Australian PM Warns of 10-Year Afghan Engagement

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Agence France Presse

Australian PM Warns of 10-Year Afghan Engagement

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Australia will be involved in war-torn Afghanistan for the next decade, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday as she warned of "hard days ahead" for forces battling a Taliban insurgency.

SYDNEY — Australia will be involved in war-torn Afghanistan for the
next decade, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday as she warned of
"hard days ahead" for forces battling a Taliban insurgency.

Gillard
said Afghanistan should never again become a safe haven for extremists
and her government was committed to standing by the nation's most
important ally, the United States, in the long-running conflict.

"This
means more fighting, more violence, it risks more casualties. There
will be many hard days ahead," Gillard said in her first address to
national parliament on the war.

The prime minister said while
Australia's key mission in Afghanistan, to train an Afghan National Army
brigade in restive Uruzgan, was expected to take between two and four
years, Canberra's involvement would extend beyond this.

While the
Afghan government was expected to take over responsibility for security
by 2014, the international community, including Australia, would remain
engaged beyond that date, she said.

"There will still be a need
for Australians in a supporting role. There will still be a role for
training and other defence co-operation. The civilian-led aid and
development effort will continue," Gillard said.

"We expect this support, training and development task to continue in some form through this decade at least."

The
war in Afghanistan has bipartisan political support in Australia, which
has some 1,550 troops in the country, but the government is facing
increasing public pressure as the war stretches on amid mounting
casualties.

Gillard, who was briefly heckled by people in the
public gallery during her speech, said her commitment to Afghanistan was
not open-ended, and Canberra wanted to bring its troops home as soon as
possible, but success was critical.

"Australia will not abandon
Afghanistan, we must be very realistic about the future," she said.
"Transition will take some years, we will be engaged through this decade
at least."

Australia joined the US-led war effort in Afghanistan
in the months following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, but
withdrew its soldiers in December 2002 as the situation stabilised.

Canberra
sent special forces troops back in September 2005 to target key
insurgents and ramped up its efforts from October 2008 as it took on a
growing role in training and mentoring Afghan soldiers in the country's
south.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott said leaving
Afghanistan now would be an insult to the families of the 21 Australian
soldiers who have died in the conflict.

"A premature end to our
involvement would tell the Americans and the British that Australia is
an unreliable ally and fair-weather friend," he told parliament.

"It
would tell the Afghan people that our commitment to human rights is
more rhetorical than real and certainly doesn't extend to protecting
them where we can."

The debate, agreed as part of a deal with the
Greens which ensured Gillard's centre-left Labor Party could form a
government after deadlocked August polls, will continue Wednesday when
dozens of MPs are expected to voice their views.

Greens lawmaker
Adam Bandt and independent Andrew Wilkie, both of whom support Gillard's
fragile coalition government, are expected to urge the withdrawal of
troops.

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