Australian Prime Minister John Howard dismissed a news report yesterday that said he has a secret plan to begin withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq in February.
"The story from this morning is absurd," Howard told reporters. "The plan is so secret, I don't know anything about it. I'm denying that story, full stop."
The Sunday Telegraph cited unnamed sources as saying the Australian withdrawal was expected to begin at the same time as the US begins to draw down its combat troops in February.
The US has yet to announce any planned redeployment of its forces.
Australia has 1,000 troops in Iraq supported by 600 navy and air force personnel in the region.
Howard, who originally committed 2,000 troops to support US and British forces in the Iraq invasion on the understanding that Australians would not be part of the occupation force, has refused to give a timetable for Australia's withdrawal.
The opposition Labor Party opposed the war and pledged to bring most of the troops home if it wins elections due later this year.
Yesterday's report said Howard intends to catch Labor off guard by announcing his withdrawal plan during the election campaign.
"The government is quietly saying to defense, `We don't want to get caught in Iraq if it comes unstuck for the Americans,'" an unnamed official told the newspaper.
Labor's defense spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon predicted that Howard would announce a timetable for withdrawal to keep Iraq from becoming an election issue.
"I think there is little doubt that he's laying the groundwork for a backflip -- a significant backflip -- because he doesn't want this to be an issue in the lead up to the next election," Fitzgibbon told Sky News.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Australia Robert McCallum said Labor's plan to withdraw troops if it wins the election could create tension between the two allies.
"One, in all candor, has to say whenever one agrees with an ally about any subject it's better than if one disagrees and there's always a tension or a stress on a relationship," McCallum told Ten Network TV.
However, it was up to Australia to decide where to deploy its troops, McCallum said.
An Australian university student who has never visited China and has only a modest social media following would seem an unlikely target for the Chinese government. However, when a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a news conference, it was just the next phase in an extraordinary campaign against the 21-year-old that has fueled concerns over China’s targeting of critics overseas. Pavlou first placed himself in the superpower’s sights when in July last year he organized a small sit-in at the University of Queensland, where he studies, to protest against various Chinese government policies. Since then, the Global
‘ASKED TO MOVE OUT’: Indonesian coast guard personnel argued with a Chinese vessel over territorial claims after it entered the country’s exclusive economic zone An Indonesian patrol ship confronted a Chinese coast guard vessel that spent almost three days in waters where Indonesia claims economic rights and that are near the southernmost part of China’s disputed claims to the South China Sea. The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency on Friday night detected Chinese ship 5204 entering Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in what Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea. The agency sent a patrol ship that closed within 1km of the Chinese coast guard vessel and they communicated to affirm their position and their nation’s claims to the area, Indonesian Maritime Security Agency head Aan Kurnia said. “We
BEFORE WINTER COMES: Snow cuts off roads into Ladakh for four months or more each year, so the crunch is on to get food, tents and high-altitude equipment to Leh From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, the Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China. In the past few months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said. The move was triggered by a border standoff with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”