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Australian troops to withdraw from al-Muthann -

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Australian troops to withdraw from al-Muthanna

Reporter: Greg Jennett

QUENTIN DEMPSTER, PRESENTER: Australia's 450 troops in Iraq will move to the Tallil air base, south
of Baghdad. With control of the al-Muthanna province being handed to the Iraqis, John Howard has
revealed the Australian task group will be transferred to Tallil, near the city of Nasiriyah. Mr
Howard has also confirmed a new multibillion-dollar defence helicopter purchase and declared that
he welcomes the development of American military bases in Australia. From Canberra, Greg Jennett
reports.

GREG JENNETT, REPORTER: When a $2 billion Defence spend-up is announced, the Prime Minister is
brought in to do the honours.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: What we're announcing today is the approval of a $2 billion
acquisition of 34 MRH90 helicopters.

GREG JENNETT: Defence already has 12 of the European-designed helicopters. The extra 34 very
ordered to overcome age and safety problems across much of the military fleet. The Navy's Sea Kings
are mostly grounded. It's financially disastrous Sea Sprite will never see combat. The army's Black
Hawks need replacing within the next decade.

BRENDAN NELSON, DEFENCE MINISTER: These 46 helicopters will replace the Black Hawk helicopters.
They will also replace the Sea King helicopters and the first of those will arrive in 2010.

GREG JENNETT: After early deliveries from France, most of the MRH90s will be assembled in Brisbane.

BRENDAN NELSON: There are 350 jobs which depend on the announcement of this contract.

GREG JENNETT: While sharing the stage with Defence top brass, the Prime Minister also let it be
known where Australia's troops in southern Iraq will go once their current job guarding Japanese
engineers in al-Muthanna province is over.

JOHN HOWARD: The operations will be likely to be based in and around Tallil. The primary purpose
would be to provide a security reinforcement or back-up for the Iraqi security forces and also, an
ongoing training role.

GREG JENNETT: Australia already has around 30 troops in the southern city of Tallil helping train
Iraqi forces.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND, OPPOSITION DEFENCE SPOKESMAN: Clearly, there are pressing security issues in our
region and clearly, that has to be Australia's priority.

GREG JENNETT: Tonight, Iraq's Prime Minister has confirmed his government will be taking control of
the al-Muthanna province from the coalition next month. It's the first region to be transferred
back to Iraqi security since the war and now that the announcement's been made in Baghdad, the
Australian Government will give more details about the switch to Tallil tomorrow. With a large US
air base, Tallil is regarded as a relatively safe area, but the nearby city of Nasiriyah has had
its share of violence and civil unrest as recently as this year.

JOHN HOWARD: Any deployment in Iraq is dangerous. Some areas are arguably more dangerous than
others. The deployments in southern Iraq historically have been less dangerous than in other parts
of Iraq.

GREG JENNETT: On the home front, details are beginning to emerge of the scale of Australia's joint
military training facilities deal with the United States. A new base in the Northern Territory will
reportedly be able to house up to 750 troops and handle the new C17 transport plane, another at
Yampi Sound in the Kimberley will be used for ship-to-shore landings.

JOHN HOWARD: My understanding is that all the Americans want at the present time is to have the
capacity to train, but I don't have any difficulty with that and I would imagine it would be quite
warmly supported by the public.

GREG JENNETT: He says US bases would be fine as long as sovereignty is respected.

JOHN HOWARD: The nation of bases or operational facilities, training facilities, by Americans is
something I would warmly welcome.

GREG JENNETT: The media report outlining the size of the bases says they're being developed quietly
to avoid offending regional neighbours.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Ultimately, these things all turn around to bite you. Unless you're open and
transparent during the whole process, then people start to ask questions and ask, "Well, why were
you less than entirely frank?"

GREG JENNETT: But Labor does support the joint US facilities. Greg Jennett, Lateline.