Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the national security committee of cabinet had approved the move this week, which will put Australia in the driver’s seat as troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014.
“Australia taking on the leadership now … puts us in a better position to manage the transition process,” Mr Smith said. The leadership role will not require Australia to boost its troop commitment, which currently averages 1550, Defence Force chief David Hurley said.
Nor will it involve the US significantly cutting its commitment in the province, he said. During the next 18 months there would be a number of complex operations to lead, General Hurley said. 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.
“This is a major operational phase. US having a strong voice in that process is very important.”
General Hurley said during the past month a small team had been conducting an audit of equipment to determine what will come home and what will stay in Oruzgan.
Mr Smith said he was confident Australia would meet the 12 to 18 month timeframe, but did not underestimate the size of the task. The combined team in Oruzgan province has been under US control since August 2010, following the withdrawal of Dutch forces. Afghan president Hamid Karzai announced on May 13 the province would begin transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in the middle of this year.