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Long-Term U.S., Australian Relationship Will Ensure Free, Open Indo-Pacific Region

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 15, 2021) -- Despite continued Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region, the long-standing relationship between the United States and Australia -- and the strong partnership between their militaries -- is expected to enhance stability, security and freedom in the region not just for Australia but for all nations with an interest in the Pacific.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met this morning with the Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a briefing today.

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"We're proud to stand alongside our Australian allies to strengthen deterrence and defend our shared values and our shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region," Kirby said. "The U.S./Australia relationship is what we're proud to call 'the unbreakable alliance.' Our increasing convergence and alignment on the most important strategic issues attest to the enduring value of this partnership."

Kirby said the two nations are cooperating on things like force posture, strategic capabilities, regional engagement and military operations.

"Ultimately, we're cooperating on all that strengthens our ability to deter threats to a free and open Indo-Pacific," he said.

When it comes to threats posed by China, such as reneging on promises of autonomy guaranteed in Hong Kong under a 1997 agreement with the British government, or its unlawful claim to the entire South China Sea, which interferes with the wellbeing and prosperity other nations in the region, Kirby said it's one of the main focus areas of the U.S. and Australian partnership.

"I think without question ... the kinds of aggressive activities that we're seeing out of China in the Indo-Pacific region, [are] causing all of us, the international community, not just the United States, to make sure that we're focused appropriately on that behavior," Kirby said.

During remarks earlier this morning, Dutton said the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region is "deteriorating" and that only with continued partnerships, such as with "Five Eyes" -- which include the U.S., Australia, the U.K., New Zealand and Canada -- can security be achieved.

"We certainly share the concerns that the minister has ... about the aggressive behavior, the coercive and intimidating activities that the Chinese are making throughout the region -- not just militarily but diplomatically and economically as well," Kirby said. "We're going to stay laser-focused on that. Our relationship with Australia ... is a key part of our ability to continue to maintain that focus and to make sure that we and our allies and partners are properly postured to be able to push back appropriately and to help ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific."

U.S. Military-Sourced Aircraft in Tajikistan

Last month, a number of pilots and personnel with the Afghan air force fled Afghanistan aboard aircraft that had been supplied to the country by the United States. Many of those Afghans and aircraft are now in either nearby Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.

Kirby said while the U.S. doesn't currently have information about the status of Afghan air force personnel, it is working now to find options for what will happen to the aircraft -- at least those that made it to Tajikistan.

"I don't have any updates for the pilots, aircrew and I think some families that might be in Tajikistan," Kirby said, referring questions about the status of those individuals to the U.S. State Department. "As to the aircraft -- as I said the other day, we have numerous options available to explore with respect to the disposition of those aircraft and we haven't made any final decisions and we're working our way through what those options are right now."

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