The Minister of Defense, Senator Robert Hill, tours the Al Muthanna Task Group's (AMTG) Camp Smitty alongside the commander of Joint Task Force 633, Air Commodore Greg Evans (far left) and Commander of the AMTG, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Noble (center)., Al Muthanna, Iraq, May 1, 2005

Defense Minister Robert Hill has met with Governor of the Al Muthanna Province, Mohammed Al Hassani during a visit of Australian troops based in the southern region of Iraq.

Senator Hill said the Governor expressed his gratitude for Australia’s assistance in the region, and early indications are that the Australian troops had been welcomed by the local Iraqi people.

The meeting was part of a visit by Senator Hill to the Al Muthanna Province to meet Australian troops currently preparing for the arrival of the main body of Australian forces in Al Muthanna Province in Iraq.

Senator Hill said he passed on his thanks to the Governor for the welcome he has given Australia.

"I wanted to reinforce the fact that Australian forces are here to assist the people of Iraq, particularly in helping to train Iraqi Armed Forces, and ensuring the security environment within which the Japanese Self Defense Force could continue their important humanitarian work. We’re looking forward to being of assistance to the Iraqi people in this province," Senator Hill said.

The first main body of Australian Defense Force troops that make up the Al Muthanna Task Group will start to arrive today (Sunday May 1).

"All personnel in the Task Group, which is made up of about 450 personnel largely drawn from Darwin’s 1st Brigade, will be in position within the next few weeks."

The deployment follows an announcement by the Prime Minister in February to send the Task Group to support the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction and Support Group and provide vital training to the Iraqi security force.

"We are committed to a twelve month operation, with six-monthly rotations of ADF personnel. However, the Government will continually review the situation to ensure our contribution is in line with the needs of the Iraqi people," Senator Hill said.

"The Task Group will be based at Camp Smitty in the Al Muthanna Province of Iraq and will be responsible for providing a stable and secure environment for the Japanese Reconstruction and Support Group as they undertake essential humanitarian, engineering and rebuilding tasks.

"The job of training the Al Muthanna provincial Iraqi security force is an important contribution to help prepare Iraq to take on the task of providing its own security in the future.

"This year following the Iraq elections is vital to the future stability of the country. Now is a crucial time to provide much needed support to the people of Iraq to help them build a safer more prosperous future.

"Australia remains committed to this task and will stay until the job is done."

The Task Group will work closely with its coalition partners including the United Kingdom, who will be responsible for the overall security of the province. 

"While the Task Group will form part of the coalition, all its members will remain under Australian national command at all times," Senator Hill said.

Operation Catalyst currently comprises approximately 920 personnel. This will increase to around 1370 once the AMTG are in position in Al Muthanna.