CHIANGRAI TIMES – The first detachment of 200 US Marines has arrived in Australia to undertake training across the Top End for the next six months. Eventually more than 2000 Marines will train in Australia under the program of enhanced defense cooperation outlined during the visit of United States President Barack Obama in November last year.
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Northern Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson welcomed what they said was the latest chapter in the more than 60-year alliance with the US.
The initial rotation will be a US Marine Corps infantry company, which touched down in Darwin on Tuesday night.
Over the next six months, they will undertake bilateral training with members of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) as well as their own training.
Most of that will be on ADF Northern Territory training areas and ranges, including the Mount Bundey and Kangaroo Flats training areas.
It’s planned that the US Marines’ presence will eventually increase to a full 2500-strong Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), rotating into northern Australia in the dry season.
That comprises command, ground, aviation and logistics elements. Apart from personnel, major equipment to support the elements of the MAGTF includes wheeled vehicles, artillery pieces, light armored vehicles and aircraft,.
Visiting US personnel will use existing defense facilities in Northern Australia for accommodation and training. Australia will provide a range of support with costs shared under existing legal, financial and logistical arrangements.
‘There are no US military bases in Australia and this will not change,’ the statement said.
The joint statement said this represented an evolution of existing exercises and activities that the US already conducts with the ADF in Australia.
That includes the biennial Exercise Talisman Sabre in the Northern Territory and Queensland, most recently conducted last year and involving 22,500 Australian and US troops.
‘This initiative will provide tangible benefits for Australia by increasing the number, variety and complexity of training opportunities for the ADF and further developing our interoperability with US forces,’ they said.
‘It also supports Australia’s long-held strategic interests in supporting US engagement in our region in a manner that promotes peace and stability. The initiative could also provide new opportunities for Australian and US engagement with our partners in the region.’
However, critics of the US troop build-up remain cautious, despite a recent meeting with a senior military official.
Justin Tutty from the Base watch group in Darwin, said that at a meeting last week, Australian Major General Michael Krause had dismissed concerns US troops would bring nuclear weapons or cluster munitions into Australia.
‘All the concerns we have outlined as still present. None of them have been formally resolved,’ Mr Tutty said.
‘But we feel really good that at least they understand what those concerns are and they are verbally answering them correctly,’ he said.
Mr Tutty said he wanted to see details of the assurances put into a legal document.