Australia Deploys More Troops to Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 19, 2005 Coalition forces in Iraq are welcoming the deployment of 450 more Australian military personnel. "These are great soldiers," said a U.S. official in Baghdad, Iraq.
The new Australian contingent will bring the number of "Aussies" in country up to 1,370, officials at the Australian embassy here said.
Australia has been among the most steadfast allies in the war on terror. Australian forces moved in with U.S. special operations forces against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Australia also sent troops -- among them elite special operations forces -- to Iraq and went "from the berm in Kuwait to Baghdad" with U.S. and British forces in the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The added military presence will provide a task group to support the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction and Support Group. The Aussies will also train Iraqi forces.
"We are committed to a 12-month operation, with six- monthly rotations of (Australian Defense Force) personnel," said Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill. "However, the government will continually review the situation to ensure our contribution is in line with the needs of the Iraqi people."
Hill spoke at a farewell ceremony April 17 in the northern Australian city of Darwin, where most of the forces are stationed.
"The task group will be based at Camp Smitty, in the al Muthanna province of Iraq, and will be responsible for providing a stable and secure environment for the Japanese Reconstruction and Support Group as they undertake essential humanitarian, engineering and rebuilding tasks."
The advance party left Darwin April 16, and the main body started movement April 18. Australian officials expect all forces to be in place in Iraq by mid-May.
U.S. officials are pleased with the Australian initiative. "We are grateful for the support Australia has provided thus far and hope that nation will continue to play a key role in international efforts to help the Iraqi people," a Pentagon official said.
"This year following the Iraq elections is vital to the future stability of the country," Hill said. "Now is a crucial time to provide much-needed support to the people of Iraq to help them build a safer more-prosperous future. Australia remains committed to this task and will stay until the job is done."
The Australian Task Group will work closely with its coalition partners, including the United Kingdom, which is responsible for the overall security of the province.