Defence Minister Johnston say ”augment our readiness” for further Middle East conflicts
Australia’s new Defence Minister, David Johnston, says he wants to keep the military battle-ready for further possible conflicts in the unstable Middle East and south Asia.
Senator Johnston said that after 14 years of involvement in overseas conflicts from East Timor to Afghanistan, the Australian Defence Force had a strong fighting momentum that should not be lost as troops return from Afghanistan.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, he said he plans to maintain and ”augment our readiness” for future fights, which will most likely be in the unstable region stretching from Pakistan to the Levant, including even fresh trouble in Afghanistan.
”It will be Pakistan across to Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan. That’s the area where there will be instability and that’s the area that we might need to go back into at some point in the future.
”I can’t foresee that right now, but … if you were to look at where the next area of instability is likely to be – and we’re seeing it unfolding in Syria today – a contribution from Australia is most likely to be in that part of the world in the future. I think Pakistan is also highly problematic.”
The West Australian Senator (pictured), a former justice and customs minister in the Howard government and Tony Abbott’s defence spokesman, stressed he did not see Australians fighting in Syria.
He said he was not preparing for any particular conflict ”in an alarmist sense” but was determined to build on the knowledge and skills the Australian Defence Force had gained running counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. That included exposure to enemy tactics such as the use of improvised explosive devices and fighting in urban areas among a civilian population ”against a very, very resourceful and callous enemy.
These are experiences that we’ve lived and breathed for 10 years and we’ve become quite expert in those things. And we’ve got to make sure those lessons are passed on to our soldiers in the future.
”Operationally, we’re starting to come down [in Afghanistan], so we’ve got to maintain some interest for the troops. They’ve got to keep training, got to keep a level of readiness.”
The bulk of Australian troops are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year. However, in a reminder of the continuing danger, three special forces soldiers were wounded last week in a battle with insurgents.
A Defence statement issued on Friday said the three elite soldiers had received ”minor fragmentation wounds” while helping Afghan forces fight off insurgents.
Senator Johnston’s remarks come amid a continuing international standoff over the response to Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons.