Australia's Role: Kevin Rudd, then-prime minister of Australia, visits Australian troops in Afghanistan in July. The commander of Australian forces in the Middle East said his troops have withdrawn but will maintain an advisory role. (Jessi Ann McCormick / Department of Defence via Ge)
DUBAI — Despite the security situation in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Forces have developed the independence to the take lead in the country, according to the commander of Australian forces in the Middle East.
Maj. Gen. Craig Orme said Australia’s 12-year contribution to operations in the country has helped develop the Afghan Army and security forces.
“The security situation in Afghanistan continues to be challenging, but Australia’s contribution in Uruzgan province to the Afghan National Army has put it in a position where they are able to take the lead,” he said.
“We have withdrawn from Uruzgan province, however we still maintain an advisory role,” he added. “Certainly the Afghan forces have developed the independence to conduct operations on their own and as the Afghan National Army has stood up, we are standing down.”
The Australian mission is contributing to the development of the Afghan National Security Force, he added.
“Currently in Kandahar, we have a key element in the 205 Corps Advisory Team, and we provide training, advice and support to the Afghan 205 Corps as well as embedded staff in the Regional Command South,” he said.
In Kabul, the Australian forces are supporting the Afghan National Academy as well as providing logistics support and the Afghan Special Police Unit.
Orme has been deployed to the Middle East Command of Joint Task Force 633 since September, based at al-Minhad air base in Dubai.
“Task Force 633 has two major areas of focus,” he said. “The first major area is Afghanistan where we are transitioning and reducing our presence. The second major area is the Australian contribution to the maritime force in the region as well as an air component made up of two C-17s and two C-130s in Dubai and Qatar.”
The joint task force, in the interim, is using its base in Dubai as a staging point to provide ground support for their activities around the region, he said.
“This year, the Australian Air Force will be conducting exercise Pitch Black with the [United Arab Emirates] Air Force, who will contribute aircraft to participate,” Orme said. “This is an annual exercise, and the UAE will contribute for the first time.”
According to Pablo Kang, Australian ambassador to the UAE, the Emirati Air Force and Air Defence would take part in a three-week military exercise in Australia in August.
“It’s a multilateral training exercise that involves air, sea and land units from a number of countries,” Kang said.
“We have a very active defense cooperation program with the UAE,” he said. “We have special forces training with the UAE, and we have the program this year where we’re expecting UAE fighter jets to participate for the first time.”
Pitch Black 2014, the Australian Air Force’s premier exercise, will be conducted in Darwin from Aug. 1- 24.
Its focus will be on large-force offensives, with air forces from the US, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, France, New Zealand and the Netherlands also taking part.
“We’re very keen to help build up the capacity of the UAE armed forces, bearing in mind that we have a very close strategic relationship with the UAE,” Kang said.
“We’ve benefited from our own forces being based in the UAE for a number of years and, given the closeness of the bilateral relationship and the fact that it is a volatile part of the world, it is important that our friends and allies get assistance and have good capacity.”
The Australian Middle East Command has also been involved in the recent disruptions in South Sudan, Orme said.
“The opportunity from where we are has provided us with a great staging point to operate our C-17s and C-130s to operate in South Sudan and to provide material support and direct support in January in the disruptions in South Sudan,” he said.
A 20-person team was involved in the operation, he said.
“I think that the Ospreys were the only ones that faced resistance in those early stages, but the support we received in Juba and the region was very strong, and, by the time we arrived in the area, Juba was secure and controlled,” Orme said.
“We received good support from local officials and militaries to be able to gain entry and conduct the task that we were sent to do and leave without a problem.”