Combat mission over as Iraq troops return

June 22, 2008 05:40pm

* Last combat troops return from Iraq
* Marks end of three years in Iraq
* Parade on Saturday to honour troops

THE last Australian combat soldiers to serve in Iraq have returned home, ending another chapter in the nation's defence history. The 80 men and women from Overwatch Battle Group (West) Four landed in Brisbane today after more than six months away.

Their return marks the end of a three-year commitment of Australian soldiers to combat duties in the Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces of southern Iraq. It is also the end of operations for the Australian Army Training Team, which trained around 33,000 Iraqi soldiers.

For Tanya Kinslow, the return of her husband Simon was a huge relief. It was only the second time Sergeant Kinslow had seen their three-month-old daughter Ava, and Mrs Kinslow said he had a lot of nappy changing to catch up on - about 800 by her count.

"It will be nice to have someone else to cook the dinner," she said.Sgt Kinslow said he looked forward to pitching in. "It's the second time I've seen her, I was here just after she was born, I wasn't there for the birth, so it's good to be home," he said.

"She's beautiful, she's grown alright." The battle group's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Websdane, said no one was in two minds about leaving Iraq after the welcome they received.

"We're all relieved that the mission's complete, we're all happy to know that we brought all our mates home," he said. Lt Col Websdane said he believed the mission in the two provinces was accomplished.

"The job is far better than we found it," he said. "We can see just in day-to-day operations we were conducting, the two provinces were functioning effectively, they had democratically elected governments, they were responsible for security, law and order.

"I know there's always a lot of controversy when decisions are made to send troops, our job is to do the job of the government of the day. "It was time for the military, in accordance with the desires of the government, to complete the mission, and I can say ... we've come a long way, and there's a satisfying feeling that we've contributed a hell of a lot to the job."

Lt Col Websdane said he hoped Saturday's welcome home parade in Brisbane's CBD would be "short and sharp" so he could get on with the more important business of catching up with his three daughters, aged six, five and two.

The parade will recognise all Australian soldiers who served in southern Iraq.

(Note: pending orders, members of these units may be sent to Afghanistan soon.

Others will be trained and deployed for operations overseas in other trouble spots. We currently have at least five areas of concern, one of those being Bandar Aceh, which is on our front doorstep in Indonesia.

With Jemaah Islamayah becoming more of a problem, domestic security is a major concern.)