Friday, December 08, 2006



The Australian Defence department, and the Minister for Defence, vetoed plans by Donald Rumsfeld for Australian troops to be embedded with Iraqi Army units.

A core part of why the request was rejected is Australia does not intend to have the majority of its current 750 troops stationed in Iraq through the second half of 2007.

The Australian newspaper reports that "the safety and security of small numbers of Australian troops who may serve with Iraqi units" was a core reason why the Government responded in the negative.

According to an interview given today by Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, Australia's key military contribution to coalition forces in Iraq at the moment is, "...we do training, we do mentoring for Iraqis and we provide an overwatch operation."

"We don't do day to day combat work," Downer said, on the ABC's 7.30 Report.

"Where we operate in Dikar and al Muthanna provinces, we are there to provide additional support to the Iraqi security forces if they get into trouble and can't help themselves out. But on the other hand, a lot of the day to day work is the training and mentoring job..."

The original request from Rumsfeld for Australian troops to move from training, mentoring and oversight to actually being embedded with Iraqi units involved in patrols and combat operations is believed to have been made in September this year.

Shortly before he resigned as defence secretary, Rumsfeld again asked the Australian Defence Minister for a renewed commitment to allow Australian troops to be placed inside the Iraq military.

This second request was also denied.

Downer confirmed that "we've been speaking to (the Americans) a lot in recent times" about the embedding of coalition forces with Iraqi military units.

Prime Minister John Howard is already moving into re-election mode, and is set to begin preliminary campaigning after the Christmas break. The new Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, is going to promote the security of the region as a core issue of his election campaign while also promising to 'bring the troops home'.

But John Howard is set to trump Rudd on both issues, two of the most important to Australians, according to recent polls.

By withdrawing the majority of Australia's troops from Iraq in mid-2007, and announcing major increases to the size of the Australian Army, John Howard is expected to use the relative success of Australia's mission in Iraq as a launch pad for re-election on securing the region, and fighting terrorism closer to home.

The Australian Defence Department has recognised, in recent months, that the deployment of 750 Australian troops on six month rotations in Iraq has cut back its capacity to deal with outbreaks of violence, coups and rioting in the so-called 'Arc Of Instability', including East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and now Fiji.

Australia withdrew its remaining Special Forces troops from Afghanistan in October this year. A move that angered many members of the SAS, who believed that their mission in Afghanistan had not been completed.

The decision not to allow Australian troops to be placed within Iraq's Army is expected to be recognised by the defence minister as a preparatory step in anticipation of the withdrawal of most Australian troops from Iraq beginning in June, 2007.

From 'The Australian' :

The future of the US-led coalition's presence in Iraq will be a key issue at next week's annual AUSMIN defence talks in Washington.

Dr Nelson and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will meet their counterparts, incoming US defence secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Tuesday, together with their respective defence chiefs and top officials.

With security conditions relatively stable in southern Iraq and the British Government already canvassing troop drawdowns next year, there is a good prospect that Australia's 500-strong overwatch taskgroup based in Dhi Qar province could be phased down from mid-year.

Such a phase down will allow John Howard to go into the 2007 federal election claiming a successful mission in Iraq, while announcing plans to secure Australian interests in the Pacific realm alongside a major increase to the size of Australia's defence forces and operational capabilities :
The Howard cabinet's national security committee this week also approved the first stage of the plan to increase the size of the army, including the purchase of 34 extra Bushmaster infantry mobility vehicles.

The first stage of the army build-up will see the recruitment of an extra battalion next year, which will be deployable by 2010.

The total strength of the regular army is set to grow by an extra 2600 personnel to about 30,000 by 2012.

The expanded force will comprise eight battalions consisting of two mechanised, five light and one commando battalion equipped with more than 400 Bushmaster vehicles, as well astanks and light armoured transport.

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