Taliban Tarin Kowt claims 'propaganda'

Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

Reports that Tarin Kowt, the capital of Afghanistan's Oruzgan province, had nearly fallen to insurgent forces appear to be more Taliban propaganda than fact, a Senate committee has been told.

Acting defence force chief Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said Australia's commander in Afghanistan Brigadier Cheryl Pearce and ambassador Richard Feakes both flew into the city for a security conference soon after the reported attack in early September.

They arrived at the main base, which reportedly had been overrun, and met the provincial governor and the Afghan defence force commander who confirmed they remained in control.

"While it is evident that some checkpoints around Tarin Kowt came under small-scale attack, operational reporting confirmed the city was not in danger of being overrun and the military base remained secure," Admiral Griggs told a Senate estimates committee hearing on Wednesday.

Australian troops operated in Oruzgan province for most of a decade with the last withdrawing at the end of 2013.

Forty-one Australians died in operations, most in and around Oruzgan.

Some 270 Australian personnel remain in Afghanistan in a variety of roles, including mentoring at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul.

Admiral Griggs said Australia maintained an interest in the security situation in Oruzgan where media reports last month described a major Taliban attack on Tarin Kowt.

He said the reports were based on Taliban propaganda which declared government-controlled outposts overrun, along with the airport and military base where Australian troops were stationed throughout their deployment.

Admiral Griggs said reports from Afghan officials the city was secure were consistent with Defence's own observations and assessments.

"We have seen some increase in insurgent activity around Tarin Kowt but not on the scale declared in Taliban propaganda," he said.

The Taliban had also declared major successes in attacks in Helmand and Kunduz provinces when in reality their assaults had been relatively small and short-lived.

"We should not be surprised that the security situation in Afghanistan and Oruzgan remains challenging but we should be careful not to judge the progress of Afghan forces on unsubstantiated social media reports," he said.