Defence Minister Marise Payne says she will discuss Australian troop numbers in Afghanistan with the US. Photo: Steven SiewertAustralia will discuss potential further troop increases to Afghanistan with the United States in the wake of President Donald Trump’s speech announcing a new strategy for the war-torn nation, Defence Minister Marise Payne has said.
But Senator Payne has stressed that Australia is currently making a “significant contribution” to operation in the Middle East and in its own neighbourhood and has already committed to raise troop levels in Afghanistan from 270 to 300.
However, Mr Trump said when announcing his new approach that the US will ask allies and partners to “support our new strategy with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own”.
US media have reported Mr Trump will increase American troops by 4000 – a rise of nearly 50 per cent on the roughly 8400 US forces there now.
Senator Payne said that Australia was “making a significant contribution to operations including in Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan and in our own region”.
“In May we agreed to increase the ADF train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan by 30 personnel, which will take our total troop numbers to around 300.
“We will examine the President’s statement, consider any expectations of counterpart nations and engage in discussion with the US on those matters.”
Those 30 have not yet been deployed because Australia is still co-ordinating with NATO.
It remains unclear whether the US will ask Australia for further contributions beyond those 30. One possibility is that in addition to the current training and advising role that the Australian Defence Force carries out, special forces soldiers could be called upon to return to a combat role, carrying out raids to kill or capture high value targets.
Australia has ended this role but US forces are still carrying out these raids.
Australia has also begun supporting the Philippines in its fight against Islamic-State affiliated militants, and some analysts say the US is likely to back Australia devoting more energy to its near region.
Mr Trump’s long-awaited strategy outlined three main pillars: the US will no longer set deadlines for withdrawal that the Taliban can wait out, more pressure will be put on Pakistan to stop harbouring Taliban fighters, and greater authority will be given to military commanders on the ground to run the military operations.
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