Pacific islanders to train with US Marines and allies in Australia
Stars and Stripes June 7, 2023
Troops from Fiji, Tonga and France will join U.S. Marines and Japanese and Australian soldiers training in the Australian state of Queensland this month and next.
Southern Jackaroo, an annual exercise between Marine Rotational Force — Darwin and the Japanese and Australian armies, runs June 15 to July 15 at the Townsville Field Training Area in northeast Australia, Maj. Matthew Wolf, a spokesman for the rotational force said by email Wednesday.
Maj. Roger Brennan, an Australian army spokesman, in comments forwarded in Wolf’s message, said this year’s exercise “includes the military forces of Tonga, France, and Fiji, demonstrating a commitment to our partners not only through disaster relief, but also into our security response planning.”
Fiji and Tonga are the only Polynesian states with military forces; France has a Pacific fleet, headquartered in Papeete, French Polynesia, and a Pacific army based in Noumea, New Caledonia, according to Paul Buchanan, a New Zealand-based U.S. security expert.
The Pacific islanders’ involvement signals “a visible tilt towards the Western-led alliance that includes Japan in increasingly strong measure,” he said in an email Wednesday.
In March 2022, leaders in Australia and New Zealand reacted with alarm after the Solomon Islands announced a security pact with China that many saw as a possible precursor to a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific.
China’s ties to the Solomons strengthened under the pact, which included training in China for island police and an agreement for Chinese police to deploy to the Solomons in an emergency, The Australian newspaper reported Nov. 11.
A Rand Corp. report released in December rates Timor Leste, just north of Australia, as a highly desirable spot for a Chinese base. Fiji and Papua New Guinea, also close to Australia, are rated as moderately desirable but all three countries have low feasibility ratings, according to the report.
Southern Jackaroo will focus on foundational war-fighting and combined arms training from platoon to company-level with blank and live-fire components, Brennan said.
Four hundred Marines, including members of the rotational force’s ground combat element, will participate in the training, Wolf said, without providing information on numbers of participants from the other nations.
The Marines are also sending MV-22 Osprey aircraft and support personnel from the rotational force’s combat logistics element, he said.
Australian personnel involved in the exercise are primarily from the Australian 7th Brigade with engineers, logistics, artillery and a medical detachment from 2nd Brigade, Brennan said.
Southern Jackaroo deepens Australia’s relationship with the U.S. and Japan by having troops work together and practice responding to events in the region, Brennan added.
“This exercise demonstrates the growing strength and sophistication of our engagement with allies and partners in the region,” he said.