Australia's involvement in Afghanistan - frequently asked questions

Map showing Afghanistan in relation to surrounding regionsMap of Afghanistan showing Kabul and surrounding cities and towns
On 12 October 2010, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced that the Parliament of Australia would debate Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister’s media release said ‘she believed it was important that all Australians understood the critical mission in Afghanistan’ and that the debate ‘will provide an opportunity to fully explain the Government's ongoing support for the current International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan’.

The following information has been compiled to assist Members and Senators as they prepare for the debate.

1. What is the history of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan?

The Parliamentary Library publication, Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan since 2001: a chronology outlines the history of Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan from 2001 to July 2010. The Afghanistan section of the Library’s annual Anzac Day Kit describes in more detail the UN authorisation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation, and the Parliamentary Library Briefing Book—Key issues for the 43rd Parliament provides (on pages 92–93) a brief overview of the Australian Defence Force’s deployment in Afghanistan.

For further details on the history of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, refer to the following Department of Defence fact sheets:

2. How many military personnel does Australia have in Afghanistan and where are they located?

 Operation Slipper is Australia’s ‘military contribution to the international campaigns against terrorism’ , which includes Australia’s participation in the NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan. The current authorised strength deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Slipper is around 1550 personnel, currently Australia’s largest international deployment anywhere in the world. This Department of Defence fact sheet lists the force elements deployed to Afghanistan, and in most cases, where they are located.

3. How many Australian casualties have there been and how does this compare to other countries?

Australian forces have so far suffered 21 combat deaths as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. They are as follows:

Name Unit Incident Biography
Sergeant Andrew Russell Special Air Service Regiment Killed on 16 February 2002 when
his patrol vehicle hit a land mine.
Trooper David Pearce 2nd/14th Light
Horse Regiment
Killed on 8 October 2007 as a result
of a roadside improvised explosive
device attack on the vehicle in which
he was travelling.
Sergeant Matthew Locke Special Air Service Regimant Killed by Taliban insurgent small
arms fire on 25 October 2007.
Private Luke Worsley 4th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (Commando)
Killed during an attack on a Taliban
bomb-making factory on 23
November 2007.
Lance Corporal Jason Marks 4th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (Commando)
Killed by insurgent small arms fire
on 27 April 2008.
Signaller Sean McCarthy Special Air Service Regiment Killed when the vehicle in which he was travelling in was struck by an
improvised explosive device on 8 July 2008.
Lieutenant Michael Fussell 4th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (Commando)
Killed by an improvised explosive device while conducting a dismounted patrol on 27 November 2008. Biography
Private Gregory Sher 1st Commando Regiment Killed during a rocket attack on a military compound on 4 January 2009. Biography
Corporal Mathew Hopkins 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Killed during an engagement with Taliban insurgents near Tarin Kowt on 16 March 2009. Biography
Sergeant Brett Till Incidents Response Regiment Killed while attempting to diffuse a bomb on 19 March 2009. Biography
Private Benjamin Ranaudo 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Killed by an improvised explosive device on 18 July 2009. Biography
Sapper Jacob Moerland 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment Killed by an improvised explosive device on 7 June 2010. Biography
Sapper Darren Smith 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment Killed by an improvised explosive device on 7 June 2010. Biography
Priavte Timothy Aplin 2nd Commando Regiment Killed in a helicopter crash on 21 June 2010. Biography
Private Benjamin Chuck 2nd Commando Regiment Killed in a helicopter crash on 21 June 2010. Biography
Private Scott Palmer 2nd Commando Regiment Killed in a helicopter crash on 21 June 2010. Biography
Private Nathan Bewes 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Killed by an improvised explosive device on 9 July 2010. Biography
Trooper Jason Brown Special Air Services Regiment Killed by Taliban insurgent small arms fire on 14 August 2010. Biography  
Private Tomas Dale 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Killed by an improvised explosive device on 20 August 2010. Biography
Private Grant Kirby 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Killed by an improvised explosive device on 20 August 2010. Biography
Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Killed in action during a fire-fight against Taliban insurgents on 24 August 2010. Biography

As at 28 September 2010, the authorised strengths and the number of fatalities from the 47 ISAF participants are as follows:

Contributing country Current authorised
Fatalities Exit date (if available)
295 0 -
Armenia 40 0 -
Australia 1550 21 Draw down to commence
around 2012-2014
Austria 3 0 -
Azerbaijan 90 0 -
Belgium 575 1 Draw down to commence at
the end of 2011
Bosnia and Herzegovina 10 0 -
Bulgaria 540 0 -
Canada 2830 152 2011
Croatia 295 0 -
Czech Republic 500 3 -
Denmark 730 37 2014-2015
Estonia 160 8 -
Finland 80 1 Conditional withdrawal
France 3750 49 -
Georgia 925 1 -
Germany 4590 42 Will assess conditions for
withdrawal in 2013
Greece 192 0 -
Hungary 360 4 -
Iceland 5 0 -
Ireland 6 0 -
Italy 3400 29 -
Jordan 6 1 -
Latvia 170 3 -
Lithuiania 245 1 -
Luxemberg 9 0 -
Malaysia 40 0 -
Mongolia 195 0 -
Montenegro 30 0 -
Netherlands 380 24 Draw down commenced
1 August 2010
New Zealand 205 1 -
Norway 500 9 -
Poland 2630 21 2012
Portugual 250 2 -
Republic of Korea 270 1 -
Romania 1750 15 -
Singapore 30 0 -
Slovakia 300 0 -
Slovenia 75 0 -
Spain 1555 30  -
Sweden 530 4 -
FYRO Macedonia 240 0 -
Turkey 1740 2 -
Ukraine 15 0 -
United Arab Emirates 15 0 -
United Kingdom 9500 337 2015
United States 78 430 1305
Combat operations to commence
draw down from July 2011
Total 119 819 2104


 4. How does the strength of the Australian deployment compare to that of other countries?

 According to the ISAF website, there are 47 Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) supporting ISAF operations in Afghanistan. The total ISAF military strength is 119 819. The three-page fact sheet of ISAF Key Facts and Figures lists the deployed strength of other contributing countries and indicates on a map where they are located (as at 6 August 2010, the latest available). See also the table included in Question 3.

 For details of international planning conferences held in relation to Afghanistan, refer to this Department of Defence fact sheet.

5. What is the nature/objective of Australian operations in Afghanistan?

 When Australia entered the war in Afghanistan, Special Forces elements were initially deployed, followed by air support in the form of F/A-18 Hornets based out of the US base at Diego Garcia. Additionally, the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) now decommissioned B-707 Air-to-air refuellers supported air operations out of Kyrgyzstan.

 By the end of 2002, Australian military forces had been withdrawn from Afghanistan as the focus of the international commitment shifted from mainly combat operations to reconstruction activities. Australian troops did not re-deploy to Afghanistan in a large capacity until August 2005 when a Special Forces Task Group was sent. One year later, Australia’s first reconstruction task force for Afghanistan was deployed. Army Chinook helicopters were also deployed to support operations on a seasonal basis. The RAAF continues to deploy AP-3C Orion aircraft on dual assignment (operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East Area of Operations) as well as a heavy air lift capacity using C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft. By September 2008, the ADF’s reconstruction efforts also involved training and mentoring of Afghan security forces.

 During the Defence Portfolio Budget Estimates hearing on 31 May 2010, the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, reinforced that: 
... the ADF’s primary focus in Afghanistan for the next few years will remain focused in the Uruzgan province as we mentor the 4th ANA brigade to a level of competency that will allow the timely transition of provincial security to Afghan authorities.
In September 2010, the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, reaffirmed that the current Australian military commitment (including troop levels and assets) in Afghanistan is right.

 For further details on the composition and nature of Australia’s military and civilian commitment in Afghanistan, refer to this Department of Defence fact sheet.

  6. What is the total cost of the Australian commitment so far?

Mark Thomson, Program Director for the Budget and Management Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute states in his May 2010 publication, The Cost of Defence: ASPI Defence Budget Brief 2010-2011 (p. 179):  
The government has funded the ADF deployment to Afghanistan until June 2011 at a cost of $1.6 billion for 2010–11, including $487 million for enhanced force protection measures. The total cost of operations in Afghanistan now stands at $6.1 billion since 2001.

 7. Why is Australia in Afghanistan in the first place?

The Department of Defence website states:
Australia’s military commitment to Afghanistan operates as part of the NATO–led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) as a peace-enforcement mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and at the invitation of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and under the United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1833.


 ISAF seeks to bring security, stability and prosperity to Afghanistan and aims at preventing the country from again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists ... Australia’s military contribution to Afghanistan is part of the Government’s comprehensive approach to supporting international efforts to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a safe-haven for terrorism.
On 12 September 2001 the Prime Minister, John Howard, announced that the Government was invoking Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty in response to the terrorist attacks against the US, the first time this had been done in the treaty’s 50 year history. The Parliament of Australia supported the invocation of the ANZUS treaty by resolution on 17 September 2001. On 25 October 2001 in a speech to the Australian Defence Association, Mr Howard set out the reasons for Australia’s decision to support the US attack on the Taliban.

 The Australian Government has continued to emphasise that Australia’s own national security is greatly enhanced by denying al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups a haven in Afghanistan, and that this will be achieved by helping to build a more secure and democratic Afghanistan. As the then Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, said in a statement to Parliament in June 2010:
Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to combat a clear threat from international terrorism to both international security and our own national security. Australia cannot afford, and Australians cannot afford, to let Afghanistan again become a safe haven and training ground for terrorist organisations.
For a summary of progress in Afghanistan since 2001, refer to this Department of Defence fact sheet.

8. Does Australia have an exit strategy and how does this compare to other countries?

 As media reports have noted, with the conflict in Afghanistan now in its ninth year, coupled with the recent spike in combat fatalities, support for the war is waning in many of the 47 contributing countries. This in turn has led to an increase in exit strategy announcements by a number of countries. Some countries, most notably the Netherlands, have chosen to withdraw, others have announced an end date, and still more have expressed a desire to finish but have left the door open for more prolonged involvement if needed. At the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Kabul during July 2010, ISAF nations accepted the view of the Afghan Government that it should have primary responsibility for the security of Afghanistan by 2014.

Australian Government policy is that the primary focus of the ADF in Afghanistan is mentoring and training the Afghan National Army. As such, Australian forces should be in a position to start withdrawing when this process has reached a satisfactory juncture. In his June 2010 Statement to the Parliament concerning Afghanistan, the then Defence Minister, Senator Faulkner stated:
On the basis of solid progress in our training efforts to date, CDF has recently advised me that within two to four years we should be able to transition the main security responsibility for the province to the Afghan National Army. Following a successful transition of this responsibility, I expect consideration would be given for the ADF to move into an overwatch role. Our troops performed this role in Iraq for around 12 months.
Other countries to have made announcements in relation to withdrawing from Afghanistan include:

 9. What is the nature, location and strength of the Australian police deployment?

 The European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL Afghanistan) is the lead agency for police training in Afghanistan. Launched in mid-2007, it currently comprises 285 international and 163 local staff. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has received funding of $32.1 million over two years to provide training, mentoring and leadership skills to the Afghan National Police (ANP). More than 800 members of the ANP have been trained and mentored since 2007. Currently, 28 officers are deployed in Afghanistan, with most based at the Provincial Training Centre at Tarin Kowt, and some working in Kandahar and Kabul. AFP Commander Paul Osborne is currently the Senior Police Advisor to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

10. What has Australia contributed in the way of non-military/police assistance?

Since 2001 the Australian Government has committed more than $700 million in development assistance to Afghanistan. Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2010–11 is expected to total $123.1 million, making Afghanistan the fourth largest recipient of Australian ODA. According to the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) 11 Australian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are supporting 47 projects and operations in Afghanistan.

More detail on this issue will be available in a forthcoming Parliamentary Library publication on assistance to Afghanistan.

11. Where can I find basic background information about Afghanistan?

The (US) Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook provides a succinct, but comprehensive, overview of Afghanistan, with facts relating to, amongst other things, its population, geography, government, and economy. It also includes Afghanistan’s flag, maps, and photos.

12. Point of interest
Notable amongst a number of decorations awarded to Australian military personnel involved in Operation Slipper is the Victoria Cross awarded to Trooper Mark Donaldson in January 2009 ‘For most conspicuous acts of gallantry in action in a circumstance of great peril in Afghanistan, as part of the Special Operations Task Group during Operation SLIPPER, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan’. This was the first Victoria Cross awarded to an Australian in 40 years, the circumstances of which are described by Trooper Donaldson in the April 2009 edition of Wartime. Details of all of Australia’s Victoria Cross winners are outlined in the Parliamentary Library publication List of Victoria Cross recipients by electorate. Trooper Donaldson’s entry can be accessed here.

Compiled by the following staff of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section—Nigel Brew, Nic Brangwin, Marty Harris, Ravi Tomar, and David Watt.

Images sourced from:

 Small map showing Afghanistan in relation to surrounding regions


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