Australia in Afghanistan: Quick guide

Australia in Afghanistan: Quick guide

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How many Australian troops are in Afghanistan, and who are they?

As of October  2010 there were 1550 Australian Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan. According to the Defence Department “1241 are deployed in Uruzgan Province and around 300 in Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan. These numbers vary depending on operational requirements and shifting seasonal conditions. 830 personnel provide support from locations within the broader Middle East Area of Operations, including our maritime commitment. In keeping with the ISAF strategy to strengthen civilian engagement in Afghanistan and to better integrate civilian and military efforts, in April 2010 the Australian Government announced a 50 per cent increase in Australia’s civilian contribution to Afghanistan. Australia now has around 50 civilians working in Afghanistan, in addition to around ten Defence civilians.”

The major elements of the deployment are:

For a full listing see Australian presence in the Afghanistan theatre.


Why are they there?

Australian forces are deployed to Afghanistan at the invitation of the Afghan government, under a United Nations mandate from Security Council Resolution Resolution 1386 (2001) which “calls upon Member States to contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to the International Security Assistance Force”. The Australian government describes Operation Slipper as “the ADF’s contribution to the international coalition against terrorism.” The government has explained Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan as necessary to help establish democracy in Afghanistan, to prevent a re-emergence of the country as a base for terrorism, and to prevent the country becoming a narco-state. In April 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “we also have an enduring commitment to the United States under the ANZUS Treaty which was formally invoked at the time of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.”

Where are Australian troops located?

ADF forces attached to Operation Slipper are based in a number of different locations in Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. In Afghanistan they are mainly located in Kabul (National Command Element), Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan Province (Mentoring Task Force, and parts of the Special Operations Task Group), Kandahar in Helmand Province (Kandahar Mobile Control and Reporting Unit), and British Forward Operating Bases in Helmand Province (Artillery Contingent).

How long have they been fighting?

ADF forces consisting of a Special Forces Task Group were first deployed in late 2001, and then withdrawn in late 2002. The Special Operations Task Group was redeployed from September 2005 to September 2006, and once again from March 2007. The  Reconstruction Task Force was deployed in March 2006. A CH-47 Chinook helicopter detachment was deployed in Kandahar from March 2006 until April 2007.  Royal Australian Navy deployments in the Persian Gulf since July 2001 have been engaged continuously in operations in relation to both Iraq and Afghanistan .

Who are they fighting?

Armed opposition to the Afghan government comes from three main groupings:

  • the Taliban, the Afghani-Pakistani Islamic movement that formed the government overthrown by the US in late 2001;

  • Al Qaeda – Afghanistan, the network of militant Islamic groups that carried out the 9.11 attacks, and subsequently reformed after the US invasion of Afghanistan; and

  • a range of Afghan Warlords and militia groups, most prominently  the former US ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party).

Who are Australian troops fighting beside in Afghanistan?

Australia is part of a coalition of UN member countries supporting the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. ADF forces are deployed under two separate but coordinated coalition military operations: the NATO-auspiced International Security Assistance Force and the United States-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

What about casualties?

As of September 2008 six soldiers have died in fighting in Afghanistan. As of As of September 2008, there have been 963 US and ISAF soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan. The number of anti-government insurgents killed  is unknown, and while large numbers of civilians have died in the war since late 2001, the exact number is unknown. However  the Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been increasingly vocal in his public criticisms of civilian deaths resulting from US military actions.  

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   Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Arabella Imhoff
Updated: 23 October 2010