ADF in Afghanistan: 2001 – 2007

ADF in Afghanistan: 2001 – 2007

Australian Defence Force (ADF) in the Afghanistan theatre from October 2001 to 2007.


Australian forces have been deployed to the Afghanistan theatre in five phases since October 2001.

  1. Invasion phase:participation in the US-led multinational invasion of Afghanistan from October 2001, involved Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighters, transport and refuelling aircraft, AP-3C maritime patrol aircraft, and an Army Special Air Service Task Group until their withdrawal by December 2002.
  2. Draw down phase: followed the conclusion of the invasion phase, and in 2003-4 involved only:

    “an Australian National Headquarters element; a maritime element of 1 frigate; an aviation element of 2 P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft; and 1 Army officer working in a coalition headquarters in Afghanistan.”

  3. Special Forces redeployment phase: from September 2005 to September 2006 concentrated on the deployment of the Army Special Forces Task Group, and from March 2006, two Chinook helicopters.
  4. Reconstruction Task Force deployment phase: began in September 2006 when the Special Forces Task Group was withdrawn and a Reconstruction Taskforce dispatched.
  5. Expansion phase: with re-deployment of a Special Operations Task Group of about 300 personnel to Oruzgan under International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command, and an RAAF air surveillance radar capability (about 75 personnel) to Kandahar Airfield, together with additional intelligence and logistics personnel, to bring total ADF personnel to a total of 950 by mid-2007.

Continuous Royal Australian Navy deployments in the Persian Gulf since July 2001 have been engaged in operations in relation to both Iraq and Afghanistan at different times.

“Operation Slipper” is the codename applied by the Department of Defence to Afghanistan operations since 2001. However the term has had a wider domain at different times since then.

“Operation Palate” is the codename for ADF operations in Afghanistan from April 2003 to June 2004 in support of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Operation Palate II commenced in June 2005, and in mid-2007 consisted of one ADF officer supporting the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Government sources

Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan since 2001: a chronology
, Nicole Brangwin and Ann Rann, Background Note, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia, 16 July 2010

ADF elements deployed to Operation Slipper, Operation Bastille and Operation Falconer, Department of Defence

Large collection of departmental fact sheets released 2001-2003 relating to the three operations.

The War in Iraq – ADF Operations in the Middle East in 2003, Department of Defence, Australia, February 2004

“A review of Australia’s contribution to US-led coalition operations in Iraq. It follows the progress of the war – focussing on the part played by the ADF – and identifies some of the key lessons learned during three operations in the Middle East.” Includes material on early stages of Operation Slipper.

Operation Slipper, Media Releases, Department of Defence, Australia

Defence media releases from 2001 – 2007. Useful for tracking purposes.

Media Article About Australian F/A-18 Fighter Aircraft Operating From Diego Garcia, Media Release CPA 235/02, Department of Defence, 20 May 2002

“An article in a weekend newspaper yesterday stated that Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornet aircraft were operating over Afghanistan, including in support of Australian SAS personnel on the ground. This is not true. The RAAF F/A-18 contingent has provided air defence support to Diego Garcia since its deployment in early November, 2001. The Australian jets and air crew have been operating in the vicinity of Diego Garcia as part of Australia’s contribution to the international coalition against terrorism. No Australian fighter aircraft have been involved in operations over Afghanistan.”


Squabbles and indecision mar Afghan war effort, Tom Hyland, Age, December 26,2010

Leaked US diplomatic cables expose friction between Australia and its allies, undermining the public veneer of coalition solidarity. We did not trust the Dutch, our key partner in Afghanistan. The US State Department cables, released exclusively by WikiLeaks to The Sunday Age, include reports from the US embassy in Canberra that reveal deep distrust between Australian and Dutch forces in Oruzgan province, where Australia was part of a Netherlands-led force. In February 2007, Australian officers, concerned the Taliban were preparing a do-or-die offensive, started planning to send special forces back to Oruzgan. This was just five months after the Howard government pulled them out, in September 2006, when it argued Oruzgan was ”relatively stable” and that Australian reconstruction troops remaining in the province were well protected by their own forces and Dutch troops. But the claims of stability and the stated faith in the Dutch were undermined when intelligence reports warned of a Taliban resurgence. While the army planned another special forces deployment, officials in Canberra briefed journalists that the troops would be under Australian – not Dutch – command. But privately, Australia actually wanted them under US command.

In February and March 2007, Australian officers briefed US diplomats in Canberra, expressing ”frustration” that the Dutch were more focused on reconstruction than military operations. This is odd, as Australian troops then in Oruzgan were also focused on reconstruction. They also complained the Dutch were ”not responding aggressively enough to the expected offensive”, US ambassador Robert McCallum reported on February 22. At the time the Dutch were the lead nation in Oruzgan, as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. Australian officers believed ISAF’s rules on when troops could open fire were too restrictive. They told the US embassy that if the special forces were under US command, they ”would be able to take a more aggressive posture against the Taliban”.

The Dutch opposed the plan, arguing it would divide the chain of command and that ISAF’s rules were sufficiently ”robust”. Dutch diplomats took their concerns to the Americans, the Dutch foreign minister called then Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, and Defence chief Angus Houston was sent to The Hague to try to resolve the dispute.

On March 6, 2007, the US ambassador in Kabul sent a terse cable to the US embassy in Canberra, dismissing Australia’s concerns, and complaining Australia had not taken the issue to the US commander in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill.

Operation Slipper, Wikipedia

Useful analysis and data based on development of land deployments from Stage 1 (October 2001 – December 2002), Stage 2 (September 2005 – September 2006), Stage 3 (September 2006 – ), plus Persian Gulf naval deployments from 2001 onwards.

The Amazing SAS: the inside story of Australia’s special forces, Ian McPhedran, HarperCollins, 2005.

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

18 Hours: the true story of an SAS war hero, Sandra Lee, HarperCollins, 2006.

Account of two SAS soldiers operating with US Special Forces during an abortive assault at the commencement of Operation Anaconda, March 2002. Useful background on SAS Afghanistan operations at that time.

Naval deployments

Database of Royal Australian Navy Operations 1990-2005, Vanessa Bendle et al, Seapower Centre – Australia, Royal Australian Navy, 2005.

“There is no ‘official’ list of ADF tasks and operations, so the information in this database has been gathered from a variety of sources. These include archival files, newspaper and journal accounts, post-operational reports, the Reports of Proceedings provided monthly by individual ships, and the annual report to Government produced by the Australian Defence Organisation.”

List of recent Australian warship deployments to the Middle East, Wikipedia

Listing of 35 ship deployments between 1990 and 2005 derived from the Database of Royal Australian Navy Operations 1990-2005.

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Arabella Imhoff
28 December 2010