DEFENCE: by Ken AldredNews Weekly
ADF now stretched to the uttermost
, October 11, 2008
Not since World War II have Australian armed forces been responsible for so many operations in so many widely differing regions at the same time. Ken Aldred reports.In this first decade of the 21st century, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has faced its greatest dispersal of operations and manpower since World War II. Vietnam was the largest post-war deployment of the ADF, but that deployment was essentially concentrated in one conflict in one country and its immediate neighbours.
Black Hawk helicopter.
Department of Defence.
The impact of current deployments has fallen most heavily on our army and navy.
Moreover, the dispersal has been extraordinary, not only in its geographic spread, but also in the diverse range of tasks required to be tackled in widely differing climates. As a middle-sized power of 21 million people, with a regular army of 25,000, an army reserve of 16,000 and a navy of 13,000, Australia has punched well above its weight.
In our immediate neighbourhood, the ADF has been repeatedly called upon to exercise a regional policing and peacekeeping role. The most significant involvement has been in Timor-Leste (formerly called East Timor), where, since 1999, the ADF, in support of that nation's self-determination decision, has had a continuing and varying commitment.
The initial deployment of over 5,000 personnel has of course ceased, but Timor-Leste is going to require the ADF in some form of stabilising and training role for some years yet.
On a smaller scale, in July 2003, the ADF was sent into the Solomon Islands to restore order in support of the civil power. As with Timor-Leste, this operation required not only the very precise use of military power, but diplomatic dexterity on the part of ADF officers as well.
In addition, in several of the Pacific Island states, the ADF have been responsible for the training of local military forces, most notably in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
The devastating tsunami that hit parts of South-East Asia on Boxing Day 2004, immediately led to the commitment of substantial elements of the ADF in disaster-relief operations in Sumatra and, on a lesser scale, in Thailand. Over 1,000 ADF personnel were committed to Sumatra for several months in water purification, medical assistance, engineering support and aviation support.
On a global scale, the ADF has played a significant role in the US-led Coalition military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our Iraq contribution has varied, been politically controversial and now reduced by the new Rudd Labor Government. Nevertheless, it has averaged about 900 personnel for most of the time since the ADF was first committed to Iraq in July 2003.
It has at various stages involved the deployment of a frigate, RAAF Hercules, and Orion aircraft, an air-traffic control detachment, ADF protection of the Australian mission in Iraq, a medical detachment, four ADF training teams supporting the training of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi coastal defence force, a navy command group in the north Arabian Gulf and a task group in the Al Muthanna province protecting the Japanese reconstruction group and training of the Iraqi army.
In the Afghanistan campaign, which has attracted more bi-partisan political support, 1,100 ADF personnel form part of the 70,000 foreign troops committed to fighting the Taliban.
It is proving a bloody and complex conflict and has already taken the lives of nearly 1,000 Western troops, including six Australians.
However, as defence writer Ian McPhedran pointed out in a graphic recent article, "the force is nowhere near big enough to actually defeat the enemy, train the Afghan army and secure desperately needed infrastructure development". (Herald Sun
, Melbourne, September 25). This no doubt accounts for the Americans currently considering sending three extra brigades to Afghanistan in 2009.
Most of McPhedran's article dealt with the spectacular performance of the Australian artillerymen from the Darwin-based 8/12 Medium Regiment, who are attached to the British 7th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.
Equally spectacular has been the performance of members of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, who have also had dramatic coverage in the media from time to time.
Elsewhere around the globe, small elements of the ADF have over the past decade contributed to UN peacekeeping operations in Ethiopia/Eritrea, the Sinai, Israel and the Sudan, and contributed a larger contingent to the US-led operation against international terrorism in the Persian Gulf.
This extraordinary range of the deployments of the ADF over recent years has had its costs. Some personnel in Afghanistan are on their third or fourth rotation, sailor retention rates have been difficult to maintain for the RAN, and all the ADF command, training and logistics systems have been placed under unprecedented pressure.
It is testimony to the courage, cohesion, imagination and adaptability of our servicemen and women that the ADF has performed so well under such a dangerous and diverse workload.
As their fellow Australians, we should be forever grateful to them.- Ken Aldred is a former federal Liberal MP and army reserve officer.