Australia ends Iraq combat operations
By TANALEE SMITH, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 21
SYDNEY, Australia - Australia, a staunch U.S. ally and
one of the first countries to commit troops to the
Iraq war five years ago, ended combat operations there
Sunday, a Defense Department official said.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was swept into
office in November largely on the promise that he
would bring home the country's 550 combat troops by
the middle of 2008.
Rudd has said the Iraq deployment has made Australia
more of a target for terrorism.
The combat troops are expected to return home over the
next few weeks. Local media reports said the first of
the soldiers had already landed in Australia on Sunday
"Our soldiers have worked tirelessly to ensure that
local people in southern Iraq have the best possible
chance to move on from their suffering under Saddam's
regime and, as a government we are extremely proud of
their service," Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said.
Several hundred other troops will remain in Iraq to
act as security and headquarters liaisons and to guard
diplomats. Australia will also leave behind two
maritime surveillance aircraft and a warship to help
patrol oil platforms in the Gulf.
The troops on Sunday held a ceremony that included
lowering the Australian flag from its position over
Camp Terendak in the southern Iraq city of Talil, the
official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as
required by the Defense Department.
The soldiers, as well as 65 army trainers, were
stationed at Talil, about 185 miles south of Baghdad,
and were responsible for providing security training
for Iraqi forces, as well as reconstruction and aid
work. They have been on standby to offer backup to
Iraqi forces in the south for the past two years.
In February, the head of Australia's defense force,
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, told a Senate inquiry
that the troops were no longer needed in Iraq.
Rudd remains committed to keeping Australia's 1,000
troops in Afghanistan.