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Australian troops want to see real action in Iraq

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian infantry troops are ashamed of their "second rate" role in Iraq and Afghanistan and want to see combat as well as protection and reconstruction roles, according to an army major who served in Iraq.

In an article titled "We Were Soldiers Once" in the latest edition of the Australian Army Journal, Major Jim Hammett, who served in Iraq, Somalia, East Timor, and Tonga, said some infantry soldiers were ashamed of wearing the Australian uniform.

"The restrictions placed on deployed elements as a result of force protection and national policies have, at times, made infantrymen ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform and regimental badge," Hammett wrote.

"(They) have resulted in the widespread perception that our army is plagued by institutional cowardice."

In a second article in the journal, Captain Greg Colton, second-in-command of Sydney's 3rd battalion, said troop morale had deteriorated because infantry were kept away from frontlines like "downtown Baghdad, Basra and Helmand province".

"There is a growing sense of frustration within the ranks of the infantry that regular infantry units are only receiving perceived second-rate operational taskings," wrote Colton.

Australia is a staunch U.S. ally and was one of the first to commit troops to the Iraq war. But it placed only special forces on the ground, not infantry, as well as supplying support forces, ships and aircraft.

Australia has almost 4,000 soldiers, sailors and air crews serving overseas, in Iraq, Afghanistan and seven other deployments. But it has only 500 frontline troops in Iraq, which it will withdraw later in 2008 and whose main role is force protection and training, and 300 special forces in Afghanistan.

Australia's former conservative prime minister, John Howard, who committed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, said Australia's military contribution to the U.S.-led war on terror was crucial and any troop withdrawal would be a sign of defeat.

But Hammett said frontline troops dismiss Howard's claim.

"At the coalface ... such sentiments are dismissed as political rhetoric, as serving members from the United States, Britain and Canada lay their lives on the line in support of their governments objectives whilst the Australian infantry appear to do little more than act as interested spectators ...," he wrote.

The government policy of using special forces only for combat and keeping the infantry away from the fighting had exposed Australian troops to "near contempt" from other allied soldiers serving in Iraq, said Hammett, who interviewed infantry troops.

"In the opinion of many infantrymen, the lauding of their contributions to recent operations does not ring true," he said.

"The ongoing inaction (in Iraq) ... has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet force protected Australian troops."

Hammett, now studying at the Australian Command and Staff College in Canberra, said Australia's infantry, which makes up about a third of the army's combat forces, had not been assigned major offensive actions since the Vietnam War.

In contrast, the United States, Britain and Canada which contribute the bulk of foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, are using infantry troops for combat operations.

Hammett said a constant question being asked in Australian barracks and messes is: "Why, in an era of global operations and unity of purpose against common enemies, are Australian infantrymen conspicuously absent from the fighting, whilst our allies are engaging in sustained combat operations?

"Today's Australian soldiers have been imbued with the proud history of their forebears, their fighting spirit, their tenacity, their battle honours," wrote Hammett. "The infantrymen of today want to be proud of their own actions."
Also read the comments here.

No apologies required. The Aussies I worked with in Baghdad were good people - frustrated people but good. However, they filled jobs in training and log that we couldn't have filled because of our workload elsewhere.

I was vital work in its own way and the body corporate would not have worked if they hadn't carried out those tasks.

I know that this comment is all about Inf but the wider picture is known by anyone with a brain.

No embarrassement and no apology required.
Being ex military all I can say is be carefull what you wish for.

Agree (0) Alert moderator

27 May 2008 12:54:40pm

Yea, Verily, Friend - indeed be careful what you wish for. I think this opinion that soldiers are missing contributing to the body count is of a mere handful of the vocal minority, show me a soldier who doesn't have an "opinion" about their superior officers and their relative competence? I for one are proud that our army is not solely engaged in taking lives, and the entire Defence Force over there should be immensely proud of themselves - they are making a difference - what more can they do, a fine and noble endeavour - believe me, you DO NOT want to relentlessly kill and kill - have you learned nothing from History? Killing sends you crazy, it changes the way you feel and function - be thankful you are not forced to kill, like the jihadists are.

Agree (0) Alert moderator

27 May 2008 10:24:36am

I'm not a warmonger but I can certainly see their point.
No one wants to go to war but the regular career defence force members expect some 'action' during their service rotation. It's similar to sitting on the bench most of your football career. They feel that all they have trained for is going to waste and that their peers will frown upon such 'pansy' contribution to the war effort.
People who join the regular services want to fight !
Agree (0) Alert moderator

27 May 2008 10:36:09am

and then there are complaints about our soldiers who are killed in a war that we shouldn't be in anyway.

where does it all end?
Yup. looked and saw pretty much the same kind of discussions being made there as you will hear in the debate here. I cut a more sensible part of the debate to paste here.

Simple matter - are your politicians willing to get more involved in A or I? I don't think so and therefore they will remain happy to contribute to the rules they have set now.

As an ex-infanteer, I understand the frustrations but in all ops, someone has to pick up the quieter jobs. I'm just glad you are there to do them.

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