This differs from the situation in Iraq, where it was Australian troops with the protective mission. We took over from the Dutch, assisting the British to protect Japanese engineers engaged in construction work. The Japanese have since pulled out, but anyone with a sketchy knowledge of Australian history could see this as public relations disaster just waiting to happen.
So far, the Australian Army hasn't had anybody killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is in great contrast to Canada, which I believe has lost 70 soldiers, and the Netherlands, which lost ten just last week. Of course, we're never more than one helicopter crash away from this.
Now the Dutch are talking about pulling out. This would mean no top cover. In particular, no attack helicopter support. The Australian Army's Tiger attack helicopters are not yet fully operational. The diplomats are looking for someone else to take over but apart from Britain, Canada, the US and the Netherlands, most NATO countries have rules of engagement that won't let them go out in the rain.
(Does anyone know anything about the Dutch government's policy?)
Foreign readers might be surprised to know that the Australian presence in Afghanistan attracts little controversy here (as opposed to the commitment in Iraq). Kevin07 has promised to withdraw from Iraq, but not Afghanistan. At least, not if we can find an ally with attack helicopters. The main problem is that the Army is committed to four theatres of war (Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands) without really having the resources for even one.
The Army has been on a major recruiting drive. The latest is the Gap year. Increasingly, the Gen Y practice is to take a year off after finishing high school. Now the Army is offering Gap Year food and lodging, with the chance to qualify for an overseas trip. If you understand the Australian teenager, you'll realise why this has been such a huge success.
Diggers' Afghan dilemma as ally wavers