Friday 13 December, 2019
“I still remember the first night we flew in, there were five of us flying into a dusty airstrip south of Afghanistan. I don’t think we knew then what lay ahead in the next 13 years, let alone in the next couple of days.”
Major General Peter Warwick Gilmore, Australian Special Forces
The September 11 2001 attacks on the United States by Islamic extremist group al Qaeda were described as acts of war against the world superpower and as a result, a ‘war on terrorism’ was declared by then US President George W. Bush. The deaths of 88 Australian’s in the Bali Bombings of 2002 demonstrated that Australia was not immune to al Queda’s plans and subsequently the country pledged our support to the US alongside the British Government and NATO powers.
Australia’s military contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the International Coalition Against Terrorism mission across Afghanistan and the Middle East, commenced in October 2001 when approximately 400 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were deployed within Afghanistan under Operation SLIPPER. Over the following 13 years (October 2001 to December 2014) more than 34,500 ADF, Australian Government civilians and Australian Federal Police officers were deployed to the Middle East area of operations
The Department of Veterans Affairs formal Determination of Warlike Service for Operation Slipper in 2005 indicates that the purpose of Operation Slipper was the “US Led Response to International Terrorism”, and that the boundaries incorporate the entire Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and all or most of the Gulf states, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Syria, Turkey, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Major General Peter Warwick Gilmore led the first contingent of Australian Special Forces troops into Afghanistan in 2001. Speaking at an event upon his return home, he said “we really didn’t know what we were going in to”.
“I still remember the first night we flew in, there were five of us flying into a dusty airstrip south of Afghanistan,” he said.
“I don’t think we knew then what lay ahead in the next 13 years, let alone in the next couple of days.”
“I think that every soldier, officer, sailor, every air man and woman who went across there did their job magnificently. It was a tough job. It started with a counter-terrorist mission, there is no doubt in Afghanistan where we were, we made a difference.”
From November 2001 to April 2002, Australian SAS squadrons participated in operations in the mountainous regions south of Kabul, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance, searching for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and their bases. Their capabilities and professionalism earned them high praise from American commanders.
Deployments to Afghanistan have been difficult and dangerous. The desert landscape is harsh and barren, with temperatures ranging from below freezing to above 50°C, and living conditions are often extremely basic. Potential danger is always present – searching for Taliban fighters while half-blinded by a dust storm, creeping round blind corners with the constant possibility of confronting an enemy soldier or a child with a grenade, or finding and defusing improvised explosive devices.
Throughout the duration of Operation SLIPPER, Australian forces provided not only military support but were also focused on rebuilding and construction under Reconstruction Task Force alongside Dutch forces. Often, this work was done within sight of the Taliban meaning it was still incredibly dangerous work.
Towards the end of the mission, in 2014, ADF personnel were engaged in Afghanistan through training and advising the Afghan National Security Forces in Kabul and Kandahar. Furthermore, Australia provided instructor, advisors and support staff to the UK-led Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul as well as advisor and support staff working with the Australian-led Afghan National Army 205 Corps Coalition Advisory Team in Kandahar.
The ADF also supported logistics training with the Logistics Training and Advisory Team in Kabul and we committed a small number of Special Forces and other Army personnel to training and advising the General Directorate of Police Special Units.
In addition, the Royal Australian Air Force Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft deployment provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to enhance security in Regional Command – South during the lead up to, and conduct of, the Afghanistan elections.
Operation SLIPPER concluded on December 31 2014 and became notable for the first Australian combat deaths since the Vietnam War. Australia lost over 40 ADF personnel during the mission in Afghanistan and a further 261 were wounded.
“That war ended not with victory, and not with defeat, but with hope, hope for a better Afghanistan, and for a safer world.”
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, 2015
First image source: Defence Images – Australian Army soldiers from Special Operations Task Group drive in convoy in long-range patrol vehicles across an Afghanistan desert in northern Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.