Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very warm welcome to this photo exhibition – and in particular, a very warm welcome to you, Ambassador Thomas. I believe this exhibition is highly significant, and also indicative of the increasingly close relations between Australia and the Alliance.
Over a decade ago, our relationship started with limited military-to-military cooperation. Since those early days, the NATO-Australia relationship has expanded, and deepened, and now includes regular political dialogue at ministerial level. Most significantly, it now also includes invaluable contributions by our Australian friends to the NATO-led ISAF operation in Afghanistan.
Last week, Defence Ministers from the ISAF contributing nations, including Australia, met in this building to take stock of our engagement in Afghanistan. They acknowledged that although some significant challenges remain, there has been encouraging progress on security and institution building.
Let us take credit where credit is due – quite simply, that goal has only become possible because of ISAF, and the contributions made by NATO Allies and many partner nations. Today, ISAF is comprised of over 60,000 troops from 42 countries – all 28 Allies and 14 partner countries – and I am delighted to see representatives from so many of these nations here this afternoon. Thank you – all of you – for everything you are doing to help the people of Afghanistan.
I am sure you will all understand that, this afternoon, I should like to highlight the prominent role that Australia has played – and indeed continues to play - in Afghanistan. Australia has participated in ISAF from its earliest days. It is currently the eighth largest overall troop contributor, and the largest partner troop contributor. And I am delighted by the recent announcement that Australia will enhance its contribution to focus on training the Afghan National Army as well as the Afghan National Police. At the same time, Australia also announced a two hundred million US dollar contribution to the ANA Trust Fund. But that is not all.
We have seen that, in order to bring lasting peace and stability to war-torn regions such as Afghanistan, military engagement must be accompanied by civilian efforts -- security and development must go hand in hand. And that is why our military forces are serving side-by-side with an increasing number of civilians from those same 42 Allied and partner countries, as well as with civilians from a number of other international organisations and NGOs.
Here again, I should like to commend Australia. Because in addition to the considerable military assets Australia has deployed to ISAF, it has also deployed many experts with a wide range of professional skills in the area of civilian stabilisation and reconstruction. I have seen at first-hand the incredible work that these military and civilian experts are doing. Indeed, I shall be going out to visit ISAF again this week.
Each time I am in Afghanistan, I am struck by the dedication of the people we have sent there, and their conviction that they are making a difference and that progress is being made. Last July, I had the privilege to visit the Australian FOB Qudus, where Australian men and woman were living and working in exceptionally difficult circumstances doing a fantastic job. Often as I speak to these brave men and women, they have expressed to me their disappointment that their hard work and achievements do not attract greater attention by the wider public. The exhibition that we are about to open is an opportunity to put that right.
The photos you will see displayed here demonstrate clearly the real progress that is being made in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. And they bear witness to the tremendous contribution made by one of NATO’s partners – Australia – to our common effort. I know that these efforts are replicated by many other Allied and partner nations. But this afternoon I should like to extend a special word of thanks to Australia for the sustained and significant contributions it has made to ISAF over the years.
Ambassador Thomas, thank you very much for bringing this exhibition to NATO. And thank you for all that your country does to support the international community, and NATO in particular. I should now like to hand you the floor so you can explain in a bit more detail the exhibition that you have put together for us today.
Ambassador, the floor is yours.