Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Afghanistan: Australia welcomes NATO decision to establish new multinational command structure for Uruzgan Province

Source: Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID); Government of Australia

Senator John Faulkner, Minister for Defence, and Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs

The Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, have welcomed the decision by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission to establish a new multinational command structure for Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan to replace the Netherlands lead from 1 August 2010.

'I am confident that this approach will serve Australia's interests and ensure that we maintain and build on the progress made in Uruzgan.' Senator Faulkner said.

'Under the new arrangements, the United States will head a multinational 'Combined Team - Uruzgan', under an ISAF flag,' Senator Faulkner said.

'I am confident that the role previously performed by the Dutch will be more than adequately met by the new 'Combined Team - Uruzgan' arrangements,' Senator Faulkner said.

Australia will play a core role in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) including having an Australian civilian lead the PRT.

'Australia's civilian component in Uruzgan, which was substantially increased earlier this year, will be incorporated into the ISAF-flagged PRT structure. Police numbers are also being increased from 22 to 28 officers, and these will play a greater role in training the Afghan police' Mr Smith said.

Australia's current military deployment to Afghanistan will be maintained at around 1,550 personnel. The main focus of the Australian Defence Force deployment remains training and mentoring the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Uruzgan Province. Australia will also take on an increased role in providing force protection for Australia's civilian activity in Uruzgan.

'Australia is committed to strengthening our contribution to civilian efforts in Afghanistan. This is a critical element of ISAF's revitalised strategy' Mr Smith said.

The new multinational arrangements in Uruzgan will help to take this strategy forward with a greater integration of civilian and military activity and increased focus on building Afghan capacity to take responsibility for security, governance and development.

The new arrangements also provide for substantial contributions from other ISAF partners.

'Singaporean assistance in Uruzgan complements Australian efforts and is highly valued. We are also looking forward to continuing to work closely with our Slovakian partners who have made a valuable contribution to coalition efforts in Uruzgan to date,' Senator Faulkner said.

'Australia greatly appreciates the efforts of the Dutch forces in Uruzgan, and the close relationship that we have developed with them. We strongly encourage a continued contribution from the Dutch in Uruzgan' Minister Smith said.

Australia has been working closely with NATO and ISAF in the planning of the new multinational arrangements, which will come into effect as the Dutch begin to transition out of their responsibilities in the Province at the beginning of August.

'Australia continues to make an important contribution in Afghanistan through our work in Uruzgan and other commitments across Regional Command South.' Senator Faulkner said.

'Operations remain difficult and dangerous - as tragically demonstrated by the loss of five Australian soldiers in the past two weeks.

'However, despite the challenges, and the losses, it is critical that we continue to play our part in the international effort against terrorism which remains a threat to both the Australian and international community,' Senator Faulkner said.