The Australian September 02, 2014
AUSTRALIA will enter a historic partnership with NATO at the group’s summit in Wales this week, giving the Australian Defence Force greater access to the planning and decision-making of the world’s most powerful military alliance.
US President Barack Obama will officially name Australia an enhanced partner of the organisation, recognizing the nation’s contribution to NATO operations, particularly Afghanistan, over the past decade.
The Australian can also reveal the Abbott government is considering increasing Australia’s long-term presence in Afghanistan with the potential deployment of 200 special forces troops amid worldwide concern about the collapse of security in Iraq after the withdrawal of the US-led ¬forces.
Membership of NATO’s Enhanced Partnership Program will give Australia permanent access to the organisation’s planning at the earliest stages of future operations and ensure an Australian presence in its governing councils. Sweden, Finland, Jordan and Georgia will also become enhanced partners.
Throughout the long NATO commitment in Afghanistan, Australia, which often had about 1500 troops in the country at any one time, was generally the largest non-NATO contributor and in fact was a larger contributor than all but a handful of the organisation’s nations. More than 26,000 Australian soldiers have served in Afghanistan.
The Australian troops also won an envied reputation as effective soldiers who were willing and able to undertake serious fighting against the Taliban, whereas several European militaries were more inclined to stay within their bases and well away from conflict.
At the moment, Australian combat forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan but about 400 Australian soldiers remain in a training capacity.
The Australian special forces, mainly the SAS, will be integrated with the American special forces in Afghanistan. The other main Australian special forces contingent, the commandos, have also seen sustained action in Afghanistan and are highly regarded.
The Australian special forces will work predominantly in a training and mentoring role with Afghan special forces rather than as frontline troops. However, mentoring can include direct involvement in operations with Afghan forces.