|Samantha Maiden, Online political editor | September 08, 2008
DEFENCE Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will consider sending Australian infantry into combat roles in Afghanistan to ease the burden on the elite SAS unit.
Australian Scott Toohey meets a boy in Afghanistan's Ghazni province. Picture: Australian Defence Force
In the wake of a warning in The Australian today from NATO's new top commander in Afghanistan that the international coalition is "struggling to win" and about 15,000 more troops are needed, Mr Fitzgibbon said he would not be increasing troop numbers in the region.
However, he would not rule out using infantry in combat roles, for the first time since the Vietnam War.
"It is true that our Special Operations Task group - that is, our special forces people - have had to sustain rotations for a long, long time now," he told ABC Radio today.
"We'll constantly look at how we can take the pressure off our special forces by constantly reviewing and potentially reconfiguring our commitment."
Mr Fitzgibbon said the unrest on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border continued to be a problem.
"We've got to deal with those north-west border regions which are becoming a breeding ground for al-Qa'ida and other insurgent groups, who can too easily make their way across the border into Afghanistan to do their bad work," he said.
"So there are a number of variables and how we deal with each of those variables will determine how long we're there."
General David McKiernan told The Australian's Patrick Walters that he believes the Taliban-led insurgency will never win, with the vast majority of Afghans not wanting a return to a government led by extremists
"That said, however, we are struggling to win,” he said.
"I can say that I have asked - and that in Washington there is an understanding - for a requirement of upwards of four manoeuvre brigade combat teams with enablers such as intelligence, aviation, logistics that go with that.
"I think whatever contributions Australia might decide to contribute - whether it's combat arms, combat support logistics or aviation - any of that I would welcome."