Operation Okra

Operation Okra
Part of the American-led intervention in Iraq (2014–present), Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War and Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft conduct air-to-air refuelling with a RAAF KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft by night over the skies of Iraq
Location Iraq and Syria
Commanded by Air Vice Marshal Tim Innes
Objective Australia's contribution to the War against ISIL
Date 31 August 2014 – present
(2 years, 3 months, 2 weeks and 2 days)
Executed by Australian Army
Royal Australian Air Force
Outcome Ongoing

Operation Okra is the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The operation commenced on 31 August 2014,[1] and its initial stated aim was to combat ISIL threats in Iraq.[2] In September 2015, the Australian airstrikes were extended to Syria.

The force is part of Joint Task Force 633 in the Middle East, originally under the command of Major General Craig Orme.[3] Orme handed over command of JTF 633 to Rear Admiral Trevor Jones in December 2014.[4]

Development of the Australian contribution

Airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq

The Australian government announced on 14 September 2014 that an Air Task Group (ATG) of up to eight F/A-18F Super Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, and a KC-30A air-to-air refuelling tanker, along with a Special Operations Task Force, would be deployed to the Middle East in preparation for possible operations against ISIL forces.[5] The ATG commenced operations on 1 October, and on 3 October, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that his country would commence airstrikes.[6][7] Australian forces operate from Al Minhad Air Base located in the United Arab Emirates.[8][9] Australian aircraft have also been reported to have been operated out of Al Dhafra Air Base south of Abu Dhabi.[10] An Australian Army training team known as Task Group Taji was deployed to Iraq in April 2015 to assist with training the regular Iraqi Security Forces.[11]

Extension with airstrikes against ISIL in Syria

Airstrikes were extended to Syria in September 2015.[12]

In late 2015 the United States Government asked the Australian Government, along with other members of the coalition, to expand its military commitment to the war. The Australian Government rejected this request in January 2016, but stated that it would increase the number of Australian personnel attached to the coalition headquarters from 20 to 30 and was considering increasing the amount of humanitarian aid it provides to people affected by the war in Iraq and Syria.[13]

Air force component

Humanitarian air drops and munition and arms resupply

From August 2014 a number of C-17 and C-130J transport aircraft based in the Middle East have also been used to conduct airdrops of humanitarian aid and to airlift arms and munitions.[14][15][16][17] On the night of 13/14 August an RAAF C-130J was part of a 16-aircraft mission including US C-17s and C-130Hs and a British C-130J which delivered supplies to Yezidi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. A second drop was later conducted to deliver supplies to isolated civilians in the northern Iraqi town of Amirli.[18][19] Later, a C-130J was involved in the airlift arms and munitions to forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in late-September.[20]

Air Task Group (ATG)

An Australian F/A-18 Hornet over Iraq in December 2015

In late September 2014, an Air Task Group (ATG) of 400 personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was deployed to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates as part of the coalition to combat Islamic State forces in Iraq.[21] The initial commitment of aircraft included: 6 x F/A-18F Super Hornet strike aircraft from No. 1 Squadron RAAF, 1 x E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft from No. 2 Squadron RAAF and 1 x KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport from No. 33 Squadron RAAF.[22] The ATG began operations on 1 October 2014.[23]

Between 6 and 17 October, Australian aircraft flew 54 sorties.[8][24][25] In at least two of them, a number of ISIL fighters were killed.[25] Australian planes attacked ISIL military equipment and facilities in support of Iraqi and Kurdish troops on the ground.[8][25] Vice Admiral David Johnston refused to give more details on the number of casualties or locations of airstrikes due to the "aggressive propaganda campaign" of ISIL.[25] In late December 2014 Australian Super Hornets were involved in assisting Kurdish ground forces free Yezidi people trapped on Mount Sinjar along with other coalition aircraft.[26]

A second ATG arrived in the UAE in early January 2015 to replace the first group of personnel and operate the aircraft originally deployed in September 2014.[27] Providing an operational update on 12 January 2015, the Chief of Joint Operations, Admiral David Johnston, stated that Australian aircraft provide around 13 percent of coalition airstrikes in Iraq.[28]

Six single-seat F/A-18As from No. 75 Squadron RAAF based at Tindal deployed to the Middle East to replace the six dual-seat F/A-18Fs in March 2015.[29][30] On 30 June 2015 the Department of Defence reported that the ATG had dropped more the 400 weapons in support of Iraqi forces since the commencement of operations with the F/A-18A Hornets and F/A-18F Super Hornets flying nearly 5000 hours, the E-7A Wedgetail completing 100 operational sorties, and the KC‑30A air-to-air refuelling aircraft providing 25 million pounds of fuel to Australian and coalition aircraft.[31] By the end of November 2015 the F/A-18A Hornets had conducted 580 sorties over Iraq, during which they dropped 363 munitions. The aircraft also flew 18 sorties over Syria in September 2015, dropping two munitions.[32]

Rotations from No. 77 Squadron RAAF took over the deployment in September 2015, and were in turn replaced by No. 3 Squadron RAAF in April 2016.[33][34]

RAAF aircraft formed part of a multi-national force which accidentally bombed Syrian Army soldiers near the city of Deir ez-Zor in September 2016.[35]

Exchange personnel

In August 2015, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that five RAAF exchange personnel embedded with the USAF 432d Operations Group had begun flying General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers over Syria.[36]

Army component

An Australian soldier assigned to Task Group Taji observing Iraqi soldiers during marksmanship training in April 2016

Special Operations Task Group (SOTG)

In September 2014, the Australian Army deployed a Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) of approximately 200 personnel to the United Arab Emirates in preparation for operations to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces.[37] The soldiers were expected to be deployed to Iraq when a legal framework covering their presence in the country was agreed between the Australian and Iraqi Governments.[38] The majority of the initial rotation of the SOTG was made up of Charlie Company, 2nd Commando Regiment.[39] The SOTG began moving into Iraq in early November.[40] As the Iraqi Government would not agree to sign a status of forces agreement to prevent the soldiers from being prosecuted, they entered the country using diplomatic passports instead. Iraq has agreed to grant the soldiers immunity from local laws under this arrangement, though they will be prosecuted in Australia in the event of any misconduct.[41]

The role of the SOTG is to provide training to Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service, and personnel were stationed at the service's Counter-Terrorism Academy and Counter-Terrorism Training unit in January 2015, instructing in tactics, medical aid and counter improvised explosive device skills.[42][43] The Counter-Terrorism Service includes two brigades of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, which fought well against ISIS during 2014 at the cost of heavy casualties. However, members of the service have also been accused of killing prisoners and committing human rights violations. SOTG personnel are required to report any human rights violations they become aware of.[44]

The third SOTG rotation occurred in September 2015 with a reduced strength of 80 personnel.[45][46]

The SOTG role is also to provide mission support with SOTG personnel stationed in Iraqi bases assisting Iraqi units which are deployed on operations through remote means.[42] In December 2015, it was reported that SOTG personnel enabled more than 150 airstrikes in support of Counter Terrorism Service 1st Iraqi Special Operations Force Brigade's offensive liberating Ramadi resulting in the destruction of some 50 Daesh fighting positions, 16 heavy machine guns and numerous vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.[42][47]

In April 2016, it was disclosed that SOTG personnel are assisting at the "divisional level" embedded with senior Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga commanders.[48] Earlier in November 2015, it had been reported that the Australian Government had authorised SOTG personnel to advise units at battalion size and larger in the field but the Iraqi Government had not provided approval.[49]

Task Group Taji

In April 2015, a 300-strong unit known as Task Group Taji was deployed to Iraq as part of the coalition Building Partner Capacity mission. The task group consists of a training team with command, force protection and support elements, and is tasked with training the regular Iraqi Security Forces.[11] A New Zealand force element of approximately another 100 personnel is integrated into the unit, forming a combined task group.[50] The second rotation of Task Group Taji departed Australia in November 2015. The unit's departure was delayed due to problems gaining visas for the soldiers, and this caused the initial rotation's tour of duty to be extended by two weeks.[49] The third rotation arrived in Iraq during May 2016.[51]

In July 2016, it was announced that the Task Group would be expanding its role training paramilitary police agencies including Iraqi Federal and Local Police and border guard forces.[46][52] In addition, the Task Group will be allowed to conduct training at other secure coalition training locations, as the need arises.[53] Also, 15 personnel from the 16th Air Land Regiment will be deployed to provide a counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) capability at Taji which is currently being provided by another Coalition member.[53]

See also


  1. "RAAF mission against ISIS: Pilots did not drop bombs because of collateral damage risk". News.com.au. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  2. "Operation OKRA". Defence Operations: Iraq. Department of Defence. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  3. Grubb, Ben (4 October 2014). "The man calling Australia's shots in the new Iraq war". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  4. "Change of Australian military command in the Middle East" (Press release). Department of Defence. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  5. "RAAF headed back to Iraq". Australian Aviation. 15 September 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  6. "Tony Abbott commits Australian forces to Iraq". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 October 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  7. "Australian Air Task Group commences operational missions over Iraq" (Press release). Department of Defence. 2 October 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  8. 1 2 3 'Confirmed: Australian air strikes have killed ‘multiple’ ISIS targets in Iraq'. news.com.au, 17 October 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  9. "Australian Army personnel load humanitarian aid bundles at Al Minhad Air Base". ABC News. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  10. Frawley, Gerard (1 July 2015). "RAAF to acquire two additional KC-30s". Australian Aviation. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  11. 1 2 "Task Force Taji farewelled – 21 April 2015" (Press release). Department of Defence. 21 April 2015. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  12. Coorey, Phillip (9 September 2015). "Australia to take 12,000 refugees, boost aid and bomb Syria". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  13. Hurst, Daniel (13 January 2016). "Malcolm Turnbull rejects US request for more Australian troops to fight Isis". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  14. Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor (14 August 2014). "Australian troops complete first humanitarian mission in northern Iraq". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  15. Wroe, David (31 August 2014). "SAS to Protect Crews on Arms Drops in Iraq". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney: Fairfax Media. ISSN 0312-6315.
  16. "ADF delivers fourth arms shipment to Iraq" (Press release). Department of Defence. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  17. "ADF delivers fifth shipment to Iraq" (Press release). Department of Defence. 26 September 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  18. "JTF633 supports Herc mercy dash" (Press release). Department of Defence. 22 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  19. "Australia steps up assistance to Iraqi people" (Press release). Department of Defence. 31 August 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  20. "ADF delivers fifth shipment to Iraq" (Press release). Department of Defence. 26 September 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  21. "RAAF Air Task Group Arrives in Middle East" (Press release). Department of Defence. 24 September 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  22. Bree, Max (9 October 2014). "Largest group in decades". Air Force: The Official Newspaper of the Royal Australian Air Force (5619 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. p. 3. ISSN 1329-8909. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  23. "Australian Air Task Group commences operational missions over Iraq" (Press release). Department of Defence. 2 October 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  24. "First Australian mission completed in Iraq". Sky News Australia. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  25. 1 2 3 4 "Australian air strikes in Iraq kill Isis fighters on 'at least two' occasions". The Guardian. 17 October 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  26. "Australian air strikes support liberation of Mount Sinjar" (Press release). Department of Defence. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  27. "Second RAAF Air Task Group to deploy to the Middle East". Australian Aviation. 6 January 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  28. "Press conference with Chief of Joint Operations Vice Admiral David Johnston, who gives an update of Australian operations in Iraq". Transcript. Department of Defence. 12 January 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  29. "Air Task Group Deploys". Air Force. 12 March 2015. p. 8. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  30. "75SQN Hornets head to Middle East". Australian Aviation. 4 March 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  31. "Australian Air Task Group achieves major milestones" (Press release). Department of Defence. 30 June 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  32. "Air Task Group". Operation Okra. Department of Defence. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  33. Stevenson, Chloe (11 February 2016). "Two Say Farewell to Tindal". Air Force: The Official Newspaper of the Royal Australian Air Force. Volume 58 (1). Canberra: Department of Defence. p. 4. OCLC 224490713.
  34. "77 SQN Completes strike rotation in the Middle East". Department of Defence. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  35. Wroe, David (18 September 2016). "RAAF involved in accidental strikes on Syrian troops that were meant for Islamic State terrorists". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  36. Wroe, David (14 August 2015). "Australian pilots begin missions over Syria, flying American Reaper drones". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney: Fairfax Media. ISSN 0312-6315.
  37. "Support to Iraq" (PDF). Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1338 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 9 October 2014. p. 3. ISSN 0729-5685.
  38. Brissenden, Michael. "Deadly Australian air strikes dent IS morale in Iraq: Rear Admiral David Johnston". ABC News. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  39. Brissenden, Michael (1 November 2014). "Elite Australian commandos still waiting for green light to go into Iraq". ABC News (Australia). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  40. Griffiths, Emma (11 November 2014). "Australian troops 'moving into locations' in Iraq to assist with fight against Islamic State". ABC News. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  41. Toohey, Paul (14 November 2014). "Australian special forces enter Iraq with diplomatic passports". The Australian. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  42. 1 2 3 "Australian Defence Force support to Iraqi Forces in Ramadi" (Press release). Department of Defence. 31 December 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  43. "Unique capability" (PDF). Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1345 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 26 February 2015. p. 2. ISSN 0729-5685. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  44. Dorling, Philip; Wroe, David (10 January 2015). "Australian special forces work with Iraqi security group accused of killing prisoners, torture". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  45. "Press conference with Vice Admiral David Johnston – Update on Australian Defence Force operations". Transcript. Department of Defence. 7 October 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  46. 1 2 Prime Minister and Minister for Defence (20 July 2016). "Training Iraqi law enforcement agencies" (Press release). Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  47. Wroe, David (31 December 2015). "Australian troops' key role as Ramadi wrested from Islamic State". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  48. Toohey, Paul (29 April 2016). "Australian special forces in Iraq 'will not creep into a combat role' in the fight against Islamic State". News.com.au. News Corp Australia Network. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  49. 1 2 Wroe, David; Kenny, Mark. "Visa delays sideline Diggers as chaos deepens in Syria". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  50. "Bound for Iraq". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1349 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 23 April 2015. p. 3. ISSN 0729-5685.
  51. Hook, James (2 June 2016). "Third rotation deploys to Iraq with confidence". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1374 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. p. 7. ISSN 0729-5685. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  52. Wroe, David (19 July 2016). "Australian troops to train Iraqi paramilitary police in expansion of role". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  53. 1 2 "Training Iraqi law enforcement agencies". Prime Minister of Australia. 19 July 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016. This article contains quotations from this source, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.

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