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U.S.-Australian Defense Leaders Confer at Pentagon

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2003 – U.S. and Australian officials conferred on the global war of terrorism during a meeting at the Pentagon today.

After the meetings, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Defense Minister Sen. Robert Hill discussed U.S.-Australian cooperation and the way ahead in the war on terror with Pentagon reporters.

Hill thanked Rumsfeld for the U.S. leadership in the global war on terror. "Australia has participated in both operations and continues to do so because we believe it is in Australia's national interests," Hill said.

The Australian minister said he recognizes how difficult these tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan are and realizes progress will take time. Hill said it also takes pain and expressed his condolences to families of Americans killed in Iraq.

Australia has between 850 and 900 service members in Southwest Asia. There are few currently in Afghanistan, but Australian special operations forces have played a significant role in that country since October 2001.

Hill said Australia's force contribution is commensurate with its size and responsibility. "We are pleased that there are more than 30 countries that have forces in Iraq," he said. "We'd like to see even more. But I think we're doing our bit."

Rumsfeld touched on current operations in Iraq. Near Tikrit U.S. forces are calling in air strikes on suspected Baathist targets. "Basically what commanders (in Iraq) are doing is to adjust tactics, techniques, procedures and approaches as the circumstances on the ground changes," Rumsfeld said. "Clearly as intelligence information evolves and improves, they are finding targets that are appropriate, and they are anxious to attack and targets of interest in the country."

The secretary said AC-130 gunships and aircraft dropping precision-guided 500-pound bombs are targeting buildings where improvised explosive devices were manufactured.

Hill, who recently returned from Iraq, said there's a lot more being achieved in the country than is generally recognized. "You see more families on the street, small businesses springing up, ministries operating," he said.

But the security issue colors all perceptions, he said. "That's got to be tackled, but at the same time you've got to maintain progress on every other front, the economic front or transfer of government," he said.

He said the coalition has been going through "a very difficult patch" recently. "But I think if they can get through that patch and maintain the momentum that I think has been achieved in recent months, it will certainly be heading in the right direction," he pointed out.

Rumsfeld said it is important for U.S. and Australian forces to be able to act as one. He said as the 21st century threats have shown, it's clear "that speed and agility and connectivity" are "critically important."

The United States is working to strengthen interoperability among the U.S. services and to expand that envelope to the very close allies who operate daily with American service members.

Hill agreed, saying that the war against terror is a shared threat and it requires a multilateral response and coalitions. "Obviously they want to work together effectively," he said. "It requires the capability to interrelate."

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