Australia’s longstanding deployment of a warship in the Middle East will continue long past the withdrawal of Australian troops from Afghanistan.
A warship operates with the multinational Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) in the Persian Gulf region and has been involved in counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the placement, which has run almost continuously since the 1991 Gulf War, showed Australia’s commitment to maritime security.
“Safe and free sea lines of communication are absolutely essential to us for trade and communication and strategic reasons,” he said in a speech to the Australian Strategic Police Institute in Canberra on Tuesday.
“I envisage we will continue to make that contribution for a long time to come.”
The Anzac frigate HMAS Toowoomba is in the area working with CMF, which is a coalition of 25 nations based in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
Mr Smith also confirmed Australia’s drawdown from Afghanistan was on track with at least 1000 of 1550 troops due to come home by the end of this year.
But Australia must still decide what to do with its facility at the Al Minhad Air Base (AMAB) in the United Arab Emirates.
It’s a staging and support base for operations in Afghanistan, acts as Australia’s Middle East headquarters and has extensive accommodation, hangar and other support facilities.
“My expectation is that decisions on that will be made in the first half of 2014,” Mr Smith said.
For most of a decade, the government never admitted Australian troops even used the base, following an agreement with the UAE government that wasn’t changed until 2010.