Australian troops in Afghanistan ‘long-term’: minister
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon
Fri Feb 22, 2:55 AM ET
CANBERRA (AFP) – Australia pledged Friday to keep its troops in Afghanistan for the long haul despite Canada’s decision to set a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces from the volatile south of the country.
“We’ve made it very, very clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is a longstanding one,” Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon told reporters.
“I said in the parliament just this week what a tragedy it would be if all that we’d done in Afghanistan so far was in the end all for nought. So our commitment is a long-term one.”
Fitzgibbon said however that he understood Canada’s decision, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday, to pull its 2,500 troops out of the south by 2011.
“I’m not surprised Canada has set a date and I’m not surprised they’ve started to put some conditions upon their contribution,” he told reporters.
“They’ve lost more than 70 people in Afghanistan, so the domestic concern is understandable. They have been and will continue to make a magnificent contribution.
“It just underscores again the need for us to make a collective effort to ensure that those underperforming countries, NATO countries, do more, and do more with less caveats.”
NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called Thursday for more international commitment to the fight against the Taliban, saying extremists were intent on destabilising the West as well as Afghanistan.
Scheffer visited Afghanistan with 26 NATO ambassadors and other alliance officials amid tensions over contributions to the 50,000-strong NATO-led force fighting Taliban, with some countries hinting at pulling out.
Countries contributing to the force in Afghanistan must rid themselves of the notion that the mission is failing, the alliance’s secretary general said in Kabul after talks with Afghan leaders.
Australia has nearly 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly assisting a Dutch-led reconstruction operation in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, a former Taliban stronghold. Three have been killed in action.