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Minister says more military trainers are needed in Iraq.

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Tuesday 20 February 2007

Minister says more military trainers are needed in Iraq


TONY EASTLEY: Last week the arguments were about when Australian troops might be withdrawn from Iraq, but the debate has been turned on its head after the Prime Minister announced he's sending more personnel to the war zone. 


John Howard says he'll send up to another 70 military trainers to give Iraqis the skills they need to operate alone. 


The Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd says it's not a good idea and no extra troops, regardless of their duties, should be drawn into the conflict. 


The Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson says the Iraqi people need Australia's support. 


He's been speaking with Gillian Bradford. 


BRENDAN NELSON: The Government has decided that we will send almost 70 more trainers to Iraq. There will be 10 trainers that will go to the Iraqi Officer Training Academy, another 10 trainers for the basic training centre at Tallil and we'll send about 50 trainers in logistics. In other words, the nuts and bolts of actually running the Iraqi army. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: If you say Australia's aim has always been to help Iraq manage on its own, why didn't the Government send in far more trainers much earlier? 


BRENDAN NELSON: Well, in fact the first priority obviously has to be bringing security to the Iraqis themselves, but we have been providing training to the Iraqi army all along.  


In fact, when I met with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and the Iraqi Defence Minister last year, they expressly thanked me for the efforts we'd done in training, and when I asked the Iraqi Prime Minister what more he would like Australia to do, he said to me, if you are able to do any more, any further assistance in training, because your Australian soldiers are the best we've had in training our Iraqi security forces. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: So how long have you been sitting on this advice from the chief of the Defence Force, that we need to send in more trainers? 


BRENDAN NELSON: Well, the Chief of Defence, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and I, in response to discussions we've had with the Iraqis and as I say with Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister last year, and discussion with the Iraqi security forces and army, the British Defence Secretary and also our American allies, we've been developing a plan since before Christmas to give options to the Australian Government to send more trainers to Iraq. 


But it does really beggar belief that Mr Rudd on the one hand criticises the Iraqis for not doing enough to look after themselves, and on that basis demands that Australian and allied troops leave Iraq, and then on the other hand he refuses to support the decision to send more trainers to Iraq to actually get the Iraqis to be able to look after themselves. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: When will the first trainers be going in, and how long do you envisage them staying? 


BRENDAN NELSON: We already have trainers in Iraq, of course, and we will expect to send the trainers to Iraq in May.  


The 50 logisticians, the trainers that will provide further training to the Iraqi army to actually administer its own affairs, they will be there for six months, and the other 20 trainers to train the Iraqi officers and the basic Iraqi army will remain there as with our other troops, until the job's done. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Do you make any concession this training has come too late? You say it's been a key part of the Australian force over there, but Defence's own website says that there are just 30 military trainers out of an Australian contribution of 1,500 in Iraq, it's hardly hugely significant. 


BRENDAN NELSON: Well that misunderstands exactly what we're doing. Firstly, our battle group and our other elements in Iraq are proving training on a day-to-day basis. For example, we're training the Iraqi navy officers on our ship in the Gulf. 


Every aspect of what we do involves interaction and training to the Iraqis. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Defence Minister Brendan Nelson with Gillian Bradford.