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Howard Discusses US Retaliation Against Afghanistan

October 8, 2001

The Prime Minister, John Howard, spoke this morning on Channel 9's "Today" show, just hours after the United States launched its retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan:

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Tracy.

GRIMSHAW:

How much advance notice were you given of the strikes?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was rung probably about an hour or so before the strikes commenced. Vice President Cheney rang me from the White House and said that the strikes would be taking place in about an hour’s time. We talked about the situation very briefly. He indicated once again the gratitude of the Administration for the offer of Australian help and that he believed that that assistance would be called upon at another stage of the operation. What has occurred overnight is, of course, an understandable pre-cursor to other actions and it does naturally enough follow the refusal of the Taliban, after repeated warnings from President Bush, to hand over Bin Laden and those others of his terrorist organisation within the authority and jurisdiction of the Taliban.

GRIMSHAW:

So, did the Vice President’s phone call come as a total surprise to you or had you had some indication that there might be some action this weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve not had any indication about specific timing. I think we’ve all been aware that some action has been increasingly likely as time went by. And you may remember last week I said, after I’d spoken to President Bush at the end of the previous week, that I saw this unfolding in a series of actions and nobody should imagine it was all going to be dealt with in one hit. But as to the specific timing, the warning I received was the warning I’ve described and that is understandable for the most obvious of security reasons - you don’t telegraph days in advance an attack of this kind.

GRIMSHAW:

So Australians were not involved last night. Has it been indicated to you when they may become involved, Australian troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australians were not involved last night. At this stage we have not received a specific request from the United States for the specific deployment of Australian forces in a particular theatre. My understanding at the moment is that the only forces involved in last night’s operation were naturally American and supported in particular by some British cruise missiles.

GRIMSHAW:

Did Vice President Cheney give you any sort of briefing on how this campaign will continue and will it, indeed, be continuous because it would appear that the raids are still underway as we speak?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I certainly got the message from him last night that this was a strike to dismantle communications facilities and to try and hit those known locations of terrorist training camps and terrorist activity. We were not talking over a scrambled line so obviously he didn’t go into operational things. But there has been, I should also mention, as a plane flies overhead – I hope you can still hear me.

GRIMSHAW:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

I should also mention that shortly after the Vice President spoke to me the Pentagon was in touch with the Chief of the Australian Defence Force to speak to him. So there was full warning and communication within the limits of security and confidentiality from the Americans to us.

GRIMSHAW:

Have you since had any sort of briefing about the success of the raids?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I expect to receive that this morning but I’ve not had that, no.

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister, you have no doubt seen Osama Bin Laden’s statement this morning. What is your reaction as Prime Minister to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, sadly it’s predictable and it is an example of the difficult situation in which the world finds itself but we have no alternative but to stand together against terrorism. We have no alternative but to point out to the world that this is not a retaliation by the American people against Islam. It is a retaliation against people who, according to the canons of any of the world’s great religions, cannot call themselves people of God.

GRIMSHAW:

He made some very pointed threats against Americans’ safety and Americans are on even more heightened terrorism alert now than before, if that’s possible. Are we taking extra precautions now given that we have so publicly and demonstrably supported this action?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are, although the potential risk to Australia remains lower than that to some other countries, it is higher. There’s no point in pretending otherwise but we are taking additional precautions. But you can, I suppose, never give an absolute guarantee that all the precautions you take are going to be successful. The Americans invest an enormous amount in intelligence and security and that did not stop the terrible attack of the 11th of September but we will certainly heighten, within the limits of our capability and within the limits of allowing people to go about their normal lives. We must strike a balance between caution and optimism. We cannot allow our daily lives to be paralysed by concern. We have to get on with life. We have a lot going for us as a nation but we are part of the free world and we owe a lot to the Americans in past history and this is the time to stand beside them.

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister, on another matter, there has been some debate generated in some quarters this morning about whether or not Osama Bin Laden’s statement ought be shown. How do you feel about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think you have to recognise that in a free society something like that will be shown. I don’t think we have quite reached such an atmosphere of restriction and so forth where you can really justify it not being shown. I don’t agree with it. I find it obscene, as most Australians do, but I think we are, after all, defending certain freedoms, one of those freedoms is the freedom of the press, however much we may get angry on occasions with the way in which that freedom is exercised or even abused.

GRIMSHAW:

Thank you for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

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