An edited extract of the Prime Minister’s address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra last night:
This is a time of war…
What Iraq and her people need now is time, not a timetable. They seek our patience not political positioning. They require our resolve, not our retreat…
…We will be able to leave Iraq. But we cannot do so responsibly until we have some confidence that the Iraqi security forces are in a position to defend Iraq’s democratically elected government and the Iraqi people, whether from terrorists, insurgents or sectarian strife.
…Our practical contribution and preparedness to stand with America in Iraq is of first order importance to its current strength and vitality…
What the Iraqi people need most is our sticking power in their midst. I do not want our forces in Iraq one day longer than necessary. But to signal our departure now would be against Australia’s national interest.
The stakes are high – for Iraq, for the wider Middle East, for American power and prestige and, ultimately, for our region and national security…
A timetable for the premature withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq would invite disastrous strategic and humanitarian consequences.
Australia’s current deployment to Iraq, according to the Australian Defence Force website:
Australia’s commitment to Operation Catalyst presently includes:
- An Australian Joint Task Force Headquarters of about 70 personnel commands all ADF maritime, land and air elements deployed on either Operations Catalyst or Slipper [Afghanistan]. The headquarters is currently commanded by Brigadier Michael Crane;
- A security detachment (SECDET) of about 110 personnel including Australian Light Armoured Vehicles (ASLAVs) to provide protection and escort for Australian Government personnel working in our Embassy in Baghdad;
- The Overwatch Battle Group-West (OBG-W) based in the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar comprising around 520 personnel and consisting of a headquarters, a cavalry squadron, an infantry company, ASLAVs and Bushmaster vehicles. The Task Group is based at Tallil Air Base and from there it undertakes a security overwatch role for Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar Provinces as part of a larger Coalition Force;
- The Australian Army Training Team – Iraq contributes to training the Iraqi army with a team of about 30 instructors working at the Iraqi Basic Training Centre near Tallil;
- A RAAF C-130 Hercules detachment of about 140 personnel providing intra-theatre air lift and sustainment support in the Middle East, with two transport aircraft, ground crew and other support elements;
- About 90 personnel serving in the multinational force headquarters and units;
- A RAAF AP-3C Orion detachment of about 170 personnel conducting maritime patrol operations, with two aircraft and associated command and support elements supporting both the rehabilitation operation in Iraq and the coalition operation against terrorism;
- HMAS Toowoomba, under the command of CMDR Jaimie Hatcher, RAN, is deployed to the Persian Gulf where she assists in the detection, deterring and intercepting of vessels within Iraqi waters suspected of undertaking illegal activity. Importantly, HMAS Toowoomba assists in protecting Iraq’s offshore assets such as oil platforms, thus ensuring Iraq ‘s key economic resources are able to generate much needed funds to support reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. There are approximately 190 personnel aboard HMAS Toowoomba;
- A small number of personnel employed in the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell who are tasked with disarming explosive devices and conducting post-explosion assessments to determine the type of explosive devices used;
- A tri-service Force Level Logistic Asset, communications element and movement control group of 110 personnel are responsible for a range of logistic, training and communications activities.