September 03, 2008
THE Government and Opposition yesterday combined to defend the actions of special forces soldiers in Afghanistan after embarrassing admissions by the army that dog pens were used to hold Taliban detainees.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said yesterday the Diggers were not to blame for the situation that has infuriated Australian Muslim groups, who regard it as an insult to their religion, which classifies dogs as dirty animals.
Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Fitzgibbon said the troops had no option but to use the dog pens before relocating their prisoners to the main base at Tarin Kowt.
He accepted that cultural sensitivities had been offended but there would be no apology.
"We are at war in Afghanistan with people who will employ any tactic, including the use of children as shields and as a means of propaganda, and it is a tough battle," he said. "But we always endeavour to comply on all occasions with international law and I am confident that our people have done so."
Mr Fitzgibbon was supported by Opposition defence spokesman Nick Minchin.
"It's pretty outrageous for any Australian to complain about the behaviour of Australian troops in relation to these Taliban extremists who not only treat other troops but their own people with such degradation, cruelty and appalling procedures," Senator Minchin said.
"In this case, I think Australians should give our troops a bit of slack."
The row erupted after an operation on April 29 by Australian special forces close to where their colleague Lance Corporal Jason Marks had been fatally shot by Taliban insurgents two days earlier.
Four suspected Taliban were detained and brought to an unnamed Australian-built forward operating base where they were housed in individual pens formerly occupied by bomb squad dogs.
The Australian understands that the pens were open air and petitioned by wire and hessian cloth.
Defence declined a request by The Australian to provide details of the former dog pens despite anonymous telephone calls yesterday from Tarin Kowt-based Diggers that said numerous photographs had been taken of the rudimentary quarters for a separate Defence inquiry.
A 70-year-old detainee was later released but the others were brought to the main Dutch detention facility at the Tarin Kowt base.
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