The head of the Australian Army has warned that the nation’s combat capabilities will suffer if troops are repeatedly deployed to fight bushfires.
The government took unprecedented action in January by calling out more than 6,500 full-time and reserve Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to help with recovery efforts from the bushfire crisis.
Lieutenant General Rick Burr, the chief of the Australian Army, told a defence conference in Canberra recently that such deployments were a distraction from the “primary mission” of the ADF, according to The Australian report.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged a greater role for the ADF in responding to domestic emergencies in the wake of the bushfires that killed at least 33 people.
“Training for war is absolutely what we need to be equipped for and focused on,” Burr said.
“Our principal job is to prepare capabilities to conduct war-fighting, and with the resources that we have they’re pretty well tied up in doing exactly that.”
More than 30 defence aircraft and three naval vessels were enlisted to extinguish fires and rescue hundreds of people who became stranded by the fires.
Approximately 4,400 ADF personnel continue to provide support on the ground to communities hit hardest by fires.
Addressing the National Press Club late in January, Morrison said that he was very conscious of testing the limits of constitutionally defined roles but there was now “a clear community expectation” that the Defence Force would assist in emergencies “where the life and property of Australians has been assessed to be under threat” at a large scale. Enditem