The Australian Government has announced that it will be withdrawing its deployed fighter contingent of six F/A-18F Super Hornets from the Middle East in January following the successful liberation of Iraq from Daesh.
Australia has maintained the fighter contingent since October 2014 conducting a range of strike operations in both Iraq, and since September 2015 eastern Syria, in support of the campaign against Daesh. This has included more than 2, 700 individual sorties by deployed F/A-18A and F/A-18F jets for Nos 1, 3, 75 and 77 Squadrons.
Under Operation OKRA Australia’s Air Task Group also includes E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C and KC-30A refuelling aircraft, and these assets will remain in theatre for the foreseeable future to support Coalition forces engaged in ongoing counter-Daesh operations. Also operating under Operation OKRA is an Australian Army contingent that maintains 300 personnel at Task Group Taji providing training support to the Iraqi Army, around 80 personnel in a Special Operations Task Group. Within the Greater Middle East region Australia also maintains a training contingent in Afghanistan under Operation Highroad and a permanent Frigate deployment.
Announcing the decision to withdraw the fighters on Friday morning Australian Minister for Defence, Senator Marise Payne, said Australia had reviewed its contribution with Iraqi and Coalition partners following the announcement of Iraq’s liberation from Daesh by Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi earlier this month.
“The battlefield success against Daesh means our own Operation OKRA has now reached a natural transition point and our strike aircraft will begin returning home early in the New Year,” Minister Payne said, before concluding that “Australia is committed to supporting the Iraqi Security Forces as it clears the remaining pockets of Daesh fighters in rural areas and ensuring the long-term stability of Iraq.”