With the contributions of supposed allies remaining at nonexistant or token, true friends like Australia continue to step up to the plate.
Australian troops guarding Japanese engineers in Iraq are likely to remain beyond their May deadline, Prime Minister John Howard said on Friday after Japan extended the mandate for its non-combat troops for up to a year.
Australia, a strong ally of the United States, has about 1,300 military personnel in and around Iraq, including forces training the Iraqi military and 450 troops providing security for the Japanese military engineers in southern Al Muthanna province.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Thursday the country’s non-combat troops in Iraq would remain there for up to a year after their current mandate expires on December 14.
“That doesn’t mean automatically that the Japanese unit will stay there the entire 12 months. They will certainly stay until May and could well stay beyond May,” Howard told local radio.
“I think it’s unlikely that we will be out by May, it’s far more likely that — and this will depend a great deal on how things unfold — that we will be there for a longer period.”
While seemingly a small commitment, it is actually a sizable gesture as Australia, along with Britain and other members of the Commonwealth, are prepping to expand their role in Afghanistan (see here).
The move will probably not play well on the Australian homefront, especially politically.
Australia’s main opposition Labor has repeatedly called for the government to adopt an exit strategy for Iraq and Labor’s defense spokesman Robert McClelland said on Friday that Australia should be focusing on fighting terrorism in its own region.
“Coalition forces must not be perceived in Iraq as an open-ended security safety net,” McClelland said in a statement.
When Howard decided in March to send the extra 450 troops to Iraq to protect the Japanese engineers, an opinion poll published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper found 55 percent of Australians were opposed, while only 37 percent were in favor.
A www.ninemsn.com.au poll in August showed that almost 80 percent of Australians believed the country’s troops should be withdrawn from Iraq by next year.
Australia was among the first to join the Iraq war and has promised to keep forces there until Iraq can manage its own security.
“I see no point in flagging withdrawal at the very time when the government and the people of Iraq need reassurances of support,” said Howard, but adding that he does not want Australia’s troops to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary.
Despite any lingering or enhanced unpopularity, I do not see this as having a lasting effect against Prime Minister Howard. I have always felt the Aussies to be kindred spirits to Texans, and I think this spirit is ideally exemplified by an Australian rescued from captivity by thugs in Iraq, Douglas Wood.
Is this a bad time to remind readers that the Democratic presidential campaign of John Kerry, through the candidate’s sister, tried to undermine our relations with our Australian allies?