ADF in Afghanistan: 2008-2009

ADF in Afghanistan: 2008-2009

Government sources

 Recent government announcements on Afghanistan, Fact Sheet 5, Department of Defence, n.d., (retrieved 28 December 2010)

In late 2007, the total number of Australian forces in Afghanistan was around 900. In October 2008 an Australian Operational Mentor and Liaison Team was deployed, increasing ADF deployed personnel to 1088. In April 2009, the Australian Government announced a major increase of about 40 per cent to Australia’s military commitment, with the number of Australian forces in Afghanistan now around 1,550, supported by around ten Defence civilians. In 2010, the Government announced a 50 per cent increase in Australia’s broader civilian commitment to Afghanistan to around 50 personnel. Major changes are outlined below.


  • Two Chinook helicopters and 93 personnel re-deployed with the ‘Rotary Wing Group’ in February. The Rotary Wing Group deploys for eight months a year, and returns to Australia over the winter.
  • Government pledges $250 million for development and reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan over the next three years.
  • In October, an Operational Mentor and Liaison Team was embedded with one Afghan National Army kandak (battalion), increasing Australia’s personnel to 1,088.
  • A 15-person artillery team deployed in March to support the United Kingdom in Helmand Province.
  • The First Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force deployed in October, with an increased focus on Afghan National Army capacity training and mentoring.


  • In April, the Government committed an additional 450 Defence personnel to Afghanistan, including:
    • around 100 troops forming two additional Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams in Uruzgan Province;
    • around 110 personnel to support the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force including an enhanced engineering element;
    • around 50 personnel to provide increased logistic support and force protection; and
    • around 70 additional embedded planning and staff officers.
  • The Government committed an additional ten AFP officers to train and advise the Afghan National Police.
  • Australia supported the Afghan presidential elections in August by:
    • providing Brigadier Damien Cantwell to command the ISAF Election Task Force;
    • $9 million in electoral assistance, including funding for capacity building;
    • providing a further 120 troops to support the election; and
    • contributing a team of three Australian officials who observed the elections, and supporting civilian monitors to oversee technical aspects of polling.
  • Australia pledged US$200m over five years to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.
  • The Prime Minister appointed Mr Ric Smith as Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Australia’s diplomatic representation at key Afghanistan-related posts was bolstered.


  • Then Foreign Minister Smith attended the London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010 and pledged:
    • $50 million over three years for the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund;
    • $25 million for the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund;
    • $20 million for mine clearance activity;
    • $4 million for capacity building in the agriculture sector; and
    • $1 million for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Uruzgan province.
  • The First Mentoring Task Force replaced the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force in January. It has now taken on the mentoring of all kandaks and the Headquarters of the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Uruzgan – a key milestone in Australia’s mission.
  • Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle assets commenced operations in January.
  • Major General Ash Power was appointed as Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategic Partnering, to Afghanistan’s Defence Minister in February.
  • The Afghan National Army Artillery School was established in March, with 20 Australian personnel being deployed by end of October.
  • In April, the Government increased Australia’s civilian contribution to around 50 personnel from the Australian Agency for International Development, the Australian Federal Police, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • As part of the 2010-11 Budget, AusAID’s Afghanistan program increases by nearly 50 per cent to $106 million in 2010-11.
  • Australia becomes part of the multinational Combined Team – Uruzgan under an ISAF flag, following the Dutch drawdown in August. Australia appoints a Senior Civilian Representative to lead the Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team and coordinate all civilian activities in the province.
  • Australia contributes $3.1 million in assistance for the September 2010 Afghan parliamentary elections, focused on awareness-raising activities and an international observer mission.


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.

New tensions emerged in January 2009, when then Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen visited Australia for talks with then foreign minister Stephen Smith and Mr Rudd While publicly Mr Smith applauded Dutch efforts, and spoke of close and effective co-operation between the two allies, their private talks revealed clear divisions. The US embassy was given separate briefings on the talks, by Australian officials and a Dutch diplomat. The Australian account suggested the two allies were at odds on what was meant to be a shared strategy. Mr Verhagen told Mr Smith: ”The Dutch focus is on assistance to the Afghan people and not on preventing a safe haven for terrorism.” Yet Australia’s prime justification for being in Afghanistan is to deny terrorists a haven. Mr Verhagen restated his government’s plan to withdraw from Oruzgan in mid-2010, ”expressing the view that the province will be fully civilianised by then”. Mr Smith saw this as ”an incredibly optimistic outlook, given current security trends”. A Dutch diplomat gave the US embassy a different account, including a key detail not mentioned by the Australian officials – that the Dutch wanted more Australian aid. A cable on February 16 revealed that Mr Verhagen had asked Mr Rudd to send a civilian political adviser and AusAID staff, and to increase aid. Mr Rudd responded cautiously, expressing concern over security.

If Australia was reluctant to co-operate with its ally, the Dutch reciprocated. The Dutch diplomat reported that his Foreign Ministry colleagues ”were markedly unenthusiastic about co-ordinating with Australia on projects in Afghanistan”. This ”lacklustre” response stemmed from ”Australian foot dragging” over construction of a new prison in Oruzgan. Australia had not responded to ”numerous entreaties to provide inputs”. The issue of ”inputs” also dogged Australia’s relations with the Americans, with cables revealing US frustration with Canberra’s indecision. In March 2009, the US embassy reported that Australia was ”mulling additional inputs”. Seven months later it reported Australia was still ”mulling”. On November 25, 2009, it reported Australia was still ”exploring options”. US diplomats told Australia’s special Afghanistan envoy Ric Smith and deputy national security advisor Angus Campbell that the US would appreciate ”strong expressions of support” ahead of a NATO meeting the following month. But the Australians said that while the government was ”studying” ways of increasing its non-military contribution, this was a problem as Australia ”did not have a culture of deploying civilians into a war zone”.

On December 1 last year, Mr Rudd – visiting the US ahead of President Barak Obama’s announcement of a troop surge – announced his own civilian surge, involving police and aid workers. This was seen as an attempt to head off a US request for more troops. A day after Mr Rudd’s announcement, then foreign minister Smith met US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich. When Mr Bleich said he understood Australia was thinking of sending 125 civilians, ”Smith said this sounded about right, though he was not up on the details”. The foreign minister was not the only one not in the loop. On December 16, the US embassy reported Australia’s surge was ”still a work in progress” after special envoy Ric Smith told US diplomats the government still had not agreed on numbers. Commenting on the delay, a US diplomat wrote: ”Rudd, who is loath to increase troop levels, had hoped to offer the increased civilian effort to the United States as a substitute.”

By January this year, the Americans had adopted an almost bemused tone. ”On Afghanistan, the waiting is the hardest part,” the embassy reported on January 25. Frustrated Australian officials told the US embassy a decision was still months away, with the plan no clearer than when Mr Rudd announced it. The officials partly attributed the delay to security and budget issues, but these were not the prime reasons. One official ”hinted that DFAT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] is at odds with the finance and aid ministers as to how to proceed”. The Australians reported that DFAT, AusAID and the Australian Federal Police had all submitted proposals to cabinet, ”but none have received any feedback as to what the final program will look like”. The US embassy commented: ”Originally seen as an easy deliverable that could substitute for troop increases, the debate over the details of the civilian strategy has dragged on much longer than anyone predicted. The delays suggest there is some internal disagreement within the government.” As the Americans waited, on January 29 the embassy reported Australia had pledged $100 million in civilian aid at a conference on Afghanistan in London. Based on a briefing from an Australian diplomat, the embassy reported foreign minister Smith had decided on the figure ”at the last minute” after studying a ”menu” of options while on the plane to London. As for Mr Rudd’s promised surge, he finally released details on April 24 this year – five months after first announcing it. Australia doubled the number of civilian staff in Afghanistan, from 25 to about 50. More a trickle than a surge.

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Updated: 28 December 2010