|Mark Dodd | December 23, 2008
Article from: The Australian
THE Rudd Government should brace for a request from the US to increase its troop commitment to Afghanistan, the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said yesterday.
But retired Major General Peter Abigail played down calls by former colleague Jim Molan for Australia to commit a 6000-strong force to the war-battered country.
The Australian Defence Force had spare capacity to send 6000 troops to Afghanistan but would be unable to sustain the commitment, Major General Abigail said yesterday.
Major General Molan, who recently retired from the ADF, served as a senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq.
The 40-year army veteran is regarded as a specialist in counter-insurgency warfare.
Last week, General Molan warned that the NATO-led coalition battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency was heading for defeat unless it drastically increased troop numbers.
The quality and experience of Australian soldiers meant Kevin Rudd should expect to get a call soon from US president-elect Barack Obama asking for more Diggers, General Abigail said. Echoing the comments of a recent outgoing British Afghan commander, he raised the prospect of a negotiated settlement with moderate Taliban elements.
The ASPI chief said that Dutch forces, with whom the ADF share security duties in southern Oruzgan, are likely to extend their departure date by one year -- originally set for 2010.
Ottawa was also set to extend the mandate of Canadian forces.
Yesterday, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon ruled out sending more troops to Afghanistan, repeating what has become a familiar government mantra: Australia is the biggest non-NATO contributor and there will be no increase in troops unless European NATO nations boost their contributions.
"We certainly welcome the additional commitment from the US and, of course, we need many more troops and we are still looking for our NATO partners who are currently under-committed to do more," Mr Fitzgibbon told ABC radio yesterday.
"In Iraq at its peak, we had 160,000 troops, and that's a country about two-thirds the size of Afghanistan.
"Even after the additional US troop commitment, the overall troop numbers will total about 60,000."
The US has committed to deploying an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to blunt a growing Taliban insurgency that has made this year the bloodiest for coalition forces since hostilities began in 2001.
Their resilience and the lack of credibility of the Karzai Government in Kabul has forced a big rethink of how long the coalition will have to commit to Afghanistan.
Australia has about 1100 troops in Afghanistan, but only the elite 300-strong Special Forces Task Group is deployed in day-to-day combat operations.