This research paper addresses some of the key military, political, and diplomatic aspects of Australia’s drawdown in Afghanistan, and provides some early indications as to what the post-2014 mission could look like.


Australia first sent troops to conduct operations in Afghanistan in 2001, as part of a multinational response targeting al-Qaeda in response to the 11 September terrorist attacks. Since this time Australia’s contribution has significantly increased, in an effort to prevent Afghanistan becoming a terrorist safe-haven while building the capabilities of Afghanistan’s own security forces. However as the war has continued, Australia and other contributing nations have increasingly focused on the need to transition out of a combat role safely and effectively.

During an April 2013 speech on Australia’s drawdown from Afghanistan, the Defence Minister Stephen Smith cited the ‘mistakes’ associated with the withdrawal by the United States and its allies from the Vietnam War, before reciting the old adage that ‘people may not remember how you arrived, but they certainly remember how you leave’. In making this point, the Minister demonstrated a sense that Australia’s transition in Afghanistan is not simply a logistical exercise, but also of significant strategic importance.

Since March 2011, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have systematically taken the lead for security, with the final 91 districts transitioning to Afghan control as of June 2013. However, this evolution has not occurred in a vacuum; it is instead the result of significant negotiation, planning and cooperation between the Afghan Government and the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) contributing nations. This research paper will address some of the key military, political, and diplomatic aspects of Australia’s and the wider ISAF drawdown, and provide some early indications as to what Australia’s post-2014 mission in Afghanistan could look like.

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