MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia will withdraw the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, but will continue to train Afghan National Security Forces, according to a paper presented to the Australian Defence Magazine Congress by Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
In his presentation, Smith noted that four infantry Kandaks of the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade are now operating independently, and Australian troops no longer operate from forward operating bases or patrol bases in Uruzgan, and have consolidated their presence at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot.
Australia has suffered 39 fatalities and 249 wounded in ground operations in Afghanistan since November 2001.
Last October, Australian forces assumed the leadership of the Combined Team – Uruzgan and responsibility for ISAF operations in Uruzgan Province, where there are approximately 1,550 personnel currently deployed.
“The Australian Defence Force Task Group has shifted emphasis from partnering and mentoring at Kandak level to advising at Headquarters 4th Brigade level and at the Afghan Operational Co-ordination Centre – Provincial in Uruzgan,” he said, but noted that independent Afghan operations did not mean the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) were ending their role in the province.
“The ADF will continue to advise the two combat support and combat service support [logistics] Kandaks of the 4th Brigade. The ADF Task Group will remain combat-ready to assist Afghan Forces should the need arise, and the Special Operations Task Group continues to conduct partnered combat operations to disrupt the insurgency,” Smith said.
As a result of the consolidation, Forward Operating Base Hadrian is being dismantled and will be removed by midyear. Most recently, Patrol Base Wali and Patrol Base Sorkh Bed have been gifted to the Afghan National Army and work is underway to determine what equipment will be repatriated to Australia, destroyed or transferred to the Afghan Forces or ISAF partners.
Speaking with Sky News before the ADM Congress, Smith said that a cost-benefit analysis would determine which equipment is left behind.
”It’s a huge logistical exercise. We’ve got to do everything from making judgments about what equipment we leave in Afghanistan, whether for the Afghan National Security Forces or whether it might be of some value to us in our post-2014 role, training and the like. Whether it might be worthwhile for other international forces who are staying and performing a role, or whether we bring it back home and destroy it,” he said.
The Australian Army’s 16 deployed light armored vehicles are no longer being used on operations and are being repatriated.
However, Smith said Australia is awaiting clarity on the scale of the U.S. transition plans before a defined plan for any future role can be announced.
“What the United States and Afghanistan agree about the United States presence in Afghanistan post 2014 transition, and what role if any United States forces left behind will play, is the starting point,” he said.
Smith said that Australia will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces in a training and advisory role, including the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul.
“We will also consider a Special Forces contribution, under an appropriate mandate,” he said.
Andrew Davies, director of operations and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the Special Forces presence may not be in a combat role, however.
“While there may be an enduring role for Special Forces, I see it as a mentoring and training role,” he said. “I understand the concept is to not continue combat operations.”