Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 – Middle East Area of Operations


Australian National Headquarters – Middle East Area of Operations, also subsequently known as Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 (HQ JTF633), was established in 2002, and for several years was dual-assigned to both Operation Catalyst and Operation Slipper “to exercise command and control of deployed Australian Defence Force units”. As of mid-2007 the command was headed by a two-star officer who “commands all ADF units deployed in the Middle East Area of Operations including all elements assigned to Operation Catalyst and Operation Slipper”, under the title of Commander Joint Task Force 633, with a one-star “Deputy Commander of Australian forces in Iraq”. Joint Task Force 633 was officially described as “Australia’s contribution in the Middle East Area of Operations to the Global War on Terror”.

The ADF’s Middle East Area of Operations command shifted from Camp Victory in Baghdad to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates in late 2008. By late 2009, Australian air, land and sea operations in support of Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Iraq and Afghanistan operations were based from Al Minhad, following a rationalisation of Gulf bases. This rationalisation shifted C-130 transport operations from Al Udeid in Qatar, training and acclimatisation from the Billabong Flats facility in Kuwait, and the MEAO headquarters from Baghdad. The consolidation was prompted by cost concerns, particularly with the shift of operational emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan.

As of January 2014, there were more than 800 ADF personnel located at HQ JTF 633.

Government sources

Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 (HQ JTF633), Force Elements Currently Deployed as part of JTF633, Australian Operations in Afghanistan Fact Sheet, Department of Defence  [retrieved 14 August 2010]

Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 Provides the in-theatre command and control of all ADF elements deployed throughout the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) on operations SLIPPER and KRUGER. JTF633 is commanded by Major General John Cantwell, AO. HQ JTF 633 (Australian National Headquarters and supporting elements) is located in the United Arab Emirates and provides enabling support and assistance to Australia’s military presence in the Middle East. The UAE’s support in hosting our headquarters contributes to the international campaign against terrorism, as well as countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and providing maritime security in the region.

Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 – Afghanistan (HQ JTF 633-A) – Based in the  Afghan capital Kabul, HQ JTF 633-A provides specific command and control of  all ADF elements deployed within the territorial borders of Afghanistan on  behalf of the Commander Joint Task Force 633 (CJTF 633), as well as coordinating  JTF 633’s interface with the ISAF Headquarters.

Enhanced Command and Control Arrangements in the Middle East, Brendan Nelson, Minister of Defence, Media Release 57/07, 18 Jun 2007

The Australian Government today announced that it has approved enhanced Command and Control arrangements for Australian forces deployed to the Middle East. In recognition of the recent decision to deploy more forces to Afghanistan, the Government has approved the appointment of a two-star National Commander for Australian operations in the Middle East. I would like to congratulate Major General Mark Evans on his appointment to this significant position which will better represent Australian national interests and further strengthen our strategic relationships throughout the region. The National Commander will be ably supported in this critical task through two Deputy Commanders who will continue to focus on our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Deputy Commander of Australian forces in Iraq is Brigadier Gerard Fogarty and Brigadier Jim Simpson will be the Deputy Commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan.  These two positions will enable a wider, more balanced and flexible approach to command and control for ADF operations throughout the Middle East.

Report of the Delegation: Visit to Australian Defence Forces Deployed to Support the Rehabilitation of Iraq – 22 to 28 October 2005, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 22 May 2006

The clearest public account of the structure and role of the Australian National Headquarters is provided by Chapter 6 of the report of an Australian parliamentary delegation which visited in October 2005.

“6.10 Headquarters Australian JTF 633 exercises National Command over Australian Defence Force maritime, land and air elements deployed in the Middle East.

“6.11 ADF military operations are normally conducted by one or more JTFs. A JTF for a particular contingency will be assembled from ready forces to meet the specific needs of an operation. The size and composition of a JTF Headquarters will be influenced by such things as force composition, mission, political considerations, concurrent operations, geographic location and coalition partnering arrangements. The aim when determining the best structure must be to make the command chain as simple, unambiguous and unified as possible.

“6.12 To ensure that commanders at various levels are given command and or control of assigned forces commensurate with their level of responsibility, the ADF uses ‘States of Command’ to assign authority. These States of Command describe the degree of authority which exists between headquarters in Australia, Joint Task Forces, Task Groups, and formations or units.

“6.13 The Commander JTF 633, Commodore Geoff Ledger, has a number of command authorities over assigned forces. The delegation was briefed on the implications of three of these:

  • “National Command. National Command is a standing authority conferred upon the senior Australian operational commander in the area of operations. Its purpose is to safeguard Australian national interests in coalition operations. This is sometimes referred to as exercising the National ‘Red Card’ when a proposed coalition tasking does not accord with the mission or Rules of Engagement (ROE) directed by Government at the time of deployment. Exercising the National Red Card prevents mission creep for Australian task groups and ensures Australian forces adhere to defensive ROE.
  • “Tactical Command. Tactical Command allows a commander to specify a mission or task to subordinate units as long as they comply with the broad intent of the Government as directed by the CDF. Commander JTF633 has this level of command over those assets allocated to the operation that specifically support Australian interest such as the Baghdad Security Detachment. These forces do not respond to coalition tasking.
  • “Operational Control. Most other Australian force elements are assigned under the operational control of the coalition. Operational control allows coalition commanders, such as the British Division HQ with authority over the AMTG, to direct assigned or attached forces but limited by function, time or location, all of which are agreed in advance.

“6.14 To exercise his National Command Commodore Ledger has a staff of approximately 60 personnel. The Headquarters is divided using the standard defence functions as follows:

  • J0 Command Spt Cell, comprising the Chief of Staff and the Command Sergeant Major;
  • J1/4, personnel and logistics;
  • J2, intelligence;
  • J3, operations;
  • J5, planning; and
  • J6, communications and information systems.

“6.15 The principal staff officers in each of these areas briefed delegates on their role and processes during a tour of the Headquarters. The J2 and J3, the principal operational staff officers, provided the delegation with classified briefings on their own impressions of the counter insurgency operation in Iraq and likely future scenarios.

“6.23 The delegation made the following observations in Baghdad: The Australian doctrine in relation to National Command has been one of the keys to the success of the Australian military contribution to both the offensive phase of operations during Operation Falconer, and now the defensive phase – Operation Catalyst. The ability, and willingness, of the senior Australian military officer in the theatre to ensure that allied tasking requests meet Australia’s Rules of Engagement has ensured that all actions involving Australia in the theatre have supported Australia’s national objectives and successive commanders are to be commended for their diligence in this regard.”

Estimates (Budget Estimates) 2004, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Legislation Committee, Commonweatlh of Australia, 31 May 2004

An exchange between Senators Chris Evans and John Faulkner and the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, provided detail on command and reporting arrangements in Iraq and Afghanistan through the ANH-MEA, as well as relations with US and Coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

“Gen. Cosgrove—We have an Australian joint task force headquarters for the command of ADF elements deployed in the Middle East. The headquarters is responsible for operations Catalyst and Slipper, which I referred to a few minutes ago as Australia’s contribution to the war on terrorism. There are about 50 or 60 personnel under the command of an Australian one-star, presently Brigadier Peter Hutchinson. They are responsible for the coordination, support and force protection of all Australians presently in the Middle East area of  operations.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—Are the 50 to 60 under Brigadier Hutchinson’s command all military personnel or are there are some civilians?
Gen. Cosgrove—There may be a civilian officer in there. There used to be a pol-mil adviser. I am told that they are all military now.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—What are their key functions?
Gen. Cosgrove—Administration: so there are personnel and logistics officers there to provide unique Australian administrative and logistics support to our people. Welfare: there is a chaplain there. Operations: insofar as we do have some unique Australian activities taking place which require coordination, and here I might refer to particular support we might wish to provide to the training team that is supporting the Iraqi army—so if we wanted to move something from A to B for that force then that would be an operation we would handle. And intelligence: with an intelligence bias, if you will, towards force protection to ensure that all There would also be a command staff, which is the commander plus one or two who are part of his personal staff.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—Are there any other coalition forces posted with the Australian joint task force?
Gen. Cosgrove—No.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—So it is a purely Australian operation?
Gen. Cosgrove—Yes.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—What is the line of reporting there? What is their relationship, say, with the coalition headquarters?
Gen. Cosgrove—They have the strongest relationship we could build on the intelligence and operations side, but as a national headquarters they are not privy—and nor would it be proper for them to be privy—to day-to-day operational detail throughout Iraq. They would receive briefings rather than be intimately involved in the formation of plans.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—So you are suggesting that they operate fairly independently inthe sense that they have this separate—
Gen. Cosgrove—But in a monitoring and liaison sense to try to find out what they can of operations, particular strongly on the intelligence side.
Senator FAULKNER—But what interface is there, for example, with the Coalition Provisional Authority? Is there any?
Gen. Cosgrove—Only insofar as we have some representatives there. Those
representatives we would be monitoring in terms of their day-to-day work—that is, are they gainfully employed; are they being well administered; are they safe?
Senator FAULKNER—What about with the coalition headquarters, which I now know is CJTF7? What about the direct relationship there?
Gen. Cosgrove—There is no direct relationship; there is no line of command or control. There is simply the liaison that happens when headquarters are co-located. For example, the CJTF7 headquarters is in a particular complex near Baghdad International Airport; our national headquarters is about 200 metres away from that headquarters.
Senator FAULKNER—What about with the US military headquarters?
Gen. Cosgrove—Not as much. I cannot write out that there is no liaison on intelligence issues et cetera, but the main relationship is with CJTF7.”

“Senator CHRIS EVANS—Who do the Australian joint task force HQ Baghdad report to— to Headquarters Australian Theatre, or straight through to the Department of Defence?
Gen. Cosgrove—To Headquarters Australian Theatre, which is now Headquarters Joint Operations Command in Sydney.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—That is right; you changed the name again.
Gen. Cosgrove—You were starting to get good at knowing the other one.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—You decided to make sure I am off my game all the time. So their direct reporting is through to them?
Gen. Cosgrove—Yes.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—Can you explain to me the relationship between Australian joint task force headquarters and the Australian Representative Office in Baghdad.
Gen. Cosgrove—Hopefully it is close in terms of day-to-day contact but there is no formal relationship beyond the requirement of the Australian commander in Baghdad to provide protection and escort for members of the ARO and other people as a primary task. So that is the relationship. The Australian commander does that through the efforts of the security detachment, whose sole task it is to provide that sort of support to the ARO—obviously its members, its premises and other people such as visitors or Australians who are moving from A to B in hazardous circumstances. That is a call made by the commander in Baghdad.
Senator CHRIS EVANS—And the commander of the Australian joint task force reports to your newly titled joint command—
Gen. Cosgrove—Joint operations command. I point out that there is a similarity—in fact, it is virtually identical—in Timor and in the Solomon Islands, and there has been for some time.”


Interview with MAJ James Murray, Operational Leadership Experiences, Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 30 January 2006

“A Royal Australian Corps of Signals officer, Major James Murray served at the Australian National Headquarters, Middle East Area of Operations (ASNHQ-MEAO) from November 2002 to January 2003 – co-located with US Central Command’s forward deployed headquarters at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar – as the deputy J6 for Australian forces building up in theater in preparation for what becomes Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was also dual-hatted as the commander of a 10-man Australian signals element ‘that was going out there to physically build and stand up the headquarters in Camp As Sayliyah.’ Murray was responsible for communications and information systems support to the ASNHQ-MEAO and for planning the same to all Australian force elements to be assigned to OIF, including air, land, maritime and special operations forces. In addition, he planned host nation support and interoperability with US forces and regularly participated in combined planning with the CENTCOM J6 staff. ‘I had been picked to deploy partly because I commanded the high-readiness deployment signal unit’ in Australia, Murray explained, ‘but also based on my previous exchange and operational service with the US Army. I can speak American and, more importantly, military American – and even a subset of that which is technical signals military American.’ In this interview, Murray shares the full range of his experiences in helping establish what he called ‘the largest and most ambitious communications architecture the Australian Defense Forces had deployed to foreign operations.’ He also provides a wealth of insights into the always complex world of coalition warfare, discussing everything from information sharing among coalition partners to his advice for other international officers who’ll be working with American forces in the future.”

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Updated: 12 November 2014