The Turnbull government has not ruled out stepping up Australia’s military commitment in , but the defence minister Marise Payne says Australia is already making a “very considerable contribution” in theatres around the world.
The US president, Donald Trump, the US would remain in Afghanistan for a prolonged period, and he attempted to reframe the mission, saying America was no longer engaged in nation building, it was focussed on “killing terrorists”.
Trump to expand US military intervention in Afghanistan
Asked by reporters in Singapore whether the recalibration of the US strategy in Afghanistan was consequential for Australia, Payne said: “We will examine the president’s statement, consider any expectations of counterpart nations, and engage in discussion with the US on those matters.”
She said the US had not made any specific requests of Australia, but she would discuss the new strategy with American counterparts. “But I would reinforce that we are making a very considerable contribution, not just in Afghanistan, but indeed throughout the world,” Payne said.
She said Australia had significant military commitments in the Middle East and Iraq, as well as fielding counter-terrorism support operations, including an engagement in the Philippines.
Asked whether Australia could contemplate returning to military operations in Afghanistan, Payne said: “We would always engage any consideration of any request on its merits and in the interest of Australia.
“At this point in time, our engagement is in training and in the areas that I outlined in my remarks earlier.
“There is no contemplation of a change in that in this point in time. We’ll continue to work closely both with Nato and the United States in terms of what Australia is asked to do and able to contribute.”
Trump’s commitment on Tuesday is a reversal from his previous opposition to the US engagement in Afghanistan, but the speech did not outline specifics, like how many more troops the US would deploy, how long they would remain in the war-torn country, or what their ultimate objective was.
The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said the opposition was not minded to give a blank cheque to Trump, but the ALP supported Australia’s contribution in Afghanistan.
“The work that our ADF personnel do in Afghanistan is important. I for one never forget that some of the terrorists who have operated in our region much closer to Australia were trained in Afghanistan before 9/11,” Shorten said.
He said if there was to be a change in the Australian contribution, Labor would wait for a briefing from the government, and “work through this in a calm and considered matter”.
Shorten signalled Labor would back the government’s ultimate decision. “Australians should know that my track record when it comes to national security and the deployment of ADF has been to work with the government of the day because our ADF expects nothing less from the government and their opposition”.