Aust to stay the course in Afghanistan

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews says Australia will “stay the course” in supporting Afghanistan, which faces going it alone against a resurgent Taliban as foreign troops withdraw.


Mr Andrews, in Brussels for the meeting of NATO defence ministers meeting on Afghanistan, said Afghan defence minister-designate Mohammad Masoum Stankikzai personally had urged flexibility from nations including Australia about drawdown of their troops.

About 12,000 foreign troops, including 400 Australians, remain in Afghanistan in non-combat roles, training and assisting Afghan forces under the NATO Resolute Support Mission.

That mission ends at the end of 2016, raising concerns that Afghan forces will struggle as they confront insurgents without foreign support.

“Without anticipating any decision that might be taken by the government and the national security committee, our inclination is obviously to stay the course, given the very significant investment we have made in Afghanistan,” Mr Andrews told AAP from Brussels.

Australian involvement in Afghanistan has so far lasted 14 years.

Some 34,000 defence personnel have deployed there and 41 have died.

“Certainly our inclination is to stay the course to ensure that Afghanistan remains stable in the future,” he said.

Mr Andrews said he held a long meeting with minister Stankikzai ahead of the main meeting of NATO defence ministers and he was optimistic, despite a number of challenges.

That includes the insurgent attack on the country’s parliament this week.

“(The Afghan minister) said he believed that the next one or two fighting seasons would be significant in terms of being able to ensure the ongoing stability of the country,” Mr Andrews said.

Australia withdrew most combat forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2013, but a number remained to mentor and assist Afghan forces in Kabul and Kandahar.

In Kabul, Australian personnel mentor instructors at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, while in Kandahar, Australians mentor senior commanders in the ANA’s 205 Corps.