U.S., Australia Affirm Commitments in Terror War Fight
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2006 The U.S. and Australian defense leaders today reaffirmed their governments' commitment to work together to counter terrorism and other threats, with Australian Minister of Defense Brendan Nelson vowing that his country will remain a solid partner in Iraq.
"We remain with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, to support the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan and other theaters, including our own region, for the foreseeable future," Nelson said during his first visit to the Pentagon as Australia's defense minister.
Australia has no plans on the table to reduce its force in Iraq - currently about 1,350 members -- he said. The 460 troops in the Muthanna province providing security for Japanese engineers will move to other parts of Iraq when the Japanese leave late next month.
Some of those Australian troops will move to the basic training center in Tallil, and others will go to the counterinsurgency unit at Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad. Some will move south to the Saudi border, providing mentoring and training and support for Iraqi border patrols.
Others could remain in Muthanna, providing backup to the Iraqi security forces the Australians trained there, Nelson said. He emphasized that the Iraqis, not the Australians, would serve in the lead. "This is about the Iraqi people in Al Muthanna taking control of their own affairs, and us being there to provide support," he said.
"We are there until the job in Iraq is done," Nelson said.
He defined exactly what conditions might signal that the job is finished and the coalition can discuss troop reductions and withdrawals. "When it is able to conduct its own affairs and we've negotiated the arrangements, then and only then will we be in a position to talk about such things," he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld praised Australia for its longstanding partnership with the United States that he said has strengthened with time. "Our countries have fought side by side ever since World War I, and cooperated very closely in so many activities, as we are today," he said.
During the global war on terror, "few nations have been as resolute or shown as much clarity in their determination to protect freedom from the specter of terrorism than Australia," Rumsfeld said.
The two countries are working to improve their militaries' abilities to train and operate together more seamlessly together, Rumsfeld noted. Nelson added that Australia is substantially increasing its defense spending and is "determined to see that our defense forces are interoperable with the United States."
Last month, representatives of the United States and Australia paved the way to increased information sharing and cooperation in research and development related to combating terrorism.
Thomas O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Peter Shergold, Australia's secretary for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, signed a memorandum of understanding that promotes closer counterterrorism collaboration between the two countries.
Nelson said today that Australians recognize the threat terrorism poses and aren't deluded into thinking their geography will protect them. "We take the view that the war against terrorism is not something that we can wait to turn up on our doorsteps," he said.
He noted that Australia lost citizens in Bali to "people who signed up to the same ideological insanity as those in Afghanistan and Iraq."
"We believe that if we do not take on people who have hijacked the Islamic faith in the name of evil - that if we simply say that it has nothing to do with us because we live in a more remote part of the world - then we will most certainly leave the next generation of Australians and people throughout the world hostage to a force that they may never control," Nelson said.