Minister for Defence – Statement on Afghanistan and Iraq

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Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence

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3 December 2014

I speak today to update the Parliament and the Australian people about Australia’s missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since my last statement on 11 December 2013, there have been significant developments in Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, and this year has seen the commencement of the ADF mission in Iraq.

There have been significant developments in Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, including the completion of our mission in Uruzgan and the historic transition of power to the National Unity Government of President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah.

I most recently visited Afghanistan in September this year. My visit gave me the opportunity to see progress being made, and I also saw first hand the work being carried out by our military and civilian personnel to support Afghanistan to ensure that its security, freedom and economy continue to develop.

I met with senior Australian, ISAF and Afghan commanders, and had an opportunity to address Australian troops serving in national and coalition appointments in Kabul.

After 13 years, the largest military coalition in recent history, the ISAF mission, will conclude at the end of 2014 as planned.

Our Afghan partner, the ANSF, has grown in confidence and capability and is now in the lead for combat operations throughout the country.

Challenges remain but the ANSF continues to demonstrate its ability to plan and conduct independent and combined operations to protect the Afghan people.

Sadly, Australia lost another soldier this year, Lance Corporal Todd Chidgey, in a non-combat related incident in Afghanistan. Our mission in Afghanistan has come at a heavy cost with the loss of 41 Australian Defence Force personnel and another 261 wounded. Our thoughts are with Lance Corporal Chidgey’s family. They are not alone in their sorrow.

As the ISAF chapter closes, I think the ADF can look back with honour and pride in what it has achieved in Afghanistan and I am confident that we will continue with the same professionalism and dedication post-2014.

It remains the Australian Government’s strong view that it is in Australia’s interest to remain engaged in Afghanistan as part of this effort.

Australia is committed to supporting security and stability in Afghanistan beyond 2014 through cooperation in security, diplomatic and development channels, and continuing to build the capacity of Afghanistan’s national institutions.

In addition, our aid program will continue to build on and protect the gains of the last decade, supporting economic growth and governance, the empowerment of Afghan women and girls, and at-risk populations.

Australia has pledged to contribute to the post-2014 NATO-led ‘train, advise, assist’ mission and our current contribution provides a good foundation for Australia’s post 2014 commitment.

The end of 2014 will also mark the conclusion of Operation SLIPPER, Australia’s military contribution to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and the International Coalition against Terrorism mission across Afghanistan and the Middle East which commenced in October 2001.

Since Australia commenced operations in the region, more than 33,000 ADF personnel, Australian Government civilians and Australian Federal Police have deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations.

On 1 March 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia will have an Anzac Day style national commemoration for the war in Afghanistan, to ensure the bitter experience of returning Vietnam veterans is not repeated for those who have served in Australia’s longest war.

It is important for the Australian people to have the opportunity to say thank you to the men and women who have served in the Middle East region during a nation-wide commemoration activity. This activity will be held in each state and territory capital city and Townsville on Saturday, 21 March 2015.

The National Commemoration for the completion of Operation SLIPPER will recognise the commitment and sacrifice of all Australian personnel who have deployed as part of Australia’s commitment to combat terrorism across Afghanistan and the Middle East. Operation SLIPPER has involved civilian and military members from the Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other government agencies.

I also wish to update the Parliament on the commencement of the ADF mission in Iraq, to assist the Iraqi Government and the people of Iraq to combat the major threat posed by the brutal actions of ISIL also known as Da’esh.

This is not a decision the Government has taken lightly.

Ultimately it is Iraq that must defeat ISIL, but it cannot be left to confront this horrendous movement alone.

Australia is reluctant to reach out to conflicts thousands of miles away, but this conflict has reached out to us.

At least 70 Australians are fighting with ISIL and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, and another 100 or so supporting these extremists

This situation is as much a matter of domestic security as it is of international security.

Australia’s contribution is part of a broader coalition of over sixty nations that are operating in close collaboration with Iraq.

This action has the support of regional nations across the Middle East and the wider international community.

The Government’s decision has the support of the Prime Minister of Iraq, Dr Haider Al-Abadi, and responds to a formal request from the US Government to contribute specific ADF capabilities to the international coalition.

Australia’s contribution to the broad international coalition in Iraq includes:

  • up to eight F/A-18 Super Hornet combat aircraft;
  • one E 7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft;
  • one KC 130A tanker and transport air-to-air refuelling aircraft;
  • up to 400 personnel required to operate and sustain these capabilities; and
  • a Special Operations Task Group of approximately 200 personnel to act as military advisers to the Iraqi Security Forces.

During my September visit to the Middle East, I was lucky enough to meet many talented and dedicated members of the deployed Australian Air Task Group and Special Operations Task Group and was impressed by the skill and professionalism of these Australian Defence Force personnel.

I was pleased to learn that 51 women have been deployed as part of our Air Task Group in a range of operational and support areas, including as watch keepers, air operations coordinators, intelligence analysts and legal and public affairs officers.

As of 24 November 2014, our FA/18-F Super Hornets had flown 64 missions in Iraq, each with two aircraft. The KC-30A aircraft had flown 51 missions in Iraq, providing air-to-air refuelling support for Australian F/A-18Fs and other coalition aircraft. The E-7A Wedgetail aircraft had flown 35 missions in Iraq, providing command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to coalition forces.

On several occasions, Royal Australian Air Force personnel have taken the lead in planning and coordinating multi-national air operations against ISIL targets in Iraq and achieved considerable success.

In recent weeks an Australian F-18 Super Hornet identified a large well-establish, and hidden network of caves and bunkers occupied by ISIL in northern Iraq. Within days a subsequent multinational airstrike involving 20 aircraft attacked 44 targets, complimented by a large-scale ground operation led by the Kurdish Security Forces, helped to clear this area of ISIL militants, with some reports indicated that over 100 fighters were killed.

Coalition air operations are providing vital support to the Iraqi Security Forces’ military campaign on the ground. This support has helped the Iraqi Forces reclaim territory and key elements of national infrastructure previously held by ISIL, including the Bayji Oil Refinery in the country’s north and the Fallujah Dam, which provides critical water supplies across central Iraq.

Crucially, our operations are providing time and space for Prime Minister Abadi to build an inclusive government, and to regenerate the Iraqi Security Forces.

The ADF mission in Iraq began with a clear humanitarian focus – and the plight of innocent civilians in Iraq remains central to all of our operations there. The ADF has conducted six humanitarian airdrop missions in northern Iraq to date, to ease the terrible humanitarian situation imposed by ISIL forces on Iraqi civilians in the regions of Mount Sinjar and Amirli.

The ADF has also conducted five military store supply missions to date, including arms and ammunition, as part of multi-national efforts to equip the Kurdistan Regional Government to roll back ISIL. These stores are being used by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which are operating in close conjunction with the Iraqi Government Security Forces.

Australia’s objective in providing this support is to work with the Iraqi Government to ensure it is able to keep its people safe, maintain reasonable control over its territory, and combat ISIL.

Australia stands firm as a responsible international partner who responds swiftly and effective to global security challenges.

Our commitment to the mission in Afghanistan and steadfast support for the international efforts against ISIL in Iraq signify Australia’s firm intentions to deny terrorists safe havens to plan and train for attacks against civilians.

We are not in this alone.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia is a leading member of multinational coalitions who are working in close partnership with the host nations to defeat our mutual enemies.

It is important to remember that both these missions involve risk to our ADF personnel.

As they conduct these essential missions, our thoughts are with them.

Media contacts:

Rebecca Horton (Minister Johnston’s Office) 0477 389 554

Defence Media Operations (02) 6127 1999

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