In more than a decade of conflict, Australia’s elite special forces have kicked in doors and eliminated terrorist leaders and bomb makers.
But what happens to them now the long war in Afghanistan is almost at an end? Secret missions against criminals and terrorists?
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says their future now is uncertain as the Australian Defence Force moves to what could be a decade of peace.
Faced with tough budget times, the government could be tempted to reduce special forces’ current high level of capability.
Or it could maintain special forces and reduce the regular army as a “peace dividend”.
Neither would be wise, ASPI says.
Australia’s special operations forces (SOF) should be maintained around its current strength of 2200 personnel, as an element of a joint force with particular useful capabilities.
The defence think tank says special operations capability will remain relevant. SOF provides Australia’s key counter-terrorist force, able to operate at home or abroad and can help other nations, especially those in this region, develop their own capabilities.
They’re equally useful in low and high intensity conflict, working with conventional military forces or as part of a coalition.
ASPI says they could also play a growing role in clandestine missions – and for that there should be a legislative framework for conduct and oversight of such operations.
“In an increasingly murky international environment involving well-resourced and dangerous non-state actors (criminals and terrorists), clandestine operations could become a more important task for Australia’s SOF,” ASPI said.
As well, they should intensify co-operation with China’s SOF as a confidence-building measure and as a useful contribution to the US alliance.
Special forces comprise the Perth-based Special Air Service regiment, the Sydney-based 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments plus support units such as the Special Operations Engineer Regiment.