Oz govt. in dock for stonewalling “US requests for additional troops in Afghanistan”

Friday, November 19, 2010

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard must respond immediately to the allegations that the country has turned down repeated US requests to send more troops to Afghanistan, as being the premier, it is her duty to be “open and honest with the Australian public,” the Opposition has said.

“I call upon the government to respond immediately,” The Australian quoted Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Julie Bishop, as saying to reporters in Sydney.

“As soon as she arrives in Lisbon, she must respond to these allegations,” Bishop said of Gillard, who is on her way to a NATO conference on Afghanistan in Lisbon with Defence Minister Stephen Smith.

“It puts the government’s credibility on the line, and there is no more solemn duty of a prime minister than to be open and honest with the Australian public about our commitment in Afghanistan,” she added.

Noting that the government had “repeatedly denied” that America had made requests for additional troops, Bishop said, “Indeed, as recently as yesterday, the Prime Minister has denied that any formal or informal request had been made to her government to provide more troops.”

She raised some questions for the government to answer: “Have any formal or informal requests for more troops been made to the government? If so, when were those requests made? What is the nature of those requests and what was the government’s response?”

The allegations, if true, could have serious ramifications for Australia’s relationship with the US, said Bishop, who also expressed the Opposition’s concern at reports that some requests had not been passed on to the government by senior defence officers, because they “know, or they believe” that their requests will be rejected.

“If these allegations are true, it raises extremely serious questions, and the government must respond to them immediately,” Bishop said.

Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor of troops to the conflict, with about 1550 personnel in Oruzgan province. But it has turned down repeated requests from the United States to bolster its commitment, Fairfax newspapers said on Friday.

According to one Australian Defence source, US officers have repeatedly said they are “sick and tired of Australia not doing enough … they’d like us to be doing more”.

The US has also been pushing for Australia to take the lead in Oruzgan province.

“Any discussion on leadership [in Oruzgan] is quickly terminated by Australian politicians,” said another source.ccording to the paper, the Gillard government is opposed to any increase in Afghan troop levels above the current 1550 deployment. (ANI)

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