Afghanistan’s president insists Australia’s military commitment to his country is a “sovereign decision”.
Dr Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has been in Canberra for two days of official talks including meetings with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne.
Australia has 270 defence personnel deployed mostly in the capital Kabul where they provide support and security along with some mentoring recruits at the Afghan National Military Academy.
Earlier this year, the US Army General John Nicholson, who leads American and international forces in Afghanistan, called for thousands more troops to advise Afghan forces on the ground to beat the stalemate.
Dr Ghani clarified that General Nicholson had requested about 5200.
Asked if Australia should provide more troops, Dr Ghani said: “These are sovereign decisions.”
“We always defer to national authorities in terms of the decision-making process,” he told ABC radio.
Australia’s main base in Afghanistan had been in Uruzgan province, before the withdrawal in 2013.
The Taliban have now overrun that area.
But Dr Ghani insisted “temporary setbacks” should not be seen as reversals.
“It is not trending in the wrong direction,” he told ABC TV.
He acknowledged the threat of Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan and said authorities were dealing with them relentlessly.
“Given what has happened in Iraq and Syria, the likelihood of them migrating or jumping like cancer cells elsewhere is significant,” Dr Ghani said.
During the president’s visit thousands of Hazara protesters rallied in Canberra against a 2011 deal between Australia and Afghanistan to send failed Afghan asylum seekers back to their homeland.
Dr Ghani said it had not been a subject of conversations during his meetings with Australian government ministers.
He argued thousands of refugees had returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan in recent years and the level of participation in public life by Hazaras was increasing.
Asked if Afghanistan would take back failed asylum seekers detained on Manus Island or Nauru, he said due process was important to follow.
“An Afghan who has gone through the full legal process has a right to return. We never refuse if the host country wants to expel them, then the due process should be observed,” he said, adding that international human rights agreements need to be taken into account.
Dr Ghani earlier on Tuesday marvelled at Australian-designed gadgets that are protecting his country’s soldiers and police from improvised explosive device attacks.
In the past two years, Australia has supplied 150,000 Redwing contraptions to Afghanistan security personnel with a further 34,000 to be delivered later this year.
The devices, which jam radio signals that can set off IEDs, cover both individuals and vehicles and are made in Brisbane.
“It’s truly amazing,” Dr Ghani said.
“You’ve taken the request to save lives extremely seriously.”
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