About Australia vows to keep troops in Iraq if needed
|November 18th, 2005||#1|
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Australia vows to keep troops in Iraq if needed info
ADELAIDE, Australia, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Australian troops will stay
in Iraq as long as they are required, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said
on Thursday, ahead of talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Australia, a strong ally of the United States, has about 1,300
military personnel in and around Iraq, including forces training the Iraqi
military and 450 troops providing security for Japanese engineers in
southern Al Muthanna province.
"For as long as we have a useful job to do, in particular in helping
to train up the Iraqi security forces, we'll do the job," Downer told
"When the Iraqi security forces can do the job, it will be time to
Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will hold
annual defence and security talks with Downer and Australian Defence
Minister Robert Hill in Adelaide on Friday.
About 300 anti-war protesters staged a rally on the steps of the
South Australian state parliament in the city, unable to get near Rumsfeld's
hotel, which has been fortified with concrete barriers and a four-metre high
Australia's commitment to Iraq will be welcomed by the Bush
Administration, which is facing waning popularity in the polls and dwindling
support for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, where more than 2,000
American troops have been killed.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate resolved that Iraqis should start to
take the lead in their own security from next year, allowing a phased
withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Australia was one of the first countries, behind Britain, to commit
troops to the U.S-led war in Iraq. It also sent combat forces to Afghanistan
in late 2001 as part of the campaign to oust the Taliban regime and hunt for
al Qaeda militants after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Australia currently has about 200 combat forces in Afghanistan. The
government is due to decide within weeks whether to send a military
reconstruction team to the country.
Defence Minister Hill said, while Australia was likely to end its
programme to train Iraqi forces by mid-2006, it would probably extend the Al
Muthanna security deployment if Japan decided to extend its humanitarian
mission well into next year.
"The popular view is they (Japan) are likely to stay for some time
yet, and I think they would probably ask for Australian security to help
them fulfil their mission," Hill told reporters.
Hill said there was "significant demand" for Australian air
transport, security detachments for diplomats in Baghdad, and an Australian
navy ship in the Persian Gulf. He added they were likely to remain deployed
for some time.
Downer said the talks would also review counter-terrorism in
Australia and Southeast Asia, unrest in southern Thailand and concerns about
militant groups in the Philippines.
The talks are also set to touch on developments with Australian
Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks, whose military commission trial was due
to start this week but has been further delayed by challenges to the U.S.
Hicks, from Adelaide, has been accused of being an al Qaeda fighter,
but has pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding the enemy, attempted murder
and conspiracy to commit war crimes.