From the early 1990s, the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the former hegemony of the Soviet Union led to the emergence of new independent states and shifts in the international strategic balance. Fundamentalist religious dogma and the resort to mass terrorism replaced Cold War ideologies as a driving force of conflict in the 21st century.
Following the multiple terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001, US President George W. Bush declared a "war on terror". Australia invoked the ANZUS treaty to support the US effort and Australian military personnel joined the forces of "the coalition of the willing".
In October 2001, coalition forces under American leadership invaded Afghanistan and ejected the ruling Taliban regime. From November to April 2002, Australian SAS squadrons participated in operations in the mountainous regions south of Kabul, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance, searching for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and their bases. Their capabilities and professionalism earned them high praise from American commanders.
The war ended inconclusively in mid-2002. However, approximately 500 Australian soldiers remained on deployment in Afghanistan, continuing operations with American and other coalition forces to hunt Taliban terrorist groups and carry out reconstruction and engineering projects.
The continuing deployment of Australian forces on operations in Oruzgan province has produced increasing numbers of Australian casualties: 11 Australians died on operations in Afghanistan from 2002 to the end of 2009, 10 died in 2010, and 11 in 2011.
Successive Australian governments have renewed the commitment to the war in Afghanistan despite these mounting losses. Approximately 1550 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are currently based within Afghanistan as part of Operation SLIPPER, Australia's military contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, maritime security in the Middle East Area of Operations and countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden. An additional 830 ADF personnel are deployed across the broader Middle East Area of Operations. Australia has also maintained a continuous maritime contribution to Operation SLIPPER, which currently consists of the Anzac Class Frigate HMAS Toowoomba.
Current ADF casualties in Afghanistan:
As of October 2013, a total of 41 Australians have been killed serving with the ADF on operational deployments to Afghanistan.
As at 22 January 2013, a total of 249 ADF personnel have been wounded while serving in Afghanistan (247 soldiers and 2 sailors).
Further details at: http://www.defence.gov.au/operations/afghanistan/personnel.asp
Sources and further reading:
David Connery, David Cran, and David Evered, Counterinsurgency: Reconstruction Task Force 4 in Afghanistan, Sydney, Big Sky, 2012
Peter Connolly, Counterinsurgency in Uruzgan, Canberra, Land Warfare Studies Centre, Duntroon, 2011