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Australian contribution to a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan.

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The Government has decided to deploy an Australian Defence Force (ADF) reconstruction task force to Afghanistan as part of a Netherlands-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). This deployment is further evidence of Australia’s commitment to supporting the Government and people of Afghanistan as they build their new democracy.

The ADF contribution will be a mixed security and reconstruction task force of approximately 200 personnel and will be deployed over a period of up to two years. The task force will work on reconstruction and community based projects. Australia is committed to assisting Afghanistan to achieve a stable and secure future. It is important that we continue to work with the Afghan people to prevent the return of the Taliban and to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists to plan, organise and train.

The Australian commitment will be in partnership with the Netherlands in Oruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan, and will form part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force’s Stage III expansion. Our decision to deploy follows extensive consultation with the Governments of Afghanistan, the Netherlands, along with NATO and other partners.

Defence is now finalising detailed planning with the Netherlands. The final composition of our contribution will be settled in coming months. The deployment will begin later this year and Australian personnel will be deployed under Australian national command.

Australia currently has a Special Forces Task Group (SFTG) in Afghanistan on a 12-month deployment that will conclude in September 2006. To support the remainder of the SFTG deployment, an aviation element of two Chinook helicopters and 110 personnel has deployed to Afghanistan and is expected to be fully operational by late March. The Chinook deployment could be extended to November 2006 to support the initial stages of our PRT deployment.

Our military commitment to Afghanistan is also in addition to significant development assistance. Australia has disbursed $110 million since 2001 to assist reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. At the recent London Conference on Afghanistan, Mr Downer announced an additional $55 million in aid through to June 2007, which is part of an indicative $150 million Australia has committed over the next five years.

21 February 2006