Barack Obama has praised Australia’s “remarkable contribution” to the fight against Isis, and the size of its military contingent, at the start of a White House meeting with .
The Australian prime minister faced domestic criticism, including from Tony Abbott’s former defence minister Kevin Andrews, when he to 40 countries for more military cooperation.
But in remarks before the pair sat down to a White House meeting and working lunch, the US president said Afghanistan and Iraq – the countries – were “just two places where we see the value of Australia’s armed forces and the remarkable contribution that they have made and the sacrifices that they make consistently”.
“Keep in mind that in our fight against Isil, Australia is the second largest contributor of troops on the ground after the United States,” he said.
“We’re going to talk about how we can strengthen our cooperation, both in Syria and Iraq, the state of affairs in , but also countering violent extremism globally. And Australia will be a very important partner in that process,” Obama said.
Last week Andrews, now a backbencher, that “if the Americans have made a reasonable request of us, then we should be giving it the most favourable consideration.”
“It’s quite clear from the advice I received, and I was aware of what the American military personnel and defence leaders were suggesting, and that was for months they were suggesting that we needed forces on the ground in order to defeat Isil,” he said.
The president also praised the role of the Australian alliance in the US “pivot” towards Asia and work to uphold the international “rules of the road” – an apparent reference to the dispute over .
“Our rebalance has been effective in part because we have such strong treaty alliances, and Australia is one of those critical alliances. And our marines in Australia, the joint exercises that we do, the work that we do to affirm an international order and rules of the road with respect to issues like maritime law all are critical for the continued expansion of commerce and the sustained, peaceful conditions that allow our economies to thrive,” he said.
Turnbull repeated the point he had made in an in Washington, that more effort had to be made to counter online propaganda from Isis.
“We have to constantly lift our game in the way we engage with and tackle these extremists, particularly Isil – but there are many others – as they operate in the cyber sphere. Archaic and barbaric though they may be, their use regrettably of the internet is very sophisticated. And so I’m pleased that we’re going to be working on even closer collaboration there,” he said.
Obama and Turnbull were scheduled to spend almost two hours together at the White House meeting and working lunch.