The Australian Department of Defence has announced plans to reduce its naval presence in the Middle East region.

For more than 30 years, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been supporting freedom of navigation, maritime security, and free flow of commerce in the Middle East.

The move will allow the country to focus more on the Indo-Pacific region under the government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “This year alone has seen navy respond to the bushfire and Covid-19 crises, a five-ship deployment throughout South East Asia and the Pacific, a continued commitment to initiatives under the Pacific Step Up, and several highly successful activities with our regional partners.

“We now face an increasingly challenging strategic environment, which is placing greater demand on ADF resources closer to home.

“As a result, the Australian Defence Force will reduce its naval presence in the Middle East to enable more resources to be deployed in our region.”

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The historic changes will see the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) stop the annual deployment of a ship to the Middle East.

The last ship to be deployed to the Middle East under Operation Manitou is Anzac-class frigate HMAS Toowoomba, which returned in June this year.

In February, HMAS Toowoomba arrived in Bahrain and started operations in the Middle East under Operation Manitou.

It was the RAN’s 68th deployment to the Middle East region since 1990.

The RAN also plans to stop continuing its time-bound commitment to the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) after December.

However, the Australian Defence Force will retain the Combined Maritime Forces, the United States Naval Forces Central Command, and Joint Task Force 633 staff positions.

In July, a team of Australian personnel joined a coalition maritime exercise in the Middle East as part of Operation Manitou.