As most of us return to work, at least 1500 Australians serving in the Middle East did not have the luxury of seeing their families this holiday season.
Afghanistan is the world's poorest nation outside Africa. Now, after a decade of western deployment and eight billion Australian dollars, it's no longer the most dysfunctional. Since 2004, we have been in Afghanistan and we have helped grow the Coalition to forty-five nations. Americanisation of this region is avoided by other nations sharing the load. Currently, just one of the $5.7billion price tag here comes from non-US partners, with Australia ranking fourth in development aid.
Back in 1992, when I helped clear landmines in Afghanistan, nihilism was the Lingua Franca; that this savage nation was a place where good money followed bad and where colonial aggressors were bled dry and spat back out again. It's true that a quarter of a century later, we are still investing. But we now have a coalition of forty five nations here grinding out the precursors to a more civil Afghanistan. Hope has again returned and the decisions we make this year may decide if that hope is fleeting or not.
For the first time, there is now an admission that our presence in Afghanistan is predicated on improved long-term conditions rather than any timeframe. It's about facing up to the fact that we are here for at least another generation, rather than clutching at exit strategies. Afghanistan has seen cycles of hope, decay, war then stabilisation again. Arresting that cycle starts with offering a trellis of opportunity that allows Afghans to take responsibility, make mistakes and try again.
The heart of this approach is "Resolute Support". Australia has committed $80million annually to this coalition effort, to train a more effective Afghan defence force plus another $20million annually for domestic policing. We have also partnered with the U.K. and eight New Zealanders to train a thousand Afghan Army officer recruits annually. This targeted investment is producing leaders, not just lieutenants. Importantly, the recruitment of women to the Afghan National Academy is a key priority and relies on guarantees of safe accommodation, career paths, language skills and cultural respect. Last year, it was a young Afghan woman who graduated top of class.
But in a test of Coalition cohesion and Afghan capacity, troop commitments have been wound down from 150,000 back in 2012 to just 15,000 today. Now is the time for the Afghan army to step up, make the strategic calls and be nimble enough to make them quickly. Australians are deeply engaged in that process; grinding away the patronage culture that encourages corruption and or incompetence in the worst possible roles.
As we enter 2016 media reports lead most at home to assume Australia is withdrawing and Afghanistan is on the verge of collapse. However the clear message on the ground is that, while fragile, the Afghan government is holding. The reality is that just one in ten locals support the Taliban which is active in just fifteen of 400 provinces. In August last year they delivered three bombing attacks and just four since then. Compared to intensities of the past, that is hardly a fire storm.
Now that the Coalition is knee-deep in the Middle East, we must leave on our terms, by keeping our mission is targeted, fair, and above all effective. Civil and democratic society starts with suppressing militant extremism because it provides the time for a new generation to get an education, jobs and experience modest levels of prosperity that make the alternatives less attractive. Knowing first-hand that Afghanistan hasn't seen those conditions for generations, I know they won't let this opportunity slip now.
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