“AUSTRALIA’S defence force will take over the leadership role in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province, Defence Minister Stephen Smith says.
This will help the transition process to a full withdrawal of Australian troops by 2014, he announced in Canberra today.
The national security committee of cabinet approved Australia taking over leadership this week.
“The circumstances in Oruzgan are very different from what they were back in June 2010,” Mr Smith said, referring to the withdrawal of the Netherlands force and its leadership role being assumed by the United States.
“Australia taking on the leadership now … puts us in a better position to manage the transition process.”
Australia saw this as the appropriate time to take the leadership role in Oruzgan to help ensure transition was effected in a seamless way, Mr Smith said.
The US has committed to continuing to provide enabling support in the Province, which it has done since August 2010.
Assuming leadership of the transition would not require an increase in the overall average size of Australia’s presence in Oruzgan.
Australia looked forward to continuing to work with its partners the United States, Singapore and Slovakia, Mr Smith said.
Defence Force chief David Hurley said the new command role should be viewed as a positive part of the transition.
The leadership role won’t lead to any net increase in ADF numbers in the province, which currently average 1550 personnel.
It did not reflect the “US significantly reducing its commitment to the (combined team) coalition arrangement”, he said.
General Hurley said that during the next two years there would be a number of complex operations to lead.
These included the transition to Afghan national security forces leadership in the province, the extraction of ADF forces and equipment, preparation for Australia’s post-2014 commitment and support for a range of ongoing Australian government programs.
“What this decision does is put us in the driving seat to control the interaction with those processes over the next year or so,” General Hurley said.”