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New Australian PM Reassures US on Afghanistan

Phil Mercer | Sydney 25 June 2010

New Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has reassured the White House that Canberra intends to maintain its military deployment in Afghanistan. On the first day in her new job, Ms. Gillard spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama to reaffirm Australia's commitment to the war against insurgents.

In a 20 minute telephone conversation Friday, Ms. Gillard said her government's commitment to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan would continue despite mounting public opposition to the war at home.

Canberra has deployed 1,550 troops to the south of Afghanistan, including elite commandos, military training specialists and reconstruction units.

Ms. Gillard told reporters in Canberra that Australia remains committed to the war effort.

"I fully support the current deployment and I indicated to President Obama that he should expect to see the Australian efforts in Afghanistan continuing."

Earlier this week, Defense Minister John Faulkner said Australia could start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in two years if their mission to train local soldiers went ahead as planned. It was the first time a senior government figure offered a possible timetable on pulling forces out of the troubled country.

Anti-war campaigners in Australia have urged the new Gillard government to end the Afghanistan deployment, insisting that the war against insurgents was both "unwinnable" and "futile."

Recent opinion polls have suggested that Australians are tiring of the distant conflict, especially after the deaths of three commandos last week. Sixteen Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

Ms. Gillard has said the alliance with the United States is the cornerstone of Australia's security policy, pledging to strengthen during her tenure. The prime minister's newly-appointed deputy, Wayne Swan, will represent Australia at a G20 meeting in Canada set to open this weekend.

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