NEWS: Series on Men and Woman suffering PTSD. Chris May . .31st October 2013… Photo by MELISSA ADAMS of The Canberra Times. US Secretary of Defence James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson meeting Julie Bishop and Marise Payne at Government House, Sydney.Pictured is Marise Payne5th June 2017.Photo: Steven Siewert
The United States is expected to ask Australia to commit more troops to Afghanistan and Defence Minister Marise Payne has not ruled out returning to a combat role as part of a renewed strategy to beat back a resurgent Taliban.
Sources have told Fairfax Media they consider it likely Australia will receive a request for more military help beyond the present commitment of 300 training and advisory forces after US President Donald Trump vowed on Monday “we are not nation-building again, we are killing terrorists”.
In his much-anticipated speech outlining a fresh strategy 16 years since the US-led coalition toppled the Taliban, Mr Trump pledged a boost to American forces and said he expected allies to do the same.
A further request is not regarded as certain, however. Senator Payne stressed Australia was already making a “very considerable contribution” to the fight against various Islamist groups around the world but said the government would discuss potential increases.
“We will speak with our US colleagues and see what their expectations are on counterparts,” she said.
When asked whether the government would consider a return to a combat role, Senator Payne said: “We would always engage any consideration of any request on its own merits and in the interests of Australia.”
Australian troops in Afghanistan were dedicated to training and advising and there was “no contemplation of a change to that at this point in time”, she said, but added that “we will continue to work closely both with NATO and with the United States in terms of what Australia is asked to do and able to contribute”.
Defence Secretary James Mattis said he would consult with NATO and other allies and noted that “several of which have also committed to increasing their troop numbers”.
The ADF has about 270 troops training and advising in Afghanistan and has already committed to sending another 30, though it is waiting to co-ordinate with NATO and the US before sending those additional forces.
A possible training role for the Australian Defence Force in the Philippines, where local forces are fighting Islamic State-affiliated groups, is likely to factor into the government’s thinking on any request on Afghanistan.
Australia also has more than 300 trainers and several dozen special forces advisers in Iraq. And the RAAF is flying P-3 Orion spy planes over the southern Philippines to help local forces against a fierce and bloody Islamic State-backed insurgency.
Mr Trump, whose speech at a military base outside Washington was broadly well-received by defence analysts, did not specify US troop numbers. Mr Trump said he would not set targets or withdrawal dates that the insurgents could wait out.
He said Washington would ask allies and partners “to support our new strategy with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own” and added, “we are confident they will”.
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.
In the past, Australian special forces soldiers have carried out raids to kill or capture high value Taliban targets. They have ended this role but US forces are still carrying out these raids.
Mr Trump’s long-awaited strategy also included putting more pressure on Pakistan to stop harbouring Taliban fighters, and giving greater authority to military commanders on the ground to run the military operations.
Afghanistan veteran Chris May, who served two tours between the ages of 19 and 21 and suffered a fractured neck followed by post-traumatic stress disorder after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, said many soldiers felt the previous coalition draw down had been premature.
Mr May, who now runs a group called Young Veterans, said when Diggers he knew saw parts of Oruzgan province retaken by the Taliban after Australia withdrew, “a part of their heart fell out because blood, sweat and tears went into fighting on that ground”.
“It wasn’t for us – it was for the Afghans. But our impact in that small part of the country was such a big impact.”
By some estimates, the Afghan government now controls less than 60 percent of the area of the country.
Former Chief of Army Peter Leahy, who now heads Canberra University’s National Security Institute, said the new approach was an improvement and would “give them a chance to win but it won’t happen quickly”.
“Potentially this is decades,” he said. “It’s not going to be a military victory. That’s the best element of the strategy is he’s talking not just about military but diplomatic and economic power as well.”
Jacinta Carroll, a defence expert with the Australian National University’s, said she was “encouraged” by Mr Trump’s speech.
“Overall, it’s very sensible and encompasses the range of things that are at play,” she said.