Operation Okra

Operation Okra is the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The force is part of Joint Task Force 633 in the Middle East. The operation commenced on 31 August 2014,[2] and its initial stated aim was to combat ISIL threats in Iraq.[3] In September 2015, the Australian airstrikes were extended to Syria. In June 2017, flights in Syria were temporarily halted in response to American forces shooting down a Syrian Air Force jet, before later being resumed.

Operation Okra
Part of the American-led intervention in Iraq, Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War and Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Two Royal Australian Air Force Super Hornet aircraft conduct air to air refuelling with a RAAF Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft by night over the skies of Iraq
Australian F/A-18Fs conducting air-to-air refuelling
Location
Commanded byRear Admiral Mark Hill
ObjectiveAustralia's contribution to the War against ISIL
Date31 August 2014 – present
(4 years, 11 months and 18 days)
Executed byAustralian Army
Royal Australian Air Force
Australian Signals Directorate[1]
OutcomeOngoing

Development of the Australian contribution

Airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq

The Australian government announced on 14 September 2014 that an Air Task Group (ATG) of up to eight F/A-18F Super Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, and a KC-30A air-to-air refuelling tanker, along with a Special Operations Task Force, would be deployed to the Middle East in preparation for possible operations against ISIL forces.[4] The ATG commenced operations on 1 October, and on 3 October, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that his country would commence airstrikes.[5][6] Australian forces operate from Al Minhad Air Base located in the United Arab Emirates.[7][8] Australian aircraft have also been reported to have been operated out of Al Dhafra Air Base south of Abu Dhabi.[9] An Australian Army training team known as Task Group Taji was deployed to Iraq in April 2015 to assist with training the regular Iraqi Security Forces.[10] The force is part of Joint Task Force 633 in the Middle East, originally under the command of Major General Craig Orme.[11] Orme handed over command of JTF 633 to Rear Admiral Trevor Jones in December 2014.[12]

Extension with airstrikes against ISIL in Syria

Airstrikes were extended to Syria in September 2015.[13]

In late 2015 the United States Government asked the Australian Government, along with other members of the coalition, to expand its military commitment to the war. The Australian Government rejected this request in January 2016, but stated that it would increase the number of Australian personnel attached to the coalition headquarters from 20 to 30 and was considering increasing the amount of humanitarian aid it provides to people affected by the war in Iraq and Syria.[14]

The strikes within Syria were reported to have been temporarily suspended on 20 June 2017 after the US shot down a Syrian aircraft.[15][16] Operations over Syria resumed several days later, with an airstrike reported to have been carried out in the Middle Euphrates River Valley on 23 June 2017.[17]

Air force component

Humanitarian air drops and munition and arms resupply

From August 2014 a number of C-17 and C-130J transport aircraft based in the Middle East have also been used to conduct airdrops of humanitarian aid and to airlift arms and munitions.[18][19][20][21] On the night of 13/14 August an RAAF C-130J was part of a 16-aircraft mission including US C-17s and C-130Hs and a British C-130J which delivered supplies to Yezidi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. A second drop was later conducted to deliver supplies to isolated civilians in the northern Iraqi town of Amirli.[22][23] Later, a C-130J was involved in the airlift arms and munitions to forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in late-September.[24]

Air Task Group

RAAF FA-18A Hornet in flight during Operation Okra over Iraq, March 22, 2017
An Australian F/A-18 Hornet over Iraq in March 2017

In late September 2014, an Air Task Group (ATG) of 400 personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was deployed to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates as part of the coalition to combat Islamic State forces in Iraq.[25] The initial commitment of aircraft included: 6 x F/A-18F Super Hornet strike aircraft from No. 1 Squadron RAAF, 1 x E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft from No. 2 Squadron RAAF and 1 x KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport from No. 33 Squadron RAAF.[26] The ATG began operations on 1 October 2014.[27]

Between 6 and 17 October, Australian aircraft flew 54 sorties.[7][28][29] In at least two of them, a number of ISIL fighters were killed.[29] Australian planes attacked ISIL military equipment and facilities in support of Iraqi and Kurdish troops on the ground.[7][29] Vice Admiral David Johnston refused to give more details on the number of casualties or locations of airstrikes due to the "aggressive propaganda campaign" of ISIL.[29] In late December 2014 Australian Super Hornets were involved in assisting Kurdish ground forces free Yezidi people trapped on Mount Sinjar along with other coalition aircraft.[30]

A second ATG arrived in the UAE in early January 2015 to replace the first group of personnel and operate the aircraft originally deployed in September 2014.[31] Providing an operational update on 12 January 2015, the Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston, stated that Australian aircraft provide around 13 percent of coalition airstrikes in Iraq.[32]

Six single-seat F/A-18As from No. 75 Squadron RAAF based at Tindal deployed to the Middle East to replace the six dual-seat F/A-18Fs in March 2015.[33][34] On 30 June 2015 the Department of Defence reported that the ATG had dropped more the 400 weapons in support of Iraqi forces since the commencement of operations with the F/A-18A Hornets and F/A-18F Super Hornets flying nearly 5000 hours, the E-7A Wedgetail completing 100 operational sorties, and the KC‑30A air-to-air refuelling aircraft providing 25 million pounds of fuel to Australian and coalition aircraft.[35] By the end of November 2015 the F/A-18A Hornets had conducted 580 sorties over Iraq, during which they dropped 363 munitions. The aircraft also flew 18 sorties over Syria in September 2015, dropping two munitions.[36]

Rotations from No. 77 Squadron RAAF took over the deployment in September 2015, and were in turn replaced by No. 3 Squadron RAAF in April 2016.[37][38]

On 18 September 2016, two F/A-18As and a E-7A Wedgetail formed part of a multi-national force consisting of US, UK and Danish aircraft which accidentally bombed irregular Syrian Army forces near the city of Deir ez-Zor.[39][40]

In late December 2017 it was announced that the strike aircraft attached to the ATG had ceased air combat operations and would return to Australia in January 2018, although the KC-30 and Wedgetail will remain in support of ongoing coalition operations.[41] This announcement followed the earlier recapture of the last remaining ISIL held areas of Iraq by government forces.[42] The final RAAF strike mission was flown by two Super Hornets on 14 January 2018. By this time the Hornets and Super Hornets had conducted over 2,700 sorties.[43]

As of October 2018, the RAAF forces assigned to operations against ISIL had been reduced to a single aircraft. This involved alternating four month long KC-30 and Wedgetail deployments.[44]

Commanders ATG 630
  • Air Commodore Steve Roberton (September 2014 – January 2015)[45][46]
  • Air Commodore Glen Braz (January–July 2015)[46]
  • Air Commodore Stuart Bellingham (July 2015 – January 2016)
  • Air Commodore Antony Martin (January–July 2016)
  • Air Commodore Mike Kitcher (January–July 2017)
  • Air Commodore Terry van Haren (July 2017 – January 2018)

Exchange personnel

In August 2015, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that five RAAF exchange personnel embedded with the USAF 432d Operations Group had begun flying General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers over Syria.[47]

Army component

An Australian trainer with Task Group Taji, observes Iraqi soldiers as they fire their M16 rifles during aperture range training
An Australian soldier assigned to Task Group Taji observing Iraqi soldiers during marksmanship training in April 2016

Special Operations Task Group

In September 2014, the Australian Army deployed a Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) of approximately 200 personnel to the United Arab Emirates in preparation for operations to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces.[48] The soldiers were expected to be deployed to Iraq when a legal framework covering their presence in the country was agreed between the Australian and Iraqi Governments.[49] The majority of the initial rotation of the SOTG was made up of Charlie Company, 2nd Commando Regiment.[50] The SOTG began moving into Iraq in early November.[51] As the Iraqi Government would not agree to sign a status of forces agreement to prevent the soldiers from being prosecuted, they entered the country using diplomatic passports instead. Iraq has agreed to grant the soldiers immunity from local laws under this arrangement, though they will be prosecuted in Australia in the event of any misconduct.[52]

The role of the SOTG is to provide training to Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service, and personnel were stationed at the service's Counter-Terrorism Academy and Counter-Terrorism Training unit in January 2015, instructing in tactics, medical aid and counter improvised explosive device skills.[53][54] The Counter-Terrorism Service includes two brigades of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, which fought against ISIS during 2014 at the cost of heavy casualties. Members of the service have been accused of killing prisoners and committing human rights violations. SOTG personnel are required to report any human rights violations they become aware of.[55]

The third SOTG rotation occurred in September 2015 with a reduced strength of 80 personnel.[56][57]

The SOTG role is also to provide mission support with SOTG personnel stationed in Iraqi bases assisting Iraqi units which are deployed on operations through remote means.[53] In December 2015, it was reported that SOTG personnel enabled more than 150 airstrikes in support of Counter Terrorism Service 1st Iraqi Special Operations Force Brigade's offensive liberating Ramadi resulting in the destruction of some 50 Daesh fighting positions, 16 heavy machine guns and numerous vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.[53][58]

In April 2016, it was disclosed that SOTG personnel are assisting at the "divisional level" embedded with senior Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga commanders.[59] Earlier in November 2015, it had been reported that the Australian Government had authorised SOTG personnel to advise units at battalion size and larger in the field but the Iraqi Government had not provided approval.[60]

Task Group Taji

Australian soldiers attend a medals parade at Camp Taji, Iraq, Nov 15, 2017
Members of Task Group Taji during a parade in November 2017

In April 2015, a 300-strong unit known as Task Group Taji was deployed to Iraq as part of the coalition Building Partner Capacity mission. The task group consists of a training team with command, force protection and support elements, and is tasked with training the regular Iraqi Security Forces.[10] A New Zealand force element of approximately another 100 personnel is integrated into the unit, forming a combined task group.[61] The second rotation of Task Group Taji departed Australia in November 2015. The unit's departure was delayed due to problems gaining visas for the soldiers, and this caused the initial rotation's tour of duty to be extended by two weeks.[60] The third rotation arrived in Iraq during May 2016.[62]

In July 2016, it was announced that the Task Group would be expanding its role training paramilitary police agencies including Iraqi Federal and Local Police and border guard forces.[57][63] In addition, the Task Group will be allowed to conduct training at other secure coalition training locations, as the need arises.[64] Also, 15 personnel from the 16th Air Land Regiment will be deployed to provide a counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) capability at Taji which is currently being provided by another Coalition member.[64] By the end of June 2018 the Task Group had trained more than 34,000 Iraqi soldiers since their mission began in early 2015.[65]

Commanders
  • Task Group Taji – 1 (Colonel Matt Galton), April 2015 – November 2015[66]
  • Task Group Taji – 2 (Colonel Gavin Keating), November 2015 – June 2016[67]
  • Task Group Taji – 3 (Colonel Andrew Lowe), June 2016 – December 2016[68]
  • Task Group Taji – 4 (Colonel Richard Vagg), December 2016 – June 2017[69][70]
  • Task Group Taji – 5 (Colonel Steve D'arcy), June 2017 – December 2017[71]
  • Task Group Taji – 6 (Colonel Robert Calhoun), December 2017 – June 2018[72]
  • Task Group Taji – 7 (Colonel Mick Say), June 2018 – December 2018[65]
  • Task Group Taji – 8 (Colonel Jason Groat), December 2018 – June 2019[73]
  • Task Group Taji – 9 (Colonel Michael Bassingthwaighte), June 2019 – present[73]

Joint Task Force 633 commanders

Rank Name Postnominals Service Term began Term ended
Major General Craig Orme AM, CSC Army 31 August 2014 12 December 2014
Rear Admiral Trevor Jones AO, CSC Navy 12 December 2014 28 January 2016
Air Vice Marshal Timothy Innes CSC Air Force 28 January 2016 23 January 2017
Major General John Frewen AM Army 23 January 2017 20 January 2018
Rear Admiral Jaimie Hatcher AM Navy 20 January 2018 20 January 2019
Air Vice Marshal Joe Iervasi AM Air Force 20 January 2019 28 June 2019
Rear Admiral Mark Hill CSC Navy 28 June 2019 Incumbent

See also

References

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Further reading

External links

2014 Australian counter-terrorism raids

On the morning of 18 September 2014, police in Australia carried out the biggest counter-terrorism operation in the nation's history, with over 800 heavily armed officers targeting households in the cities of Sydney and Brisbane. It came days after the Australian government raised the terror threat from medium to high due to concerns about Australian citizens returning to the country after fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Following the raids, two people were charged, one with terrorism offences and the other for possession of an unauthorised firearm. One of the two arrestees became one of only two men on remand at the highest security prison in Australia, as he is considered an "AA" security risk.

2016 Australia Day Honours

The Australia Day Honours 2016 were announced on 26 January 2016 by the Governor General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

The Australia Day Honours are the first of the two major annual honours lists, announced on Australia Day (26 January), with the other being the Queen's Birthday Honours which are announced on the second Monday in June.

2016 Queen's Birthday Honours (Australia)

The 2016 Queen's Birthday Honours for Australia were announced on 13 June 2016 by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.The Birthday Honours were appointments by some of the 16 Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of those countries. The Birthday Honours are awarded as part of the Queen's Official Birthday celebrations during the month of June.

2017 Queen's Birthday Honours (Australia)

The 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours for Australia were announced on 12 June 2017 by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.The Birthday Honours were appointments by some of the 16 Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of those countries. The Birthday Honours are awarded as part of the Queen's Official Birthday celebrations during the month of June.

2018 Australia Day Honours

The Australia Day Honours 2018 are appointments to various orders and honours to recognise and reward good works by Australian citizens. The list was announced on 26 January 2018 by the Governor General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove.The Australia Day Honours are the first of the two major annual honours lists, the first announced to coincide with Australia Day (26 January), with the other being the Queen's Birthday Honours, which are announced on the second Monday in June.

2018 Queen's Birthday Honours (Australia)

The 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours for Australia were announced on 11 June 2018 by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.The Birthday Honours were appointments by some of the 16 Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of those countries. The Birthday Honours are awarded as part of the Queen's Official Birthday celebrations during the month of June.

2019 Australia Day Honours

The Australia Day Honours 2019 are appointments to various orders and honours to recognise and reward good works by Australian citizens. The list was announced on 26 January 2019 by the Governor General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove.The Australia Day Honours are the first of the two major annual honours lists, the first announced to coincide with Australia Day (26 January), with the other being the Queen's Birthday Honours, which are announced on the second Monday in June.

2019 Queen's Birthday Honours (Australia)

The 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours for Australia were announced on 10 June 2019 by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

The Birthday Honours were appointments by some of the 16 Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of those countries. The Birthday Honours are awarded as part of the Queen's Official Birthday celebrations during the month of June.

2nd Commando Regiment (Australia)

The 2nd Commando Regiment is a special forces unit of the Australian Army, and is part of Special Operations Command. The regiment was established on 19 June 2009 when the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) was renamed. It is based at Holsworthy, New South Wales. The 2nd Commando Regiment often trains and deploys with the Special Air Service Regiment, is highly regarded by coalition special operation forces abroad, and has been involved in operations in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, where it was used in a direct action warfighting role. It has also been involved in a number of domestic security operations including the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the 2014 G20 Leaders Summit.

Australia–Kurdistan Region relations

Australia–Kurdistan Region relations are bilateral relations between Australia and Kurdistan Region. While Australia has no representation in Kurdistan, Kurdistan has a representative office in Sydney. Moreover, there is a Kurdish lobby in Australia. In late 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott authorized the training of the Kurdish soldiers or Peshmerga and also supplied the Kurds with ordnance in September 2014. A C-130J was involved in the airlift of arms and munitions to the Kurdish forces. In April 2016, it was disclosed that an Australian Army Special Operations Task Group personnel were assisting at the "divisional level" embedded with senior Kurdish Peshmerga commanders.In 2015, Kurdish Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa travelled to Australia and met with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to discuss the security circumstances in Kurdistan and bilateral relations. Moreover, Mustafa met with Attorney-General George Brandis.

Distinguished Service Cross (Australia)

The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) is a military decoration awarded to personnel of the Australian Defence Force. It is awarded for distinguished command and leadership in action. The DSC was introduced in 1991 and is the highest distinguished service decoration in the Australian Honours System. Recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DSC". Since its inception 97 awards have been made—which includes seven Bars—with the most recent being announced in the 2017 Australia Day Honours.

Gary Wight

Warrant Officer Gary William Wight, (born 21 September 1968) is a senior sailor in the Royal Australian Navy and the current Warrant Officer of the Navy since 2016.

German intervention against ISIL

The German intervention against ISIL was authorized on 4 December 2015. The involvement of the country in the Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi Civil War began with the Bundeswehr mission in Syria and Iraq (codenamed Operation Counter Daesh, under the aegis of Operation Inherent Resolve) to combat the terrorist organization ISIL. The mission was primarily created as a reaction to the November 2015 Paris attacks.

List of military operations involving Australia

This is an incomplete List of Australian military operations.

List of recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross (Australia)

This is a list of recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross military decoration awarded to personnel of the Australian Defence Force. It is awarded for distinguished command and leadership in action. The DSC was introduced in 1991 and is the highest distinguished service decoration in the Australian Honours System. Recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DSC". Since its inception 87 awards have been made—which includes six Bars—with the most recent being announced in the 2018 Queen's Birthday Honour's List.

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet in Australian service

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has operated McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft since 1984. The Australian Government purchased 75 "A" and "B" variants of the F/A-18 in 1981 to replace the RAAF's Dassault Mirage III fighters. The Hornets entered service with the RAAF between 1984 and 1990, and 69 remain in operation as of 2019. Of the other six Hornets, four were destroyed in flying accidents during the late 1980s and early 1990s and two were transferred to Canada in February 2019.

RAAF Hornets were first sent on a combat deployment as part of the Australian contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the invasion, 14 Hornets flew patrols over Iraq, as well as close air support sorties to assist coalition ground forces. RAAF F/A-18s also provided security for the American air base at Diego Garcia between late 2001 and early 2002, and have protected a number of high-profile events in Australia. Between 2015 and 2017 a detachment of Hornets was deployed to the Middle East and struck ISIL targets as part of Operation Okra.

Since 1999 the RAAF has put its Hornets through a series of upgrades to improve their effectiveness. However, the aircraft are becoming increasingly difficult to operate and are at risk of being outclassed by the fighters and air-defence systems operated by other countries. As a result, the RAAF will begin to retire its F/A-18s in the late 2010s, and the last aircraft will leave service in the early 2020s. Under current Australian Government planning they will be replaced by 72 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters. The Australian Government has offered the Hornets for sale once they are no longer needed by the RAAF, and finalised a deal to sell 25 of the aircraft to Canada in early 2019.

Military intervention against ISIL ground order of battle

This is the Military intervention against ISIL ground order of battle, which lists the American forces and allies aerial assets that have taken part in the Military intervention against ISIL between June 2014 and the present day.

Okra (disambiguation)

Okra may refer to:

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), a flowering plant valued for its edible seed pods

Okra soup

Other plants known as "okra"

"Bush okra", also known as Mulukhiyah

Chinese okra, also known as Luffa

West African okra, aka Abelmoschus caillei

Okra, the name in antiquity of Nanos (plateau) in Slovenia

"Okra" (song), a single by rapper Tyler, the Creator

Operation Okra, the Australian contribution to the military intervention against ISIL

Special forces of Australia

The special forces of the Australian Defence Force are units of Special Operations Command and associated units of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force that conduct and or support special operations to advance and protect the national security of the Commonwealth of Australia. The special forces of Australia have a lineage to a variety of units raised in the Second World War such as the Independent and Commando Companies, Z Special Unit, Navy Beach Commandos, and the Coastwatchers. Australian special forces have most recently been deployed to Iraq in Operation Okra as the Special Operations Task Group, as the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan in support of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and regularly for counter-terrorism pre-deploy to locations of major domestic events throughout Australia in readiness to support law enforcement such as the 2014 G20 Brisbane summit.

Operations in Iraq
Operations in Libya
Operations in Syria
Operations in Afghanistan
Battles
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