Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan - update

Map of Afghanistan showing International Security Assistance Force (Regional Commands and Major Units)This FlagPost entry updates material previously posted for the Parliamentary debate on Afghanistan (see Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan – frequently asked questions, 15 October 2010). The following information has been compiled to assist Members and Senators prepare condolence motions for Australian Defence Force personnel recently killed in Afghanistan and to highlight some of the issues raised in the media.

In the eight months since the previous FlagPost entry on Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, Australia’s military personnel commitment levels, mission and anticipated draw down date of 2014 have not changed. As such, this update revises information about Australian military combat deaths, contributing country troop levels, deaths and announced draw downs/withdrawals, operational costing figures, and recent official statements and relevant commentary about Australia’s continued military commitment in Afghanistan.

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

Since 2001, Australian forces have so far suffered 27 combat deaths as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. As of 7 June 2011, 181 ADF members had been wounded in action:
Sergeant Andrew RussellSpecial Air Service RegimentKilled on 16 February 2002 when
his patrol vehicle hit a land mine.
Trooper David Pearce2nd/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 LockeSpecial Air Service RegimantKilled by Taliban insurgent small
arms fire on 25 October 2007.
Private Luke Worsley4th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (Commando)
Killed during an attack on a Taliban
bomb-making factory on 23
November 2007.
Lance Corporal Jason Marks4th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (Commando)
Killed by insurgent small arms fire
on 27 April 2008.
Signaller Sean McCarthySpecial Air Service RegimentKilled when the vehicle in which he was travelling in was struck by an
improvised explosive device on 8 July 2008.
Lieutenant Michael Fussell4th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (Commando)
Killed by an improvised explosive device while conducting a dismounted patrol on 27 November 2008.Biography
Private Gregory Michael Sher1st Commando RegimentKilled during a rocket attack on a military compound on 4 January 2009.Biography
Corporal Mathew Ricky Andrew Hopkins7th Battalion, Royal Australian RegimentKilled during an engagement with Taliban insurgents near Tarin Kowt on 16 March 2009.Biography
Sergeant Brett TillIncidents Response RegimentKilled while attempting to diffuse a bomb on 19 March 2009.Biography
Private Benjamin Ranaudo1st Battalion, Royal Australian RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 18 July 2009.Biography
Sapper Jacob Daniel Moerland2nd Combat Engineer RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 7 June 2010.Biography
Sapper Darren James Smith2nd Combat Engineer RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 7 June 2010.Biography
Private Timothy James Aplin 2nd Commando RegimentKilled in a helicopter crash on 21 June 2010.Biography
Private Benjamin Chuck2nd Commando RegimentKilled in a helicopter crash on 21 June 2010.Biography
Private Scott Travis Palmer2nd Commando RegimentKilled in a helicopter crash on 21 June 2010.Biography
Private Nathan Bewes6th Battalion, Royal Australian RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 9 July 2010.Biography
Trooper Jason Thomas BrownSpecial Air Services RegimentKilled by Taliban insurgent small arms fire on 14 August 2010.Biography
Private Tomas Dale6th Battalion, Royal Australian RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 20 August 2010.Biography
Private Grant Walter Kirby6th Battalion, Royal Australian RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 20 August 2010.Biography
Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney6th Battalion, Royal Australian RegimentKilled in action during a fire-fight against Taliban insurgents on 24 August 2010. Biography
Corporal Richard Atkinson1st Combat Engineer Regiment
Killed by an improvised explosive device on 2 February 2011.
Sapper Jamie Ronald Larcombe1st Combat Engineer RegimentKilled in action during a fire-fight against insurgents on 19 February 2011.Biography
Sergeant Brett Wood2nd Commando RegimentKilled by an improvised explosive device on 23 May 2011.
Lance Corporal Andrew Jones9th Force Support BattalionKilled during an incident at a Combat Outpost in the Chora Valley on 30 May 2011. Biography
Lieutenant Marcus Sean Case6th Aviation RegimentKilled when an Australian Chinook helicopter crashed on 30 May 2011.Biography
Sapper Rowan Jaie RobinsonIncident Response RegimentKilled during an engagement with insurgents on 6 June 2011.Biography

Further information about Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, including up to date casualty details, is contained in the Afghanistan section of the Parliamentary Library’s Anzac Day Kit.

In the previous FlagPost entry on Afghanistan, the total authorised strength of the 47 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troop contributing countries was 119 819. Of that number, 2104 personnel had been killed.

As of 6 June 2011, the authorised strength of the 48 ISAF troop contributing countries (now including Tonga) totalled 132 449. Of that number, as of 10 June 2011, 2514 (plus two that were yet to be attributed to a country) personnel had been killed:

Contributing countryCurrent authorised
Fatalities Exit date (if available)
Australia155027Draw down to commence around 2012-2014
Draw down to commence at the end of 2011
Bosnia and Herzegovina550-
Canada2922156Withdrew from combat operations in 2011 and are now taking part in the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) until the end of 2014
Czech Republic5194-
Finland1562Conditional withdrawal 2013-2016
Germany481253Will assess conditions for withdrawal in 2013
Italy 388036-
Netherlands19225Draw down commenced 1 August 2010. The Redeployment Task Force was expected to complete operations in Afghanistan in May 2011. The Netherlands Defence Force is assisting with the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan
New Zealand1912-
Poland256027Drawdown to commence in 2012
Republic of Korea4261-
FYRO Macedonia1630-
Turkey 17862-
United Arab Emirates350-
United Kingdom9500371Troops to withdraw by 2015
United States90 0001613
Combat operations to commence draw down from July 2011
Total132 4492514-

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

Mark Thomson, Program Director for the Budget and Management Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute states in his May 2011 publication, The Cost of Defence: ASPI Defence budget brief 2011–12 (p. 159):
The government has funded the ADF deployment to Afghanistan until June 2012 at a cost of $1.7 billion for 2011-12, including $482 million for enhanced force protection measures. The total cost of operations in Afghanistan now stands at $7.0 billion since 2001.

3. What is Australia’s role in Afghanistan?

The Department of Defence Operation Slipper (Afghanistan) website states that Australia’s military, civilian and development assistance activities include:
  • Training and mentoring the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Uruzgan province to assume responsibility for the province’s security;
  • Building the capacity of the Afghan National Police to assist with civil policing functions in Uruzgan;
  • Helping improve the Afghan Government's capacity to deliver core services and generate income-earning opportunities for its people; and
  • Operations to disrupt insurgent operations and supply routes utilising the Special Operations Task Group.
The most recent overview on the conduct of Australian military operations in Afghanistan was provided by the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF), Air Chief Marshal Houston, during a Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Estimates hearing on 30 May 2011 (p. 11).

According to CDF’s opening statement, the overall progress of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has seen the number of Afghan National Security Forces increase; ISAF’s target of 305 600 members is expected to be reached by October 2011. As such, ISAF is now shifting focus to ‘improving the quality and the specialist capabilities of the Afghan forces’. This includes the efforts made at the Australia-led Afghan National Army Artillery Training School in Kabul. CDF went on to state:

We have made solid progress in training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade to a level where it will be able to take over the security lead in Oruzgan—our primary military focus. The 4th Brigade is increasingly capable of conducting operations and is now maintaining patrol bases without Australian support. With our support the Australian Army has continued to build new patrol bases to consolidate gains and its presence in Oruzgan, from the Tarin Kowt bowl to the Mirabad Valley in the east, Khas Uruzgan in the north and Deh Rahwod in the west and north through the Balochi Valley in Chicora. The work of our special forces complements our Mentoring Task Force. Special Forces operations maintain pressure on Taliban leaders and facilitators in and around Oruzgan, thereby enhancing the security environment in which the MTF and its ANA colleagues operate.

As for the way ahead more broadly, the ISAF military leadership remains cautiously optimistic about prospects in Afghanistan. The 2011 fighting season is underway and we expect the insurgency will seek to regain the lost initiative. We can therefore expect violence levels to increase as we pressure the insurgency and restrict its activity. We can also anticipate high-profile attacks such as the one that occurred over the weekend with another police chief assassinated by a suicide bomb. The Taliban will seek to gain quick propaganda victories aimed at undermining Afghan and international commitment. But the insurgents face a more imposing battlefield than they have faced before, with greater numbers of Afghan and coalition forces in the field and their safe havens in Afghanistan continually under pressure. The 2011 summer fighting season will be tough but ISAF and its Afghan partners are well postured to implement its campaign plan.

The committee would be aware that the first tranche of provinces is scheduled to begin the transition process in July this year. This process sees our Afghan partners progressively take the lead security role across Afghanistan, with full transition set to occur by the end of 2014. In Oruzgan we assess the conditions will be right to transition lead security responsibility to the ANSF in the 2012-2014 time frame and our mentoring efforts with the 4th Brigade are building the capacity and capability to achieve this.

Important progress has been made, but I stress that this progress remains fragile and reversible. The minister has made it clear that he does not expect any significant draw-down of Australia's contribution prior to transition occurring, although resources may be reprioritised or reinvested as required. Afghan and ISAF forces have not let up over the winter, continuing to take the fight to the Taliban, and we expect the momentum gained from these successful operations will be maintained.
In terms of Australia’s draw down, which is expected by 2014, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, recently reinforced that Australia’s vital mission in Afghanistan is to continue training and mentoring the Afghan National Army. Ms Gillard maintained that:
... we cannot succeed in that mission without doing this training. We are working towards the goal of Afghan Forces being able to take over security leadership of Uruzgan Province and to provide security for their own people.

4. Why is Australia involved in Afghanistan?

During last year’s Parliamentary debate on Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, Australia’s continual military commitment received bipartisan support. Given the recent spate of combat fatalities, there has been renewed public appeal for Australia to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, as well as questions about the overall strategy (Geoffrey Barker, Raoul Heinrichs, Hugh White), while other commentators still support the deployment (Jim Molan, Neil James). Bipartisan support continues.

In October 2010, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, opened debate in Parliament on Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. This was the first time since Australia committed forces in 2001 that an Australian Parliamentary debate had taken place on the issue. Ms Gillard commenced the debate by stating why Australia is involved in Afghanistan. Two ‘vital national interests’ were cited as the main reasons:
  1. to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, a place where attacks on us and our allies begin, and
  2. to stand firmly by our alliance commitment to the United States, formally invoked following the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.
This rationale was supported by the Opposition.

At the time of the debate, Australia had lost 21 ADF members as a result of the conflict; of which 10 were tragically killed during the 2010 fighting season. Public opinion last year (see Lowy Institute Poll conducted in March 2010) suggested the majority of Australians—54 per cent—did not support Australia’s continued military involvement in Afghanistan; a slight drop in support from the previous year where 51 per cent did not support the deployment.

Following the most recent combat deaths suffered by Australian forces in Afghanistan, a Galaxy Poll suggested that Australian public support has dropped even further with 62 per cent wanting Australian forces to withdraw.

During a recent press conference following the deaths of Lieutenant Marcus Case and Lance Corporal Andrew Jones, the Prime Minister re-emphasised the reason why Australia is involved in Afghanistan, noting that Australia needed:
… to be determined to stay the course in Afghanistan. We’re in Afghanistan because we don’t want it to be a safe haven for terrorists. It has been in the past, and if we left a security vacuum in Afghanistan it would be filled by terrorist groups from around the world. We’ve seen that happen in the past. We would see it happen again. In order to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorists, we need to see the mission through. We face a determined insurgency. We face a major training mission, and we’ve been acquitting that training mission. The end point here is for Afghans themselves to provide security in their own nation, and of course we are not there alone. We are there under a United Nations mandate, under a UN mandate, working alongside other nations to bring security to Afghanistan so it isn’t a safe haven for terrorists, and our nation has had to absorb shocking news in the past of the violence that terrorists trained in Afghanistan have wrought against the Australian people.
The Opposition continued to show its support for Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, noting that Australia is:
... fighting to ensure Afghanistan doesn’t again become a safe-haven for al Qaeda and their ilk – a task both necessary for the security of their fellow Australians and more generally for making the world a safer, better place.

5. How will the United States draw down starting from July 2011 impact on Australia’s operations in Afghanistan?

During the May 2011 Senate Estimates hearings (cited in question 3, p. 115), CDF advised the committee that following recent discussions with United States commanders in Afghanistan and Washington, he was assured that the American draw down:
... would not affect what [Australia] is doing in Uruzgan. Simply put, the American enablers that support us in Uruzgan would continue into the future and beyond the adjustment that the [US] President has undertaken to perform in the middle of the year.
On 6 June 2011, White House spokesman, Jay Carney, noted that the Presidents’ monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan was held that day and the US draw down in Afghanistan was not an agenda topic during that meeting. The President is yet to receive a ‘recommendation from his commanders or the Secretary of Defense for a troop drawdown figure’. No timeframe was given as to when a decision might be expected other than to say it would be ‘fairly soon’. Carney did emphasise that:

This decision about the size of the initial drawdown is one in keeping with the decision the President made back in December of 2009. There is not enormous debate about this, despite some reporting to the contrary. In fact, the context for this decision is fairly narrow, which is what—the President is, as he has all along, moving to the next stage of implementing a policy that he thought long and hard about in making a decision that he made in... late 2009.
We are now at a point, as envisioned by the President’s [2009] policy, where we can begin the drawdown. And the pace and slope will depend on conditions on the ground, but it will begin... how that’s spaced out between now and 2014 will—there’ s some room to decide what that slope looks like. And that’s—this is the first of those decisions.
This statement was reinforced at a 9 June 2011 White House press briefing. Until the US President makes an announcement about the planned US draw down, one can only speculate about the extent, if any, Australian operations in Afghanistan might be affected.


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