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Australia won't follow UK on partial troop pullout in Iraq

450 soldiers deployed to guard Japanese engineers and train Iraqi forces would be transferred to other duties after Japanese pullout.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 18:56 IST

Australia insisted Tuesday that its troops would stay in Iraq "as long as necessary" despite Britain's decision to withdraw 10 per cent of its forces from the war-ravaged nation.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said 450 soldiers deployed to guard Japanese military engineers and train Iraqi security forces in southern Iraq would be transferred to other duties in the area following an expected Japanese withdrawal.

"We will move some time over the next three to four months pending the movement of the Japanese," said Nelson, who visited the Australian contingent in Iraq last week.

Nelson said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio that the Australians would support Iraqi security forces, police and local government authorities "in administering and managing their own affairs".

"And we will respond to requests from the Iraqi government," he said.

While Australia initially said the 450 soldiers were expected to be brought home in the middle of this year, Nelson said Tuesday that they would remain in Iraq "well into 2007".

"I expect the task in terms of supporting the security and overwatch in southern Iraq is one that will continue for at least another six to 12 months," he said. "Overwatch" is a US military term that refers to providing support to other military units.

Nelson said he had spoken with British Defence Minister John Reid about his overnight announcement that London would withdraw about 800 of its troops from southern Iraq, leaving about 7,000 British soldiers in the country.

In addition to the 450 soldiers deployed in southern Iraq, Australia has 450 troops stationed elsewhere in the country, mainly in and around Baghdad.

First Published: Mar 14, 2006 18:56 IST