the insurgency through our special operations.
I reaffirmed when I was there in Afghanistan through the briefings I received from our own people in Uruzgan province, and then also from General Allen in Kabul, that the mission is on track.
One of the kandaks that we train is operationally effective on its own and the others will be operationally effective on their own by the end of this year.
We will though still engage in special operations. And there is no way of being in Afghanistan that comes without risk. And so today is yet another reminder – though we didn’t need one –today is another reminder that Afghanistan is a very dangerous place.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when is the Government likely to make a decision about keeping special forces troops on in Afghanistan post-2014? And are you any closer to deciding how big that commitment will be?
PM: We’ve left the door open to leaving special forces in Afghanistan and of course we’ve got to define the nature of our commitment as part of the NATO train, advise, assist mission.
We are some way from defining those numbers and that is because NATO-ISAF is still some way from defining its forces and numbers. For example, the United States has not as yet been clear about its contingent in Afghanistan post-2014.
So we need to keep consulting with NATO-ISAF, with all of the coalition forces who are there, before we can make final decisions about that matter. Certainly those decisions would not be taken during the course of this calendar year.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you believe that an incident of this type happening indicates that it’s going to be some time before Uruzgan, the province we’re responsible for, is actually pacified to the extent that the local troops can take over?
PM: Well there’s two things here. One, the continuing nature of the insurgency, and two the capacity of the Afghan forces to meet the insurgency.
Our predictions of Uruzgan province is that there will still be active fighting needed against the insurgency. What we are seeking to do is to build up the capability of Afghan forces so they can take the fight to the insurgents. And we are on track with that training mission in the way in which I’ve described, with one of the kandaks already been operationally effective on its own.
But even when those kandaks, that brigade is operationally effective on its own, there will be a continuing role for special forces until transition is complete. And that comes with very particular risks. Then we still have to define the nature of the mission beyond 2014 and we need to do that with our NATO-ISAF partners.
Thanks very much.