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Australia Warns of NATO Failure in Afghanistan

By Phil Mercer
17 December 2007

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that NATO's anti-Taliban tactics in Afghanistan are not working. The newly elected leader said it is "critical" that security in the troubled country be stabilized. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Prime Minister Rudd issued his blunt warning to the NATO governments after a cabinet meeting in the capital, Canberra, on Monday.

The prime minister's message was similar to that made Sunday by his defense minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, who just returned to Australia from a meeting in Scotland with NATO defense ministers.

Fitzgibbon told an Australian newspaper that many NATO countries are not making a contribution in Afghanistan. He said the military effort in the country against the insurgent Taliban is winning battles, but not the support of the public.

NATO has about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan. Australia has about 1,000 there, making it one of the largest non-NATO contributor to anti-terrorism efforts in the country. Mr. Rudd says his government is committed to the campaign in Afghanistan, but a better approach is needed.

"We're there for the long haul and we made that very plain to our American ally and to our NATO partners, and the defense minister is also underlining a point which is necessary to make publicly, and that's we would encourage our NATO partners to do more when it comes to Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Rudd made a special point about the dangers of increased opium production in Afghanistan, which now supplies about 90 percent of the world's heroin. He said the "narco-finance" from the heroin trade is spilling out to other countries.

Mr. Rudd announced his intention on being elected last month to withdraw Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq by the middle of next year. He is also at odds with U.S. President George Bush over the question of climate change, feeling that more-urgent action is needed if global warming is to be halted.

Nevertheless, Mr. Rudd says he is committed to retaining Australia's traditionally strong alliance with the United States.

He has said he might increase the Australian contingent in Afghanistan once the withdrawal from Iraq has taken place, but only if the NATO countries increase their effort as well.

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