Australia has welcomed the Afghanistan deployment. But what the extra US troops will be doing is likely to be made clearer when defence ministers from NATO countries meet in Poland over the next two days.
Presenter: Linda Mottram, Canberra Correspondent
Joel Fitzgibbon, Australian defence minister
FITZGIBBON: The south is where they are most needed, it's where the real challenges are and that's because it's where our own troops are operation so the additional commitment is a very, very welcome one but not unexpected. We've been expecting this for some time and I look forward to discussing Secretary Gate's new plans in Krakov tomorrow.
MOTTRAM: Of course those plans are still being formulated aren't they, do you see that this deployment is going to form part of that wider plan?
FITZGIBBON: There are a number of reviews underway in the United States on both the military and the civil side. There is no doubt that additional troop numbers are critical to securing better progress in Afghanistan but we also need to properly resource and marry the civil effort. So there are a number of challenges which lay ahead but we certainly welcome the additional troop commitments from the United States.
MOTTRAM: Will those US troops be working directly with the Australian forces in southern Afghanistan?
FITZGIBBON: Of course our troops operate in the south in Urzughan province so I expect we would be working together but none of us really know what this announcement means in practical terms. We know the numbers but it's a little unclear what Secretary Gates and the US administration has in mind. That's why I look forward to catching up with Secretary Gates and other ?? to discuss their future plans.
MOTTRAM: So has Australia been asked to make any further contribution itself at this stage?
FITZGIBBON: No Australia has not received any formal request to do more. I've said on a regular basis that we would of course always consider such a request from our closest ally but there are a number of steps we would apply and of course we remain not inclined to do more while every so many NATO countries remain undercommitted.
MOTTRAM: Does that mean that you're not inclined to perhaps offer additional troops?
FITZGIBBON: No we certainly won't be offering additional troops. We will of course consider any reasonable request and I'll lay down a four-point test which we would apply to any request. First of all those NATO countries would need to stump up more troops. We'd have to be convinced that there is a new strategic plan for better progress. There'd have to be some strategic justification for us doing more, not just doing more for more's sake. And of course the most important of all we'd always need to apply our robust rigorous risk analysis to determine whether the risk to our troops is an acceptable one.
MOTTRAM: The situation this week has unfolded in interesting ways given the situation in Pakistan that seem to indicate that Pakistan is actually under considerable threat given the role of the Taliban and extremist forces in the region. Does that in any way change Australia's military or strategic role or plans in the region?
FITZGIBBON: It's very true that Pakistan is a key part of the former military progress and success in Afghanistan. I'm very pleased Minister Smith has been there talking with officials in that country this week. But this doesn't change the dynamic, I just welcome the fact that the international community is now starting to focus more on Pakistan and there is a greater acknowledge that dealing with our problems in Pakistan are critical to greater success in Afghanistan.
MOTTRAM: Would you look at a widened Australian role in Pakistan?
FITZGIBBON: Well we've already offered additional assistance in Pakistan. We have significant expertise for example in counter insurgency warfare. We could make a contribution in Pakistan in terms of training their armed forces and Minister Smith has been in Islamabad this week talking to Pakistani leaders and officials about those very things.
MOTTRAM: Although you're still on your way to the NATO meeting have you had any indications from NATO countries that they are willing to stump up more as you say?
FITZGIBBON: Not in a tangible sense but I have detected as I move around a change in mood across Europe since the change of administration, on that basis I am quietly confident that a number of what I'd describe as under-committed NATO countries are about to do more.
MOTTRAM: Which ones would they be?
FITZGIBBON: Well I'm always cautious not to name them, I think that would be a mistake because all of them who are there at the moment face challenging times, all of them have lost lives, so it's not appropriate for me to be pointing the finger but I think it's fair to say that we need all of those NATO countries across Europe to do more.