By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 12, 2007 – Australia has made enormous contributions to the global war on terror and has proven it is a world leader, Marine Gen. Peter Pace said during a media roundtable here today. "Just looking a recent history, clearly Australia has been able to operate in Iraq, has been able to operate in Afghanistan at the same time, and provide a peacekeeping force in East Timor and help solve some of the problems or other island nations," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. "I think Australia has clearly demonstrated the ability to lead globally."
The Australian military is involved in a number of operations around the world. Australian soldiers are with United Nations forces in Israel and Lebanon, Australian special operations forces in Afghanistan, and Australian military units in southern Iraq and on the Multinational Force Iraq staff, Australian military officials said speaking on background. Australian ships patrol with coalition forces in the Persian Gulf, and Australia has a very active engagement program with the island nations of the Pacific.
Australian forces operated in Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces in the southern part Iraq, Pace said. Both provinces are under the control of the Iraqi government with coalition troops outside the provinces in an overwatch role. "Things are relatively stable in those provinces. Iraqi army and police are in the lead, and that could not have happened without your forces being there," Pace said. "I think Australia should take great pride in the contributions you have made."
Those who criticize the Australian troop commitment as being too small are wrong, Pace said. "The fight we're in about terrorism is not about large armies fighting large armies," the general said. "It's about small numbers of well-trained troops and civilians ... who are reaching out to assist those in need."
Pace called Australian special operations forces "world-class" and said American special operators appreciate working with them.
Pace said the big difference between Baghdad and the southern provinces, where the Australians operate, is that those in the south want stability while "in Baghdad right now, not enough people want to have stability, and therefore no matter how many troops you put in, until they want that stability, until the government is able to provide the kind of political leadership they are will have problems," he said.
Pace said he would like troops from as many countries involved in the coalition as possible. The al Qaeda goal is to subjugate all free countries, he said, and all countries have a responsibility to defend freedom. "The citizens of the countries we are trying to help understand that this is not about Australia, it is not about the United States, but about freedom-loving countries everywhere," he said.
It is no accident that nations such as Poland, Hungary and the Baltic republics are willing partners in the effort to defeat terrorism. "Those nations that know what it is like to not have freedom are some of the strongest advocates of helping others," he said. "It's not in how many people a particular nation sends, it's about nations -- as many as possible -- doing whatever they can ... to reach out and help others."
Pace said it will take success in three areas to move forward: security, politics and the economy. The U.S. and Iraqi forces are moving forward on the plan to secure Baghdad, he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also has made political progress. The Iraqi legislature is addressing tough issues such as oil-wealth sharing and changes to the constitution. In addition, Iraq is working to get the economy moving with $10 billion of its own money to provide jobs for the citizens of Baghdad and Anbar province, Pace said. "With those three things moving together, there is every reason to be hopeful that we can collectively provide ... a win," he said.
If coalition troops pull out of Iraq prematurely or leave according to a precise timeline not supported by conditions on the ground, there will be a humanitarian disaster, the general said. Sectarian violence would get out of hand, and more Iraqis would be killed. "And you would then have a spillover effect into Afghanistan," he said. "I don't see precise timelines as being useful. There should not be open-ended commitment, but a premature withdrawal of the international support that is being provided would do great damage to the Iraqi people."
The coalition needs to look at the benchmarks of security in Baghdad before reducing troops. "When the Iraqi forces are able to clear neighborhoods, have Iraqis army and police remain and hold those areas, and have the Iraqi government, in cooperation with international governments, increase quality of life, that will allow all of us to withdraw our troops," he said. "To put a precise timeline on it means that you're signaling to your potential enemies that, if they just hold their breath for this amount of time, then we'll all be gone and they can come back out of the woodwork."
If the terrorists are successful in Iraq, they would be emboldened to use the same tactics in Afghanistan. If these enemies are not engaged in Iraq, they would be able to move to Afghanistan, he said. "A premature pull out would certainly encourage those who seek to do us harm," he said. "There is no alternative for free nations other than to prevail.
"This is not the fight we thought we were going to have in Iraq, but it is the fight we have right now," he continued. "And we can either prevail in Iraq or end up having to fight a similar fight in Afghanistan or have these terrorists follow us home to Australia or the United States. The enemy has a 100-year plan. We need to determine the best way to fight that. Right now that fight is in Iraq."
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