ABU DHABI // Australia is planning to double the number of military personnel stationed at its permanent base in the UAE. Some 500 Australian Defence Force (ADF) staff could be stationed at Al Minhad Airbase in Dubai - where the ADF's regional military headquarters is based - by the beginning of next year, according to Jeremy Bruer, the Australian ambassador to the UAE.
"There has been an increasing closeness between the Australian and Emirati militaries and we are now in the process of expanding our presence here," he said. The ADF's regional Middle East headquarters opened at Al Minhad at the end of last year, and there are currently 250 armed forces personnel stationed there. Prior to the opening of the base, the Australian military had maintained a small presence in the UAE.
Previously, the ADF regional headquarters had been in Baghdad. Australia had faced criticism from its own citizens for its military role in Iraq after the US invaded in 2003. However, after coming to power at the end of 2007, Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, withdrew the country's combat forces. Now all regional military operations, including those in Afghanistan, where Australia currently has some 1,500 troops, are run from the headquarters in the UAE, which has a joint army, navy and air force team. There is also an additional air force element, and support staff.
The base supports surveillance and transport aircraft, as well as Australian naval vessels in Gulf waters. Australia is considering lending naval support to attempts to curb piracy. "It's our hub and our headquarters and will be more so in the future," Mr Bruer said. The expansion of the base was recently approved when the Australian federal budget was passed, with plans to incorporate further air, transport and logistics assets.
Australia had chosen the UAE as the location for its regional military headquarters in part because of the strong relationship between the two countries, as well as the proximity to regional conflict zones, Mr Bruer said. "We are able to operate effectively and efficiently here and with the shift in weight of our focus away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan it made logistical and military sense to have the base in a place which was relatively easily accessible."
During a meeting of high-level officials and figures from both countries in Abu Dhabi in March, topics of discussion included defence and security. Currently, the two countries are party to a defence co-operation agreement, which Stephen Smith, the Australian foreign minister, said would "only be enhanced". Australia's moves to bolster military ties with the UAE come as the Government pursues similar co-operation with France and Italy.
Earlier this month Italy announced that it would ratify a defence treaty with the UAE by the end of the year. In May the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was in the capital to inaugurate France's first military base in the Gulf region. Around 500 military personnel from the French navy, air force and army will be stationed there. email@example.com