SOTG DISCUSS FUTURE WITH AFGHAN ELDERS
Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Released on behalf of the Minister for Defence - MSPA 033/10

The Australian Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) with their Afghan partner force have facilitated a major gathering (shura) of village elders and religious leaders in Chenartu, north-east of Tarin Kowt, as part of their current focus on reaching out to Afghan communities across Oruzgan province.

During the meeting, village leaders and representatives were consulted to gain an understanding from the community of their key needs and ideas for development proposals. With a force including Australian Defence Force (ADF) medics and coalition aid agency representatives (who work closely with AusAID staff in Oruzgan), the Special Operations Task Group explored all opportunities to engage the community.

The Commanding Officer of the SOTG, whose name can not be disclosed for security reasons, said: "We continue to reap the significant benefits of our combined operations with our Afghan partners, particularly when engaging the local population. Our partner force bring with them a unique understanding of local conditions. Conducting these operations in close cooperation with our partner force allows us greater clarity and understanding of the community's needs."

The Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Mark Evans, accompanied by the commander of Australian forces in the Middle East, Major General John Cantwell, witnessed first-hand the population centric operations conducted by the SOTG soldiers. Both spoke with Chenartu locals participating in the shura, which was attended by 150 members of the community.

Lieutenant General Evans said the shura was a clear indication that there was strong support for the International Security Assistance Force. "The large number of leaders and religious representatives here is an important sign that community confidence is growing. They said to me they were committed to the defeat of the Taliban."

Alongside the shura, a clinic run by the Special Forces medics provided treatment to over 200 people throughout the day. "These events are critical in gaining the trust of local communities," the Commanding Officer of the SOTG said.

"To be able to sit among the people, to hear their problems and ideas for the future, to witness the community spirit and the confidence of the locals, is to really appreciate that there is significant progress being achieved in local communities having the confidence to take ownership of and address their current and future challenges.
"The work of the Australian forces continues to build strong relationships in Oruzgan and I am confident that we are on track with our mentoring work and security operations, operating within the community and protecting the people from the fear and intimidation of the Taliban,." Lieutenant General Mark Evans said at the end of the visit.

Media note: Still imagery will be available at: http://www.defence.gov.au/op/afghanistan/gallery/2010/20100209c/index.htm

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