Afghanistan War, 2001–
Upon the declaration of war upon another country or tribe, the foe is generally obvious and the battleground well-defined. The declaration of war upon a “collective” is a less tangible notion, but one that became front of mind for the western world, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. US President George Bush described the “9/11” attacks as an act of war. With the culprit initially unconfirmed but suspected, on 20 September 2001 the President declared:
With Congress’s authorization to use military force secured and intelligence nominating the global epicentre of the network being Afghanistan, plans for an invasion of that country in pursuit of the defeat of terrorist networks and their support base were advanced. The Taliban – an Islamic fundamentalist political movement – was in control of the Afghanistan and had been since 1996.
9/11 was a galvanising moment for a number of western nations in rallying to the cause. Our government cited the terrorist attacks against the US as sufficient basis for invoking the mutual-defence clauses of the ANZUS Treaty and joined the US to take a stand against this threat. The merit of the commitment was affirmed just over one year later, when 88 Australian lives were lost at the hands of terrorists in Bali.
On 7 October 2001, after the Taliban regime repeatedly refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the USA began bombing al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
Australian troops formally joined the NATO-led coalition in November 2001. Our major contribution was known “Operation Slipper”, which began with the deployment of Special Forces combat troops and eventually ended thirteen years later in 2014. However, our level of commitment varied throughout the phases of this campaign. Our contingent of Special Forces were withdrawn in December 2002 and whilst still present, Australia’s numeric contribution was then very small until August 2005 when we re-entered the arena. Special Forces were again deployed to conduct combat patrols, followed a year later by the deployment of our first re-construction task force to Uruzgan province. The overall military commitment to Afghanistan peaked at 1550 in 2009/10. Progressively, in addition to holding strategic ground and assisting with re-construction efforts, an increasing focus was upon mentoring local army to assume responsibility for local security. Our “train, advise and assist” mission that commenced in January 2015 is code-named “Operation Highroad”.
The Afghanistan mission was to assist the people, but also to promote the security of the region, diminish the influence of terrorist groups and create a safer global environment. A “War on Terror” is by nature not governed by geographic borders and the focus overlap with strategic military efforts in other parts of the region is significant e.g. from October 2001 our navy maintained a continuous presence in and around Iraqi territorial waters and the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Slipper including the shipping blockade during the second Gulf War.
The international mission in Afghanistan evolved into what became known as the Middle East Area of Operations. The rise of Islamic State (IS) – originally an al Qaeda splinter group – and associated perpetration of atrocities, further complicated the approach to the War On Terror and required an extended coalition commitment throughout the Middle East. As at 2018 an increasing IS presence in Afghanistan was reported, the Taliban still controlled sizeable areas and the US losses (inclusive of civilian contractors) were in excess of 4000. In the face of such losses, US domestic opinion about its continuing 17-year presence remained divided.
Australia’s combat commitment in Afghanistan ended on 15 December 2013, however some 400 personnel remained as trainers and advisers, stationed in Kandahar and Kabul under a NATO mandate. Over 26000 Australian personnel served in Afghanistan with the loss of 41 lives. Improvised Explosive Devices, also known as roadside bombs, were a prominent cause of death. 261 personnel were physically wounded and many more carry mental injuries from their experiences.
Dept. of Defence
Australian War Memorial
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