Australian Defence Force personnel embedded within the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (CSTC-A) are delivering an important mission.

CSTC-A is developing an institutionally viable Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police Force through the conduct of train, advise and assist, and the provision of essential logistics support.

Deputy branch head of operational sustainment within CSTC-A, Brigadier Ed Smeaton, said the operation had been presented with challenges and opportunities.

“When I arrived we were focused on the delivery of combat supplies and maintenance support to our Afghan partners in their warfighting efforts, which involved a lot of face-to-face interaction,” Brigadier Smeaton said. 

“COVID-19 forced us to change the way we interact with partners and placed a newfound emphasis on medical supplies.

“We are now maximising the use of video teleconferencing and assisting with the global sourcing of stores to fight the pandemic.

“More importantly, we are witnessing a potentially historic inflection point in the campaign as both sides prepare for intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Major Jason Squires has been working to transition responsibility for maintenance from contractors to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. 

The route clearance capability we have assisted the Afghans to develop saves lives and allows them to complete military missions in contested areas. 

Major Squires said the pandemic had complicated and accelerated this process.

“COVID-19 has added to the already diverse set of challenges encountered while working towards a self-sufficient and capable maintenance system for Afghan security forces,” Major Squires said.

“It is encouraging to see the progress the Afghans are making by leveraging their own workshops and mechanics in response to the pandemic-disrupting contracted maintenance.”

An important element of the CSTC-A mission has been assisting Afghan partners in the conduct of strategic national convoys. 

Sergeant Thomas O’Connor, of the Counter Improvised Threat Directorate, said the convoys were often required to travel along dangerous routes, which are subject to attack and improvised explosive devices.

“A recent strategic national convoy attempting to resupply a remote Afghan National Army Corps encountered over 20 IEDs in a 30-mile [48km] stretch of highway,” Sergeant O’Connor said.

“The route clearance capability we have assisted the Afghans to develop saves lives and allows them to complete military missions in contested areas."