Australia will be entrenched in Afghanistan in some form for at least the next decade, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today. The Afghan government expected the Australian Defence Force to continue training and mentoring part of the Afghan National Army for a further two to four years,
Ms Gillard said during her opening address in today’s parliamentary debate on Operation Slipper.
But Australians would be needed in the “war-ravaged” country well beyond that and “through this decade at least”.
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“There will still be a need for Australians in a supporting role,” she said.
“There will still be a role for training and other defence co-operation.
“The civilian-led aid and development effort will continue. And we will continue to promote Afghan-led re-integration of former insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms, turn their backs on terrorism and accept the Afghan constitution.”
Ms Gillard praised Australia’s special forces troops in the country and became emotional when acknowledging the deaths of the 21 men who have been killed during Operation Slipper, which began in 2001.
“There is nothing I can say to change [the families of those troops’] long walk through life without a loved one, a loved one lost for our sake,” she said.
“In the ultimate, I can promise only this; we will remember them.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott congratulated the Prime Minister on her address.
As expected, Mr Abbott supported Ms Gillard’s sentiments that to leave Afghanistan prematurely would be dangerous.
He said a premature end to Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan would tell the Afghan people “that our commitment to human rights is more rhetorical than real” and would set a bad example in the international community.
“That young Australians should die even for the best of causes is tragic beyond words,” Mr Abbott said.
“The idea, though, that an end to Australian involvement would inspire the lion to lie down with the lamb or swords to be beaten into ploughshares is wishful thinking at best.”
Australia and its international partners in Afghanistan have bedded down the “right strategy”, Ms Gillard said.
“I believe we now have the right strategy, an experienced commander in General Petraeus, and the resources needed to deliver the strategy,” she said.
“The overarching goal of the new strategy is to enable transition, that is, to prepare the Government of Afghanistan to take lead responsibility for its own security, but our vital national interests, in preventing Afghanistan being a safe haven for terrorists who attack us and in supporting our ally, do not end with transition.
“We expect this support, training and development task to continue in some form through this decade at least.”
Protester thrown out
A woman was thrown out of the House of Representatives after yelling “this is a farce” during the opening minutes of Ms Gillard’s address.
The woman waved a purple flag from the public gallery and was heard shouting down the corridors well after she was removed.
Ms Gillard continued without acknowledging the interruption.
She said she would be “as frank as I can be” with Australians about the country’s near-decade-long military operation in Afghanistan during today’s parliamentary debate.
Ms Gillard said she would use her opening address on Operation Slipper to “paint a very honest picture of the difficulties and challenges” facing the Australian Defence Force.
She said she would outline the future of the country’s commitment in Afghanistan and what progress was being made.
“A national government has no more important task than defending the nation, its people and their interests,” Ms Gillard said.
“That is why we take so seriously any decision to go to war. The war in Afghanistan is no different.”
All other members of Parliament who wish to speak will be spread out over tomorrow, Thursday and subsequent days if necessary.
Operation Slipper began in late 2001. Twenty-one Australian troops have been killed since then and 153 have been injured or wounded.
The facts on Operation Slipper:
* About 1550 ADF personnel currently deployed.
* 1241 in southern Oruzgan province.
* 300 in Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
* 830 provide support from locations elsewhere in the Middle East.
* Focused on training Afghan Army and Police, plus counter-insurgency operations
* 21 Australian troops killed.
* 153 Australian troops injured or wounded.
* Australia will spend $106 million this financial year on aid in Afghanistan.