Afghan shift is real workout

Exercise bikes, boxing gloves and power tools will stay.


But weapons and ammo are going.

Brigadier Andrew Bottrell has a big job on his hands and a tight deadline.

On December 31 the main Australian Defence Force base in Afghanistan will be shut down, with 1000 soldiers going home.

About 300 troops will remain for training and other roles based in in Kabul and Kandahar, while an ongoing role has yet to be set for Australia’s special forces.

An extra 240 experts have been brought in to help with the drawdown, which is being run by Brigadier Bottrell’s cryptically named Redeployment Fusion Cell.

“The manner in which we leave this country is the manner in which we will be remembered,” Brig Bottrell described the philosophy of the task.

Already about three-quarters of the camp has been taken apart or has been earmarked.

One of the most popular areas, a large gymnasium, will be left for the Afghan security forces, complete with electronic exercise equipment and boxing gear.

Brig Bottrell says finicky small items such as power tools will also be gifted.

Talks are under way about the use of the permanent buildings and armoured sleeping quarters.

The entire camp is likely to remain a security precinct, rather than a hospital or school because of the type of facilities that they are.

Brig Bottrell says taxpayers’ money will be saved by not having to take some things apart and ship them out.

“And it gives the Afghanis some robust infrastructure,” he says.

The military logistical expert says Afghan forces have learned to stand on their own two feet after “a lot of blood, plenty of tears and exceptional work”.

Defence says there are no plans to hand over weapons, ammunition or body armour to the Afghan security forces. These will either be destroyed or returned to Australia.

Most of the equipment will be returned by air from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates and then by sea from the port of Jebel Ali.

Some containers will be sent by road through Pakistan and then by sea from Karachi. But there’s a catch with road transport.

The Afghan government is reneging on a deal not to tax truck contractors and plans to charge an “export fee”.

Senior Defence sources say the tax grab is “not considered a significant issue”.

But a US audit in May found contractors supporting operations in Afghanistan had been hit with almost $US921 million in potentially inappropriate taxes and penalties from the Afghan Ministry of Finance since 2008.