Australia will take over command of Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province next year, though the change is not expected to affect troop numbers in the province. The province is currently under American command.
Australia currently has about 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, concentrated in Uruzgan, which is in south-central Afghanistan. The country plans to maintain a similar troop presence after taking over command late this year, said Col. Ben James, the deputy commander of Combined Team Uruzgan, though they will still work closely with U.S. soldiers in the province.
The Australians will lead the final push to turn over security of the province to Afghan security forces, which James says they hope to do within a year and a half. James said his Afghan counterparts have made progress but that there is still much potential fighting ahead.
“We’re still dealing with a very lethal, very adaptable, a very resilient insurgency across the province,” he said.
Australian forces have extensive experience in the province and a U.S. military official said he expects a smooth transition.
“They basically have the resident knowledge, the expertise to do what they’ve been doing all along there,” said Lt. Col. Dave Connolly, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command - South, which includes Uruzgan. “It’s an illustration of the international commitment (to Afghanistan).”
Australia has been one of America’s staunchest allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and earlier this month, the country also agreed to boost its aid to Afghanistan in response to President Barack Obama’s call for other nations to share in the cost of funding Afghanistan’s security forces and rebuilding effort as NATO forces draw down their military forces.