Special Operations Task Group

Special Operations Task Group

In April 2007 the government announced that a Special Operations Task Group would be sent to Afghanistan. A Special Air Service Task Group had previously been deployed to Afghanistan during the invasion phase in 2001-2, and an earlier Special Forces Task Group was deployed between September 2005 and September 2006.

Government sources

The Australian Special Operations Task Group facilitated the arrival of six up-armoured Hummers, Image Gallery, Afghanistan,  Department of Defence, 12 August 2010

 

The Australian Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) recently facilitated the arrival of six Hummer up-armoured vehicles for the Afghan Provincial Police Reserve Company (PPRC) in Tarin Kowt. The PPRC partner with Australian Special Forces on operations and are trained and mentored in Tarin Kowt by the SOTG’s Afghan Task Force. The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) more commonly known as Hummers, were allocated to the PPRC by the Afghan Ministry of Interior and flown from Kabul to Tarin Kowt by a Royal Australian Air Force C-17. The SOTG’s Afghan Task Force was established to raise, train and sustain the local PPRC after the Afghan Ministry of the Interior directed the creation of 18 such Companies around the country. All 18 PPR Companies are partnered and mentored by ISAF Special Operations Forces, including an Uruzgan PPRC, who have been partnered with Australian Special Forces from the SOTG since July 2009. The PPRC play a key role in all Australian Special Forces Operations and demonstrate to Local Nationals the ability for Afghan National Security Forces to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

Taliban leaders targeted in Afghan led operation, Media Release MSPA 127/10, Department of Defence, 23 April 2010

On Wednesday (21 April, 2010), local Afghans in the Gizab region of Oruzgan province took part in an apparent uprising against Taliban insurgents operating in their community. In response to the local action, the Australian Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) and its Afghan partner unit, the Provincial Police Reserve deployed to the area. On arrival, the forces were engaged by insurgents with small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades. The Australian and Afghan force reacted and used close air support to effectively neutralise the insurgent attack. The combined Afghan/Australian force remains in the location. A middle level Taliban leader, Mullah Rahmattulah and a number of other insurgents were believed to be killed in the engagement. In a separate operation by the SOTG earlier in the week and in another part of the province, a significant cache of ammonium nitrate, a key component of improvised explosive devices, was found. Four hundred kilograms of the banned fertiliser and a small number of weapons were destroyed. On 12 April 2010, insurgent leader Mullah Faqir and three other insurgents were captured and detained during a joint clearance operation in the Mirabad Valley region of Oruzgan Province. Last month the Special Operations Task Group, and their partnered Afghan Police colleagues, captured key insurgent Improvised Explosive Device coordinator Mullah Janan Andewhal and a number of other individuals involved in the construction and placement of Improvised Explosive Devices.

One Commando Regiment Army Reservists reach out to Oruzgan, Media Release MSPA 67/10, Department of Defence, 16 March 2010

Special Force reservists from 1st Commando Regiment have successfully completed their mission in Afghanistan of providing protection for the local Afghan population. Their mission over winter was Population Centric Operations, which involved heading to remote and dangerous parts of Oruzgan that were at risk of insurgent influence, and working to build the support of local communities for the Afghan National Security Forces and International Security Assistance Force efforts to maintain security in the province.

Special Operations Task Group discuss future with Afghan elders, Media Release, Department of Defence, 9 February 2010

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.

With a force including Australian Defence Force (ADF) medics and coalition aid agency representatives (who work closely with AusAID staff in Oruzgan)….

ADF reaches out to remote communities in Oruzgan, Media Release, Department of Defence, 29 January 2010

Australia’s Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) has successfully supported local Afghan police in establishing a stronger presence in remote parts of southern Afghanistan during the first part of winter. SOTG operations with the Afghan Provincial Police Reserve (PPR) were conducted to deny Taliban influence in the region and to protect the population of Oruzgan province. These operations took place in the mountainous valleys of Garmab, Patan and Kush Kadir.

Report of an Audit by 8271914 MAJGEN J.P. Cantwell, AO of Special Operations Command Processes for Force Preparation and Certificatio [PDF], Department of Defence, 2 November 2009

Question and Answer Session, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston,  Media Roundtable, MSPA 90721/09,  21 July 2009

“The mission that the Special Forces have been deployed on is to enhance the force protection for our mentorors, our reconstructors, the people who are doing, if you like, the stabilisation work and the reconstruction. So the nature of their business is to disrupt Taliban operations. The nature of their business is to go out and kill or capture the Taliban leaders. That strategy has been highly successful. Last year, we were the only province where the number of violent incidents actually reduced compared to the year before, and that was because the Taliban were totally on the back foot and totally disrupted all the time. So what I would say to you is that our Special Forces are doing a magnificent job. But again, their task is complicated by the fact that they have to go out and go after these leaders in an environment where the leaders hide in and amongst the population. So if the leader resists, as we’ve seen on a number of occasions, there ends up -  there is an exchange of fire. Regrettably, sometimes, civilians are caught up in that sort of situation.”

“Our Special Forces now, every time they go out, one third of the force is Afghan.”

“But we had our Special Forces – I mentioned the incident up by the Kajaki Dam. The Kajaki Dam is one of the hottest spots in Helmand. We had people up there for 28 days. I mean, we have the largest element of Special Forces in Afghanistan other than the Americans. In fact, in ISAF, we have the biggest element of Special Forces. They’ve operated in Helmand, they’ve operated in Kandahar, and our Reconstruction Task Force has gone down into Sarbul and also into Gasnier. We operate where we need to operate”

Australian troops in major battles with Taliban insurgents, Media Release, Department of Defence, 25 April 2009

Australian Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) and the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force (MRTF) have been involved in major combat operations against Taliban insurgents during operations which began in March. SOTG operations supported coalition force operations in Helmand province which has taken Taliban insurgents by surprise and left their operations in north Kajaki in disarray.

Update on Special Operations in Afghanistan, Media Release, Department of Defence, 11 December 2008

More Troops for Afghanistan, Prime Minister, John Howard, Media Release, 10 April 2007

“Accordingly a Special Operations Task Group of about 300 personnel will shortly deploy to Oruzgan province for at least two years. It will operate in direct support of ISAF elements in Oruzgan. Its role will be to enhance provincial security by disrupting Taliban extremists’ command and control and supply routes. These forces will operate under an Australian commander working within the ISAF framework.”

Special Operations Task Group Deploy To Afghanistan, Media Release, Brendan Nelson, Minister for Defence, Australia, 15 May 2007

“The Task Group will be made up of personnel comprising elements of the SAS Regiment, 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando), Incident Response Regiment and logistics support. The Special Operations Task Group will operate in support of ISAF security operations in Oruzgan Province.”

4th Battalion RAR, Department of Defence, Australia [under construction as of May 2007]

Socaust Media Briefing – Post Op Slipper, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and Major General Michael Hindmarsh, CPA 60927/06, 27 September 2006

[Ed.] The most substantial official source on the operations of the Special Forces Task Group in Afghanistan 2005-6.

Analysis and commentary

Australian Special Air Service Regiment, Wikipedia [retrieved 15 August 2010]

2nd Commando Regiment (2 Cdo Regt), Wikipedia [retrieved 15 August 2010]

4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Wikipedia [retrieved 15 August 2010]

171st Aviation Squadron, Wikipedia [retrieved 15 August 2010]

Leaders unite in response to Digger’s death, Tom Hyland and Melissa Kent, Sunday Age, August 15, 2010

The few details on Trooper Brown’s death released yesterday confirmed that a key role of the special forces remains tracking and killing insurgents. His death was also further evidence that special forces continue to operate outside Oruzgan province, where most Australian troops are based. The Australian Defence Force said he was killed in a gunfight in northern Kandahar, adjacent to Oruzgan and the focus of  a major US-led operation. Trooper Brown is the fourth member of the special forces to die in Kandahar, where they have been operating since at least early June. Three commandos were killed in a helicopter crash in northern Kandahar on June 21. Days earlier, they had taken part in intense fighting, inflicting what the ADF said were heavy losses on the insurgents. The ADF said Trooper Brown, like the troops involved in the June fighting, was engaged in  ‘‘disruption’’ operations.US officials in recent days have talked of targeted strikes by special forces in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Kandahar is a central objective of President Barack Obama’s revised war effort, with officials predicting ‘‘pretty tough fighting’’ in coming months. A US official told reporters at the Pentagon last week that special forces, targeting Taliban leaders, were paving the way for bigger clearing operations by international forces.

Australians help capture Taliban leader, AAP, SMH, 21 April 2010

A Taliban insurgent commander, the suspected mastermind of bomb attacks which wounded four Australian soldiers in March, has been captured. Mullah Faqir’s capture represented a significant blow to the Taliban’s ability to plan and coordinate attacks against NATO-led coalition forces, says Australian Middle East commander Major General John Cantwell.

Australian troops join new front, Dan Oakes, The Age, 26 March 2010

AUSTRALIAN troops are to embark on a new front in the Afghan war, joining a looming coalition offensive against the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar… Australian special forces and helicopters will be involved in the summer campaign by NATO-led forces.

…Afghan army battalions – known as kandaks – will take part in the offensive if the coalition asks for them, along with dozens of Australians who have been training them.

Diggers, Afghans catch Taliban commander, AAP, 14 March 2010

The commander was captured recently in a planned operation led by the Afghan National Security Forces and Australia’s Special Operations Task Group. During the operation, leader and improvised explosive device coordinator Mullah Janan Andewahl was captured in the Mirabad Valley, located in the Oruzgan Province.

  • Senior Taliban commander killed in militants’ hotbed, Xinhua, 13 March 2010
    NATO-led forces, however, in a statement earlier said that the military alliance in conjunction with Afghan forces detained Taliban commander Mullah Janan Andewahl along with two insurgents in the southern Uruzgan province on March 5

Heat of Afghanistan battle bonds brothers in arms, Tom Hyland, Age, 14 June 2009

A veil of official secrecy shrouding combat involving Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan has been lifted in Holland, revealing details of harrowing fighting that is still withheld by the Australian military. The Australian Defence Force keeps a tight grip on all information about special forces troops, especially the SAS. But an official report on a Dutch soldier’s bravery award paints a detailed picture of the intense battles they have fought.

SAS ‘assassinate’ Taliban leader Mullah Noorullah, Mark Dodd, Australian, 7 May 2009

Australian special forces have taken part in a targeted assassination of a senior Taliban leader, an operation army commanders claim will disrupt the insurgents’ campaign in southern Oruzgan. Mullah Noorullah was killed in a combined operation involving coalition troops and Australian special forces.

Aussie special forces kill senior Taliban field commander, Mark Dodd, Australian, 2 April 2009

Australian special forces in Afghanistan operating outside their normal operations zone in southern Oruzgan have killed a senior Taliban field commander responsible for suicide and roadside bomb attacks on coalition troops. Mullah Abdul Bari, a former Taliban governor of Helmand province, was killed in an operation involving Australian special forces and their Afghan National Army allies.

New squadron will aim to cut civilian deaths, Tom Allard, Sydney Morning Herald, Tom Allard, 25 March 2008.

The Royal Australian Air Force will form a squadron dedicated to special forces operations, with personnel to work alongside SAS soldiers and commandos to cut the
risk of civilian casualties from air strikes. To be known as 4 Squadron and based at Williamtown, near Newcastle, its members will be experts in special air tactics – identifying targets and directing precision air strikes from pilots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They will also be used to direct surveillance planes and drones, as well as calling in air transport to extract special forces caught in a firefight.

More Diggers to Fight Taliban, Dennis Shanahan, Australian, 4 October 2007.

“Dr Nelson told [a Dutch parliamentary committee in Kabul two months ago] that Australian troops, including special forces patrolling in Oruzgan, owed their lives to Dutch air cover, which had been called in during a firefight late last month between an Australian patrol and 50 Taliban, during which a young Australian soldier was hit twice but was saved by his body armour.”

Australian Forces Try New Tactics against Taliban, Tom Allard, SMH, 20 July 2007.

“‘Our modus operandi is not to wait for the Taliban to come to us,” he said. “It’s to go to their areas that they traditionally regarded as their sanctuaries and safe havens …where they can regenerate, recuperate, prepare for future operations.’ The commander of Australia’s special forces, Major General Mike Hindmarsh, said the new strategy involves calling in air strikes on Taliban positions, as well as directly engaging them on the ground.

“The main mission of the special forces task group is to provide security for the Australian reconstruction team operating out of Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan province. Oruzgan is considered a Taliban stronghold, and at present, the Australians will not undertake projects beyond a 20-kilometre radius around Tarin Kowt. In time, it is hoped the area of operations can be extended considerably.”

Oruzgan is considered a Taliban stronghold and the Australians will not undertake projects beyond a 20-kilometre radius around Tarin Kowt.”

SAS regiment soldiers to be redeployed to Afghanistan: prepare for casualties, says Howard, Alex Sloan (on air) and Nicholas Kittel, (online), ABC Canberra, April 11, 2007

“Prime Minister John Howard has warned the nation to prepare for causalities as he announced another contingent of Special Air Service (SAS) regiment soldiers that will head to Afghanistan. Mr. Howard seemed to be uncharacteristically blunt about the mission ahead for the SAS troops saying it was important not to be passive when dealing with the Taliban – a clear message that SAS officers are being sent in to aggressively hunt down the Taliban leaders.

“Such SAS operations are typically shrouded in secrecy but one person who has been allowed a close-up glimpse of the covert operations of these soldiers is author, journalist and News Ltd. Defence Writer Ian McPhedran. ‘It was expected, I mean, we knew we were going to be sending these guys back into Afghanistan. The numbers were a little surprising in terms of slightly more than last time, obviously they didn’t get into the detail of the make-up of the force, but I think the majority of them will be commandos from the Sydney-based commando regiment and mixed with SAS guys. So I think it’ll be a harder-hitting sort of force than they’ve had in the past to do those jobs that you alluded to,’ he said.

“Mr. McPhedran says that while he believes these special force troops are stretched and need time to regroup they should never have been withdrawn from Afghanistan in the first place, as such a decision has only allowed Taliban and Al Qaeda forces to regroup and reinfiltrate areas that had already been cleared.

“‘They’re obviously very thinly stretched… There is only a certain number of these special forces soldiers in the military and they are very specialised and their skills are widely sort after so it’s very difficult to keep them going all the time they have to have a rest and retrain and regroup, but I think it was a mistake to pull them out and that’s allowed the Taliban and the Al Qaeda to regroup somewhat over there and particularly in the province that our people are interested in, which is Oruzgan down in the south.”

“Mr. McPhedran says the decision to openly inform the public of the role of this redeployment is interesting, especially when you consider the clandestine nature of SAS’s work.

“‘I’m not sure what the special operations people would have made of that uttering from the Defence Chief, but yeah he was very specific and I think that gives us an indication that they’re not going to be simply doing their usual reconnaissance missions they’re going to be getting stuck into it, I mean, they got stuck into last year – we must remember that there were 11 of them wounded in battle last year and they had the most intense battle since Vietnam… they were very lucky not to have anyone killed. I think the Prime Minister and the Defence Chief were probably saying to us yesterday that that luck might turn and God forbid we might lose some this time around so be prepared for that.’

“Mr. McPhedran says that this announcement could be interpreted as an increase in the intensity of the involvement of Australian troops in the war in Afghanistan and that such an increase in intensity will, perhaps, mean Australian casualties. ‘I just think it was a little bit more focused, yesterday. The focus was there, the softening of the people was there a little bit more intensely, particularly with the Defence Chief standing next to him and him backing that sort of sentiment up… I think they’re starting to get a little bit worried that things are getting very very intense over there and these guys are being sent in to do a very intense job.’

“Mr. McPhedran believes this increase in intensity is possibly the result of the diverted attentions of coalition forces operating in the Middle East to other areas, such as the escalation of violence in Iraq. ‘Because the Americans and everyone have been diverted with Iraq and distracted with that issue, the Taliban have been able to regroup and reoccupy areas that previously had been cleaned-out by us and others and that’s the situation that I think has become very dangerous.’

“Mr. McPhedran says that the culmination of the initial Australian SAS withdrawal and the diversion of coalition involvement in Afghanistan, the area is once again a hotbed of terrorist activity and an extremely dangerous place for any troops, least of all Australians. He predicts a long and involved Australian operation in Afghanistan.

Ian McPhedran, The Amazing SAS: the inside story of Australia’s special forces, (HarperCollins, 2005), chapters 12-19.

ADF-authorised account by the Chief Defence Writer for News Ltd provides close-grained narrative of SAS operations and planning in 2001-2002.

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Arabella Imhoff
Ronald Li
Updated: 15 August 2010