Australia pulls military out of Middle East after 30 years
Australia will militarily pull out of the Middle East to ring proof Australia with the last naval element of the ADF's commitment to the region now being withdrawn.
In line with the 2020 Strategic Defence Review from July, the Australian Defence Force will focus resources, training and deployments in the Indo-Pacific region and effectively end 30 years of sending troops and assets to the Middle East.
The move follows the US drawdown from that region announced late last year as well as ADF's own assessment recently on its stretched resources domestically, notably exacerbated since forced commitments to combat floods, bushfires and the COVID-19 crisis.
It found the Royal Australian Navy's ranks had not grown in numbers to the point it could now not put enough ships out to sea; HMAS Perth frigate has not been out to sea after dry dock maintenance and upgrade due to a lack of crew.
Just last month the ADF had to increase its commitment to the coronavirus hotel quarantine compliance effort after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an increase in the cap of incoming air passengers; that cap increased again yesterday is expected to increase again before the end of the year.
There are already almost 3000 ADF members on COVID-19 duties.
There has been disquiet in the ADF ranks for some time about the forces' being stretched not only due to unforeseen crisis but with new military assets on land, sea and air coming into service over coming years.
It also wanted to conduct more engagement with the Pacific nations and elsewhere, worried by China's growing military influence in the region.
"We now face an increasingly challenging strategic environment which is placing greater demand on ADF resources closer to home," Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said.
"As a result, the Australian Defence Force will reduce its naval presence in the Middle East to enable more resources to be deployed in our region."
The changes include ceasing the annual deployment of a RAN ship to the Middle East and not extending Australia's time-bound commitment to the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) beyond December 2020.
The latter has seen Australia commit to a warship in the Gulf to assure freedom of passage for merchant vessels about the Strait of Hormuz after aggressive posturing from Iran.
The RAAF had also committed a P-8A Poseidon surveillance spy aircraft to the operation which has since been withdrawn.
Other air assets and their support crews had also quietly been withdrawn in recent months and relocated back in Australia as have troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Senator Reynolds said ADF had done its time and served global security in the region well.
"For over 30 years we have supported freedom of navigation, maritime security and the free flow of commerce in the Middle East," Ms Reynolds said.
"In co-operation with our partners, our commitments have been invaluable in disrupting global drugs trade, supporting the reduction of funding lines to terrorism activity and building the capacity of regional forces."
Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said these were historic changes for the ADF.
"The outstanding contribution of Royal Australian Navy ships has been highly valued by our partners in the Middle East. We should all be proud of what the Royal Australian Navy has achieved over such a long period of sustained operations."
The Australian Defence Force will maintain staff positions with the Combined Maritime Forces, the United States Naval Forces Central Command, and within Joint Task Force 633.
HMAS Toowoomba was the last Australian ship to deploy to the Middle East under Operation MANITOU and returned in June.
Originally published as Australia pulls military out of Middle East after 30 years