Yesterday, we asked just what commitment the Short Man had made to the US over war in Afghanistan. Seems The Age already answered our question two weeks ago, but got a little shy and ran their exclusive on page four. These were the highlights:

The Age, November 22, 2002 p.4

By Louise Dodson and Mark Forbes

Australia has told the United States it is likely to dispatch a small,
specialised force to any invasion of Iraq.

Senior government sources have confirmed the US was told of Australia’s
contribution in recent top-level political talks and detailed military to
military planning sessions. As a result, Australia was not approached by the
US this week about a possible contribution to an Iraq campaign, unlike up to
50 other allies.

A formal request was unnecessary because Australia had already indicated the
scale and nature of the military contribution it would make to a strike, the
sources said.

Any contribution would be similar to the deployment of Australian troops in
Afghanistan, Mr Howard has said. Privately, the government has ruled out
sending an infantry battalion.

Asked yesterday about the size of a possible contribution, Defence Minister
Robert Hill said to look at Australia’s commitment to the Gulf War in Iraq
and the conflict in Afghanistan. In both cases, SAS troops were the only
frontline force.

Mr Howard said he hoped for a peaceful solution on Iraq, but that Saddam
Hussein had a poor track record in complying with international demands. “I
of course don’t rule out that there could be some military action against
Iraq which could involve a decision by us to commit some military force.”

“I have indicated that if we were to make a contribution there or anywhere
else, it would have to be within the limit of our other demands and needs.”

AFGHANISTAN: A CHRONOLOGY

Late December 2001: SAS troops seize documents believed to be linked to al
Qaeda, ammunition and explosives during a raid on a remote cave system.

February 19, 2002: The body of Special Air Service Sergeant Andrew Russell,
the only Australian killed in Afghanistan, is flown home to Perth on a
Hercules transport.

Early March 2002: About 100 SAS soldiers play a vital role in ‘Operation
Anaconda’, a joint operation to push about 1000 al Qaeda fighters out of
their mountain stronghold.

April 2002: The Governor-General’s office reveals that SAS Sergeant Matthew
Henri Bouillaut will receive a distinguished service medal for his
involvement in ‘Operation Slipper’.

April 29, 2002: al Qaeda fighters attack Australian troops in Afghanistan’s
south-east. SAS troops respond and kill or wound at least two of their
attackers.

November 20, 2002: Prime Minister John Howard announces that the SAS will
start pulling out of Afghanistan this month.

Mid October 2002: The Age buries a perfectly good exclusive on Australian participation in the War on page Four. Go figure.

Peter Fray

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