Friday, April 10, 2009

Australia to Decide on Afghanistan Reinforcements in Weeks - Bloomberg

Australia, which has about 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, will decide “in a matter of weeks” whether to send more troops or other aid, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said after talks with U.S. officials.

Smith met in Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their defense counterparts on a range of issues that also touched on military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan, the spread of nuclear weapons and the potential threat of atomic programs in Iran and North Korea.

“No decisions were made, no requests made and no commitments given, but it was a very helpful discussion” on assistance for Afghanistan, Smith said in a media briefing with Clinton, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “We expect in the very near future to be able to make and announce a formal decision.”

President Barack Obama is sending 17,000 extra U.S. soldiers and 4,000 military trainers to Afghanistan to quell a resurgence of the Taliban, and is seeking civilian and defense contributions from other nations. A public opinion poll last month showed two-thirds of Australians opposed adding to their contingent in Afghanistan.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told radio station 4BC in Brisbane last month that he is willing to consider additional requests from the U.S.

Obama’s military and civilian strategy unveiled last month and in a March 31 conference in The Hague have helped create “an international consensus” on how to approach the war and the country’s reconstruction needs, Smith said today.

“Australia certainly supports that strategy,” Fitzgibbon said today.

He said Australia would consider whether contributing more troops, alongside additions from other countries would achieve progress to allow foreign forces “go home sooner rather than later.”

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