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RSL wants Prime Minister to explain conditions under which troops could be withdrawn from Iraq.

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Tuesday 13 April 2004

RSL wants Prime Minister to explain conditions under which troops could be withdrawn from Iraq


TONY EASTLEY: The RSL says John Howard should tell the Australian public how long its troops will be in Iraq and what strategy he has for getting them out.  


Following the weekend announcement that the RAAF air traffic controllers are unlikely to return next month, RSL National President, retired Major General Bill Crews, says he'd like the Federal Government to take the public into its confidence, and explain the conditions under which withdrawal may be possible. 


Major General Crews spoke to Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath. 


BILL CREWS: We would like to have seen our task completed sooner rather than later, because we don't want to see people indefinitely overseas, even on a rotation basis. But there are conditions to be met before people can reasonably be withdrawn. The job needs to be done. Our national interests need to be continued to be served and respected, and that we need to ensure that the security of our people in Iraq is maintained. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you feel that the Government has given enough information to the public here about how long our troops will be there, what's going to be required and when, and if, they're going to home soon? 


BILL CREWS: We feel that they could be bit more expansive on their comments. They could in fact explain, not so much the timing, but the conditions under which they'd see withdrawal as being possible, engage the Australian public a little more in their deliberations to the extent that security would allow them. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: What are you saying? That the Government isn't really being open with what the exit strategy would be? 


BILL CREWS: That's what I'm suggesting. It's… there is no obvious exit strategy. Clearly the Government has got some parameters they are working to. Some of those can be made public without prejudicing the security of the operations. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you agree then with Labor Opposition leader, Mark Latham, who has said that exact point, that the Government doesn't have an exit strategy to bring the troops home? 


BILL CREWS: Well, if they have an exit strategy, the point I'm making is that they've not made it clear to people, that doesn't mean I'm supporting the Opposition's consequent claim that they should all be out by Christmas anyway. And so the truth is somewhere between the two parties at the moment.  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: But you feel the Government needs to do more, needs to communicate more? 


BILL CREWS: I think there's a need for greater communication and respecting the Australian public's right to know, particularly when we see images of considerable destruction and death, and now hostage taking. 


TONY EASTLEY: RSL National President, retired Major General Bill Crews, speaking there with Catherine McGrath.