Sydney, July 18 : Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has said that last weekend's raid by about 200 militants on a US base in eastern Afghanistan, near Pakistan, killing nine US troops, could be "the harbinger of a dangerous new phase in the war there".
Fitzgibbon said he was worried that it could have been a cross-border "attack by al-Qaeda insurgents out of Pakistan".
Being described as the deadliest since June 2005, the attack reinforced the message that Afghanistan remained a "dangerous place and our work there is far from complete in a military sense". In the June 2005 rocket-propelled grenade attack, 16 American soldiers were killed.
Taking a serious note of the attack, he said that he was a "bit curious about that attack" and was going to discuss it with his country's Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
The US base near the village of Wanat is close to Pakistan's border, and where al-Qaeda has been attempting to rebuild its strength. It has long been assumed that Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is also holed up in the region.
"It was a very bolshie and bold offensive in which the insurgents would have seen significant casualties on their own side and it's the sort of boldness we don't see. It will be interesting to know where they were from and what generated such boldness," The Australian quoted Fitzgibbon as saying.
Explaining the Rudd Government's decision to draw down combat forces in Iraq, he told the 100 or so gathered that Australia's combat forces were needed in the Asia-Pacific.