Three days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Australia invoked Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty.
One month later, the first rotation of 150 Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) troops was deployed to Afghanistan as part of the US-led operations. Two rotations of SASR troops as well as HMAS Anzac, already deployed to the Middle East, complete with an embarked Army air defence element, and FA-18 Hornets and a B-707 air-refuelling aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force comprised the initial Australian contribution to the global war on terrorism operation. Operation Slipper had begun.
By November 2002, coalition operations in Afghanistan had begun to shift to reconstruction and the Australian Government declared that the third rotation of SASR troops would be home before Christmas, completing Australia's mission in Afghanistan.
Navy continued Australia's contribution to maritime security operations in the Middle East, which commenced in 1990. During 2002-03 there were 15 individual ship deployments as part of multi-national maritime forces conducting maritime security operations and naval gunfire support. In 2013 the commitment continues with HMAS Newcastle, the Navy's 55th individual ship deployment to the Middle East since 1990, helping to protect Australian and international trade through the region. The Navy has also supported the dangerous task of mine clearance and counter improvised explosive device operations, and contributed specialist logistics personnel, communications technicians and senior staff.
Between 2003 and 2005, Australia's focus was on security and stabilisation operations in Iraq. In July 2005, however, a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda threatened the stability of the legitimate government in Afghanistan and a new Special Forces Task Group was committed to coalition operations to target the leaders of terrorist cells.
Within a year, Australia's Special Forces had set the security conditions for Army combat engineers and infantry to deploy to Uruzgan province to assist with community-based reconstruction and development projects as part of a task force led by the Netherlands. Construction projects that developed basic health infrastructure, refurbished schools and bridged rivers continued through 2006 and 2007.
From the start of Operation Slipper, the Royal Australian Air Force has provided continuous support for operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, including strategic and operational airlift; conducting reconnaissance and surveillance using unmanned platforms such as Heron; commanding the multi-national base at Tarin Kot; and deploying Air Field Defence Guards.
Armed engagements and fire-fights against the Taliban insurgency intensified from 2009 as the International Security Assistance Force spread its influence deeper into Uruzgan province and took responsibility for developing the operational competencies of the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. Civilian and coalition casualties increased as improvised explosive devices and small arms attacks by insurgents unsuccessfully attempted to destabilise security and undermine development and governance in the province. The long road to training the Afghan National Security Forces commenced with the Australian Federal Police training Afghan National Police recruits.
When the Dutch withdrew in August 2010, Australia increased its responsibilities in the province by assuming leadership of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and training the Afghan National Army's 4th Brigade. In September 2010, the first parliamentary elections were held in Afghanistan. With support from Australian and coalition forces, the Afghan National Security Forces provided security for polling in the province, which was conducted without major incident.
Australia's training mission evolved into mentoring as the Afghan National Army progressively took the lead for operational planning, coordination of security operations, and the conduct of patrolling. As the infantry Kandaks developed in their competency, Australia focused its efforts on providing training in logistics, medical support and other combat support and service support functions.
Across Afghanistan, all of the country's 34 provinces have now entered transition, a process in which the Afghan National Security Forces will assume full responsibility for security by the end of 2014. This is a significant achievement for the people of Afghanistan and for a country that only a few short years ago had no standing army.
In line with the transition process agreed by NATO, International Security Assistance Force partner nations and the Afghan Government, Australia's civil and military presence in Uruzgan will end by December 2013. But Australia and the international community will continue to support stability and security beyond transition through a comprehensive partnership with the Afghan Government signed in May 2012.