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What did Australia's support to US/UK strikes against the Houthi consist of? Hard to say - history of maritime operations in the MEAO gives some insight.

January 12, 2023 | Jennifer Parker

*originally published as a Twitter thread here

Image: Jennifer Parker and other Australian Defence Force personnel in Bahrain 2022. Authors image.

What did Australia’s support to US and UK strikes against Houthi targets consist of? The Australian Defence Minister, Richard Marles has said it consisted of personnel support to the operational headquarters. Australia’s history of operations in the Middle East gives some insights.


The Royal Australian Navy has played a key role in maritime operations in the Middle East since almost continuously since 1990 when HMAS Adelaide II deployed to the Middle East Region under Operation Damask.


Since its inception in 2001, Australia has supported the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) in Bahrain as a founding member. Australia supported the CMF with an almost continuous rotation of Ships since its inception until 2020 when HMAS Toowoomba completed the last RAN ship rotation in the Middle East Area of Operation under Operation MANITOU. 


Australia’s commitment to the CMF has also seen Australia command CMF Task Forces 9 times, the last of which was command of the Coalition Task Force 150, in which Australia executed counter-smuggling operations in the maritime domain.


Australia has also had a longstanding footprint in the CMF Headquarters based in Bahrain, filling the planning, operations, communications, analysis and administration positions.


In 2020 following the completion of HMAS Toowoomba’s deployment to the Middle East Area of Operations, Australia reduced its maritime element in Bahrain to 3-5, but retained the position of CMF Director of Operations which it has held for over 20 years.


Following the request to support Operation Prosperity Guardian, under CMF CTF 153, Australia once again increased its footprint in Bahrain, now reported to be 11 personnel. Although it has not been publicly released what roles these additional personnel, Australia’s previous support to International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) gives some insight.


During the 2019/2020 Gulf Crisis Australia joined IMSC to protect international shipping from Iranian harassment and attacks in the Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.


In addition to the support of HMAS Toowoomba, Australia’s support consisted of the Director Plans, the Deputy Director plans, air planners, communications planners and crucially maritime trade operators’ expertise. It is likely the additional Australian staff support consisted of these skill sets.


Whilst the US has been clear to highlight strikes against Houthi targets were not carried out under CMF, Australian staff in CMF have always had a dual role, supporting not only CMF but also serving as Australia’s liaison to 5th Fleet / US Naval Force Central Command supporting operations as directed by the ADF Joint Headquarters (HQJOC). A role they may have played during the US / UK strikes on Houthi targets on 11 January 2024.

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