Aussie troops returning home amid virus crisis
They faced Taliban insurgents and ISIS terrorists and held the line but coronavirus will see Australian troops immediately pulled back and given the option of returning home to Australia to be with their loved ones.
In what Defence is describing as a "temporary relocation", troops deemed non-essential will be relocating from Iraq and Afghanistan to Australia's main base of operations on Allied territory in the Middle East.
Troops have been told those close to the end of their posting will be offered a return flight home. That first flight to Sydney could be as early as this weekend.
"This temporary measure is to preserve the safety of our people and partners, and to limit the spread of COVID-19 in operational areas," Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said on Monday night.
As exclusively reported by News Corp Australia late last year, the future of Australia's Middle East deployment was under review in the wake of the US forces drawdown.
That review was more furtively analysed last month and again as late as last week when the US forces formally left two key bases in Iraq.
The spread of COVID-19 had already resulted in the suspension of the ADF training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The suspension in Iraq was furthered by two rocket attacks last week that killed two US and a British personnel in their base of Taji by suspected Iranian-backed militia.
Senator Reynolds on Monday night confirmed Australia would continue to review its force posture and resume training in the region when it is deemed safe to do so.
Insiders believed it is unlikely to be anytime soon if at all with the Iraqi Parliament making it clear they believed the US-led Coalition presence was no longer required.
There are several hundred ADF troops in both countries.
The announcement that COVID-19 was the ultimate defeater to force the pull back from the active theatre of operations also came after an extensive review of military assets in Australia should the military be required to assist civil authorities in the battle with the unseen contagion enemy.
For operational reasons it cannot be reported how many coalition troops will be left in either Iraq or Afghanistan but it is said to be only a handful with the withdrawal effectively suspended Australia's several decades presence in these two embattled countries.
The Australian Government has advised both the Iraqi and Afghani governments of the planned partial pullout; the ADF also closely consulted US counterparts of the move.
Originally published as Aussie troops returning home amid virus crisis