By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CANBERRA, Australia – Acknowledging Australia’s strong commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, the U.S. Pacific command chief said the lessons learned through a decade of shared operations there lays a foundation for closer future U.S.-Australian cooperation in addressing regional challenges.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, speaking to reporters here today at the National Press Club, expressed condolences for Australia’s losses in Afghanistan. An Australian Special Forces soldier serving his seventh deployment there was killed July 2, bringing the number of Australia’s combat casualties in Afghanistan to 33. In addition, two Australian troops were wounded July 12 in a roadside bomb attack on a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province.
“It has been very difficult,” Locklear said. “Some of the challenges we have faced in Afghanistan together have been very difficult.”
The admiral noted the size of Australia’s contributions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, particularly in light of the country’s population. About 1,550 Australian Defense Force troops, about one-third consisting of special operators, are working in what Locklear called “very challenging environments,” predominantly in the south.
Their focus is on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade and Afghan National Police and improving the Afghan government’s capacity to deliver core services and generate economic opportunity in Uruzgan province, according to Australian defense officials.
Meanwhile, troops assigned to the Special Operations Task Group concentrate on disrupting insurgent operations and supply routes, they said.
Locklear lauded the Australians for their commitment to Afghanistan. “We are all hopeful that we will have a better security environment in that part of the region when this is all over,” he said.
As both the United States and Australia look forward drawing down their forces by December 2014, Locklear said they’ll apply the enhanced interoperability gained as they refocus on the Asia-Pacific.
The question, he said, is “how do we take those interoperabilities, [those] aspects of the U.S.-Australia alliance and the relationship, as well as the demonstrated capability of Australian forces to lead in a multiple of environments, and how do you translate that into the security challenges that we face in the Asia-Pacific?”
Locklear has been meeting with senior Australian military leaders over the past two days to explore ways to continue to bolster the two allies’ robust military-to-military relationship.
The Australians “have demonstrated themselves to be a very reliable partner with us in a lot of different areas,” Locklear told American Forces Press Service during the flight here. “They have done a lot to contribute to global security and they have been a good partner to the United States.”