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Key events of Australia’s longest war due to end in September as PM pulls troops from Afghanistan

Australia’s 20-year war in Afghanistan will finally end in September when the last remaining 80 troops are pulled out of the conflict-ravaged nation.

Over the past two decades 41 Australians have been killed while serving their country in two operations titled SLIPPER and HIGHROAD.

Australia entered the war on terrorism alongside its Western allies in response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Australian Army soldiers from the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery at Camp Bastion

In an impassioned speech in Parliament, Prime Minster John Howard said he would send troops to protect ‘the great, decent, freedom loving, fair minded Australian nation.’

The result was a 20-year gruelling and brutal war that tested Australia’s finest soldiers and the expectant public back home.

Here Daily Mail Australia takes a look at some of the most memorable moments of the battle in Afghanistan.

John Howard declares war 

The prime minister was in Washington D.C. when two planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into the World Trade Centre, killing 2,977 including 10 Australians.

On September 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks, the veteran politician stood in the House of Representatives, invoked Australia’s ANZUS Alliance with the US and committed the nation to war.

Speaking about the worst terrorist attack the world had ever seen, Mr Howard said: ‘Its context represents a massive assault on the values not only of the United States of America but also of this country – the values of free men and women and of decent people and decent societies around the world. It is an act of terror. 

Former Prime Minister John Howard (left at Carla Zampatti's funeral on Thursday) was in Washington D.C. when two planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into the World Trade Centre

Former Prime Minister John Howard (left at Carla Zampatti’s funeral on Thursday) was in Washington D.C. when two planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into the World Trade Centre

‘It is an act which is repugnant to all of the things that we as a society believe in.’

Mr Howard said Australia and the Western world had never faced a greater task.

‘We have confronted significant moral and national challenges, but none matches in depth, scale and magnitude the consequences of what the world must now do in response to the terrible events in the United States last week,’ he said. 

The prime minister moved a motion which pledged ‘the commitment of the Australian Government to support within Australia’s capabilities United States-led action against those responsible for these tragic attacks’, thus starting Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war.

By October 2001 Australian special forces were deployed and involved in the establishment of the Western coalition’s first base, southwest of Kandahar. 

First Aussie Killed 

On 16 February, 2002, the reality of being at war hit home for millions of Australians when the nation suffered its first casualty.

Married father of a baby daughter Sergeant Andrew Russell, who had served in Iraq, Kuwait and East Timor, was on a patrol when his vehicle struck a land mine.

Despite the efforts of a three-member US military rescue team, who parachuted into the scene to stabilise him in preparation for evacuation by helicopter, he was pronounced dead after arriving at a United States medical facility in Kandahar. 

Married father of a baby daughter Sergeant Andrew Russell, who had served in Iraq, Kuwait and East Timor, was on a patrol when his vehicle struck a land mine

Married father of a baby daughter Sergeant Andrew Russell, who had served in Iraq, Kuwait and East Timor, was on a patrol when his vehicle struck a land mine

Mr Howard warned the country that his would not be the only death.

‘It indicates how dangerous is the mission on which our servicemen are embarked. It is a sad and awful reminder of the great risks that the men and women of the ADF undertake,’ he said.

In December 2002 – Australia’s initial commitment to the conflict in Afghanistan ended and about 200 Australian special forces were withdrawn.

But in July 2005 Australia announced it had agreed to a request by Afghanistan to deploy more troops and about 200 were sent.

By mid-2009 Australia’s presence peaked at just over 1,500 personnel under the orders of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Miracle Dog

In October 2009 the spirit of the nation was lifted when explosives detection dog Sarbi was found after 13 months missing at war.

Sarbi was attached to the Australian Special Operations Task Group in 2008, but vanished in the same action for which Trooper Mark Donaldson was awarded the Victoria Cross.

During the bitter fighting, nine Australian soldiers, including Sarbi’s handler, were wounded.

In October 2009 the spirit of the nation was lifted when explosives detection dog Sarbi (pictured in November 2009) was found after 14 months missing at war

In October 2009 the spirit of the nation was lifted when explosives detection dog Sarbi (pictured in November 2009) was found after 14 months missing at war

Thirteen months later a US soldier on patrol in the same area spotted a black labrador walking with a local villager, an unusual sight in Afghanistan.

Back at the Australian base at Tarin Kowt, a quick check of the dog’s microchip confirmed this was Sarbi.

For her brave efforts, Sarbi was awarded the War Dog Operational Medal, the Canine Service Medal and RSPCA Purple Cross Award.

She died of cancer in 2015.

Helicopter Crashes 

Two of Australia’s most tragic episodes in the war came in 2010 and 2011 when four Australians were killed in two separate helicopter crashes.

In June 2010 three Australian soldiers of the second Commando Regiment were killed when the US UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter carrying them crashed in northern Kandahar Province. 

Two of Australia's most tragic episodes in the war came in 2010 and 2011 when four Australians were killed in two separate helicopter crashes

Two of Australia’s most tragic episodes in the war came in 2010 and 2011 when four Australians were killed in two separate helicopter crashes

The helicopter’s US pilot was also killed, while a US crewman and the other seven Australian commandos aboard were injured.

Then in May the following year an Australian Army CH-47D Chinook helicopter crashed during a resupply operation in Zabul Province, killing one Australian and injuring five others.

Friendly Fire 

Australia’s deadliest single event during the Afghanistan war came in October 2011 when three diggers were killed and seven were injured by a rogue solider of the Afghan National Army, with whom they were working to defeat the Taliban.

The shooting occurred during morning parade at 8.30am at Shah Wali Kot in Kandahar province.

Two Australian diggers were killed at the scene and the third later died of his injuries after ‘an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform apparently turned his weapon on Afghan and coalition forces,’ according to a NATO report.

Alleged war crimes 

A four-year Australian Defence Force inquiry released in November 2020 reported evidence of 39 murders of civilians or prisoners by 25 Aussies serving in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2016.

Australian soldiers allegedly cut the boys’ throats and dumped their bodies in a river because they thought they were Taliban sympathisers, according to allegations cited in the Brereton Report. 

The report alleged troops would force new recruits to get their first kills by murdering prisoners in a practice known as ‘blooding’.

The Australian government has set up a special investigator to probe the allegations and troops involved face criminal charges and being stripped of medals.  

An end to the war 

Since the end of 2013, Australia has only maintained a small training force in Afghanistan rather than active combat troops.

But the final personnel will be pulled out by September, Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday.  

The prime minister was visibly emotional when he announced the news at a media conference in Perth and read out the names of the 41 soldiers who had lost their lives in the war-ravaged middle-eastern nation.

‘These brave Australians are amongst our greatest ever who have served in the name of freedom,’ he said.

‘This day, we dedicate to their memories. We think of their families, their friends, the life they would have lived. But they gave that for others they did not know.’

Asked if the war had been worthwhile, Mr Morrison replied: ‘Freedom is always worth it’. 

With his voice quivering, Mr Morrison added: ‘We can be so proud of them, of their service… we thank them for their service humbly and gratefully.’  

Mr Morrison’s announcement comes after US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he will withdraw remaining U.S. troops from the ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan, declaring that the September 11 terror attacks of 20 years ago cannot justify American forces still dying in the nation’s longest war.

His plan is to pull out all American forces – now numbering 2,500 – by this September 11, on the anniversary of the attacks, which were coordinated from Afghanistan. 

Soon after Biden made his announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels said the alliance had agreed to withdraw its roughly 7,000 forces from Afghanistan, matching Biden’s decision to begin a final pullout by May 1.

The US cannot continue to pour resources into an intractable war and expect different results, President Biden said.

The drawdown would begin rather than conclude by May 1, which has been the deadline for full withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year.

‘It is time to end America’s longest war,’ Biden said, but he added that the U.S. will ‘not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.’ 

Australia’s longest war: A timeline of key events in Afghanistan 

September 2001: Islamist terrorists attack New York City and Washington, killing nearly 3,000 people. The first Australian forces are committed a month later.

February 2002: Sergeant Andrew Russell (SASR) became the first Australian killed in Afghanistan after his patrol vehicle struck a land mine. The next month Aussie forces fought in Operation Anaconda which killed 500 Taliban.

July 2006: During Operation Perth Australian special forces troops, working together with Netherlands Korps Commandotroepen, killed 150 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in nine days. Six Aussies were wounded in action.

January 2009: Trooper Mark Donaldson (SASR) was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia for gallantry under heavy enemy fire during a contact on 2 September 2008 

April 2009: The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that Australia would increase its troop commitment in Afghanistan to 1,550 personnel 

May 2009: A senior insurgent commander, Mullah Noorullah, was killed in a joint Australian operation after he and one other insurgent were tracked moving into a tunnel system by Special Forces in Oruzgan province.

October 2009: Sarbi, an Australian special forces explosives detection dog which was declared missing in action after 2 September 2008 ambush, was recovered safe and well after 13 months 

June 2010: Aussie troops conduct an offensive in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province which killed 100 enemies. Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith of the Special Air Service Regiment was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia for his actions during the offensive.

June 2010: Three Australian soldiers of the 2nd Commando Regiment were killed when the US UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter carrying them crashed in northern Kandahar Province. The helicopter’s US pilot was also killed, while a US crewman and the other seven Australian commandos aboard were also injured

May 2011: An Australian Army CH-47D Chinook helicopter crashed during a resupply operation in Zabul Province, killing one Australian and injuring five others

October 2011: Three Australians were killed as well as an Afghan interpreter and seven injured after an ANA soldier turned his gun against the Australians. This event marked the bloodiest incident for Australian forces in the Afghanistan War.

December 2013: PM Tony Abbott brings all combat troops home, ending Australia’s longest overseas combat deployment. Training forces remain

Source: Parliamentary library 

 

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