I have often said that Australia is the tenth largest troop contributor in Afghanistan with around 1550 personnel in Afghanistan.
The primary focus of our mission in Uruzgan Province is to train the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to the level where it is able to take the lead for security in the Province.
The vast bulk of Australian Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan are deployed in Uruzgan.
Other personnel are based in Kabul, at Australia’s own national Headquarters and also embedded in ISAF Headquarters. Further ADF personnel are based in Kandahar supporting helicopter, reconnaissance and ISAF Headquarters operations.
Australia is also the third largest contributor of Special Forces in Afghanistan with personnel deployed to the Special Operations Task Group based in Tarin Kot.
The mission of our Special Forces is to target and disrupt insurgent networks in and around Uruzgan Province. As my predecessor Minister Faulkner has previously indicated publicly, from time to time our Special Forces are authorised to operate in adjoining provinces, such as Daykundi, Ghazni and Zabul, on operations that have security benefits in Uruzgan Province.
Our Special Forces also contribute to broader ISAF operations which have implications for Uruzgan.
Operation OMID 1390, ISAF’s main country-wide effort into 2012, will see our Special Forces continue to maintain pressure on insurgent leadership in Uruzgan, and the nearby areas of northern Kandahar and northern Helmand, which directly affect Uruzgan.
The operations of our Special Forces and their Afghan partners are currently focused on targeting insurgent networks known to be operating in Uruzgan Province and along key access routes into the Province and region, to disrupt insurgent fighting preparations in Uruzgan.
These operations continue to help provide improved security to Uruzgan Province through the removal of insurgent leaders in the months leading up to the northern summer ‘fighting season’.
During operations conducted in March and April, Special Forces soldiers and their Afghan partners effectively dismantled a provincial level insurgent cell operating in western Uruzgan and significantly curtailed the command and control of two district-level cells operating elsewhere in the Province.
Partnered operations over this period killed or captured over a dozen insurgent leaders, taking them off the battlefield.
The improved security situation resulting from these operations has permitted the Afghan police to establish a stronger presence in remote areas of Uruzgan province, and for the Mentoring Task Force to perform their task of training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade under a reduced threat from insurgent interference.
This security improvement has allowed the civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team to increase its efforts to build the Afghan Government’s capacity to deliver basic services and provide economic opportunities to its people.
It has also allowed the Provincial Reconstruction Team to extend their reach into areas of Uruzgan not contemplatable last year.
Artillery Detachment and Training
The ADF is also contributing to broader ISAF efforts across Afghanistan.
In April, the Army concluded its unique attachment of artillerymen to British operations in Helmand Province.
Fifteen gunners from the Brisbane-based unit, the 1st Field Regiment have completed their attachment to the British 7th Parachute, Royal Horse Artillery (7 Para RHA) and operated from a patrol base at Lashkar Gah Durai, in northern Helmand Province.
While the security situation in Helmand Province has become more stable, during an early stage in their deployment, at a Forward Operating Base in Helmand Province, the Australian and British position was attacked by insurgents with rocket propelled grenade launchers and small arms. The men were forced to defend their position by using the 105 mm light gun in a direct fire role, a rarely used technique for artillery.
The first Royal Australian Artillery contingent deployed to southern Afghanistan in March 2008, having conducted training in the United Kingdom for six months prior to joining Operation HERRICK. The first contingent, from the Darwin-based 8/12 Medium Regiment, was the first of Artillerymen to deploy in that role since the Vietnam War. Three Australian Artillery Regiments have now each provided two deployments to southern Afghanistan.
The British 105mm L118 light guns provide indirect fire support to troops on the ground many kilometres away. Troops can call for offensive support to provide additional fire power when in contact with the enemy and often request illumination rounds to be fired to provide vision at night and to deter the enemy.
The ANA Artillery Training School in Kabul has reached an important milestone with its first graduates joining Afghan and ISAF combat elements in Kandahar Province.
The school, mentored by the Australian led Artillery Training School-Kabul, prepares Afghan soldiers to become skilled artillerymen and is an important step towards Afghan security forces taking full responsibility for security in the coming years.
Australia currently has 20 artillery trainers mentoring Afghan instructors at the school, which officially opened in October 2010.
While training includes live firing of the ANA’s D‑30 Howitzer guns and rigorous gun drills, an important aspect of the school curriculum is to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills. These skills are key to professionalising the Afghan National Security Forces, and are highly valued by the students.
The ANA Artillery Training School was the first military school in Afghanistan to develop and run a literacy program for its students. At any one time, the school typically has 440 students attending one of nine different courses.
The goal for the school is to provide artillery training to approximately 2100 officers and soldiers over the next twelve months, which translates to approximately 23 artillery batteries for the ANA.
The CH47D “Chinook” helicopter Task Group from 5 Aviation Regiment returned to Australia in October 2010 for the Afghan winter months to undertake mandatory maintenance and a well earned break after completing over 737 flying hours and having moved in excess of 691,000 kilograms of supplies.
The CH-47D, “Chinook” helicopter is an aircraft with a lift capability of 12,000 kilograms, allowing it to counter aircraft performance issues sometimes encountered in mountainous terrain and landing zones at high elevations.
Since their first deployment in 2006, the Australian Chinooks have been highly valued on the battlefield and are well suited to operations in Afghanistan’s traditionally harsh environment.
The Australian Defence Force’s Chinook heavy lift helicopters have returned to Afghanistan to support International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations for 2011. The Rotary Wing Group commenced full operational duties in April.
Now back in Kandahar, Australian Chinooks are embedded with the United States Army’s 159th Combat Aviation Brigade and have conducted trial missions and maintenance to ensure the helicopters and crew are well prepared for the Afghan summer ahead.
New US, NATO and ISAF Leadership
Key US, NATO and ISAF leaders will change in the period ahead.
Lieutenant General John Allen has been nominated to assume Command of ISAF from General David Petraeus.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been nominated to take over as US Ambassador to Afghanistan from Ambassador John Eikenberry.
Ambassador Simon Gass has become the NATO Senior Civilian Representative.
His predecessor, Ambassador Mark Sedwill has become the United Kingdom’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Ambassador Marc Grossman has taken over the same role for the United States.
Each and every one of these fine public servants from the United States and United Kingdom are good friends of Australia and Australia has every confidence in their ability to lead the international effort in Afghanistan.