As part of the overarching transition strategy in Afghanistan, Australia is committed to mentoring and training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Uruzgan Province to enable them to take on responsibility for security arrangements in the province between 2012 and 2014.
Australia’s assessment of the 4th Brigade’s capacity is that it is effective with assistance and increasingly capable.
A further infantry Kandak has now arrived in Uruzgan to bring the 4th Brigade to full strength.
While this 6th infantry Kandak lacks experience, it is trained and equipped for initial tasks, has strong leadership and is a strong graduate of the Consolidated Fielding Centre in Kabul.
The 6th Kandak is currently mentored by US forces.
The next rotation of Australian forces – Australian Task Force 9 – will be deployed into Uruzgan province in June, and will take on the additional task of mentoring the newly formed 6th Infantry Kandak of the 4th Brigade.
As we hand over patrol bases and establish new ones, and see ANA Kandaks conduct more unaccompanied activities, Australian forces can be released for additional training and mentoring tasks, including responsibility for additional ANA forces in Uruzgan.
As the Kandaks become more capable and self reliant, Australian forces can move into an enabling and overwatch role.
Support for our troops
Our troops and personnel in Afghanistan are performing extremely well in dangerous circumstances on a daily basis.
Australians are proud of the fact that our troops have a well-deserved reputation for their effectiveness and their conduct.
Afghan Government Ministers and ISAF Commander General Petraeus praise the work and reputation of Australian deployed personnel, including in their engagement with local Afghan communities.
The support and protection of Australian personnel in Afghanistan is, rightly, our highest priority.
A new Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C‑RAM) Sense and Warn system provides early detection of attacks from enemy rockets, artillery and mortars and replaces the previous capability provided by the Singaporean Armed Forces.
The early warning provided by the C‑RAM system greatly enhances the survivability of Australian and other ISAF forces from these attacks, providing increased warning of an imminent attack to enable them to take appropriate shelter.
The provision of the new capability is part of the package of initiatives worth $1.6 billion the Government committed to following the Force Protection Review effected by my predecessor Minister Faulkner and underlines the commitment to provide our troops with the best available equipment.
Of the 48 recommendations made by the Review, 42 are now complete or on track. They include enhanced counter IED measures, better armour and heavier calibre weapons for our Bushmasters, the placement of medics with each platoon operating in Afghanistan and the introduction of 1000 sets of lighter combat armour.
The new C‑RAM capability follows the delivery of the first batch of the new, lighter Tiered Body Armour System now rolling off the production line in Bendigo. The ADF plans to have the next Mentoring Task Force equipped with this armour when it deploys to Afghanistan later this year.
The new Multicam combat uniform will also be available to all troops operating outside the wire in the first half of this year.
Since October there has been a significant rotation of personnel in Uruzgan province.
As I have previously announced, the 4th Battalion of the US 70th Armored Regiment has now replaced the US Stryker Battalion – which had been operating in Uruzgan since the new Combined Team-Uruzgan arrangements began in August 2010.
I have seen an assertion that this rotation of United States troops means that there is a 300 troop on the ground difference. This is not correct. The net US on the ground troop difference is less than 100 troops.
There are two further points to be made. First, the US Stryker Battalion operated not just in Uruzgan but also in Kandahar. Second, its replacement will focus on Uruzgan.
Most importantly, the United States will continue to provide all the support we require to enable Australian operations ranging from fixed-wing air support through to helicopters and artillery fire.
The United States troop rotation was done in very close consultation with Australian Defence Force personnel, both in Canberra and on the ground in Afghanistan.
I have also spoken to the Commander of Combined Team Uruzgan, Colonel Jim Creighton, about the troop rotation. I have satisfied myself that the troop rotation will continue to provide the same cooperation, the same enablers, and the same cover that Australia has at the moment in Uruzgan.
With the arrival of the 4th Brigade’s 6th Infantry Kandak there are now in total 250 more Afghan and ISAF troops in Uruzgan since the rotation of the Stryker battalion.