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Australia Commits Troops to Join US & Coalition Forces in Gulf - 2003-03-18

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has committed Australian troops to join U.S. and British coalition forces in the Gulf region

Although the official order has just been issued, Australian forces have been deployed in the region for months, preparing for war alongside their British and U.S. colleagues.

The spokesman for the Australian forces, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Elliott, says the Australian soldiers have been training rigorously under a separate operation called Bastille. As a result, he says they should have no difficulty in adapting to the reality of moving to an operational phase.

"The environment and the intensity of everything around you has focused the soldiers ever since they've been here. So a reality change? Not particularly. Maybe a sharper focus," Lieutenant Elliott said.

About 2,000 troops from the various Australian services have been in the region since December. They include special forces equipped with helicopters, and several dozen warplanes, including F-18 attack planes.

Colonel Elliott says their mission is similar to that of other coalition forces. "Our special forces are long-range reconnaissance and strike. Our FAA-18's are the same as any of the other strike aircraft. So it is more of a support in coordination with the rest of the coalition," he explained.

The Australian military spokesman also notes that three navy ships have been patrolling the Gulf for the past 12 years, intercepting and inspecting cargo ships as part of the effort to enforce international sanctions against Iraq.

He says troops from Australia are used to harsh terrain like in the Gulf region. As a result, he says morale is high and the troops are ready.