Australian French Leaders stress support for Afghan mission

This is from yahoo. I assume the US will welcome this. NATO is pushing hard for more support and declarations of support. It is not clear if Sarkozy is going to let French troops serve in more dangerous areas though. The mission is not popular in France. Kevin Rudd seems to be moving more towards the same sort of support of the US as Howard did except for the Iraq mission. Although Rudd signed on to Kyoto that is about all he has done on the environment. It seems he is mollifying Bush in his support for the Afghan mission.

Australian, French leaders in Kabul to stress support Sat Dec 22, 2:02 PM ET

KABUL (AFP) - The leaders of France and Australia paid surprise visits to Afghanistan Saturday, stressing support for efforts against terrorism after the bloodiest year of a Taliban-led insurgency.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd met their Afghan counterpart separately in whistlestop visits and also held talks with the commander of a NATO-led military force, US General Dan McNeill.

Sarkozy told journalists who travelled with him from Paris that the international community could not afford to lose the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan.

The various nations with troops here must be united and committed in their efforts to build Afghanistan so it can withstand insurgents linked with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, he said.

"It is absolutely necessary that Afghanistan does not become a state which falls in the hands of terrorists, as we saw with the Taliban," he said.

The Taliban were removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion weeks after the September 11 attacks by the Al-Qaeda network, which had training camps here and is still allied with the Afghan militant movement.

Sarkozy said his visit, on which he was accompanied by his defence and foreign ministers and other officials, was to assess the situation in Afghanistan.

France would "take a number of decisions" in the coming weeks, Sarkozy said, adding it would "reinforce" the personnel it has here to train the Afghan army and police.

France has about 1,600 troops serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is involved in efforts to defeat a Taliban-led insurgency and build Afghanistan's security forces.

Australia has about 900, most of them in the south-central province of Uruzgan -- one of the most volatile in Afghanistan and a former Taliban stronghold -- where Rudd started his trip before travelling up to Kabul.

He told reporters after talks with Karzai that his country was committed to Afghanistan for the "long haul."

"Over the next several months, I would also be encouraging other friends and partners and allies in NATO to continue their commitments to this country and where possible extend them," he said.

Australia has denied media reports last weekend that it would keep its troops in Afghanistan longer than the scheduled end of their mission in August next year, saying no decision had been made yet.

But Rudd's Labor Party had "indicated for some time that they would consider further reasonable requests for military assistance in Afghanistan," a spokeswoman said then.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi is expected in the coming days, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates also visited in recent weeks.

The flurry of trips comes at the tail end of the bloodiest of the Taliban-led insurgency, with around 6,000 people dead -- most of them rebels -- and a spike in suicide and other bombings.

The Australian, a daily newspaper, reported Monday that Rudd's new government had warned NATO and its allies that they would lose the war against hardline Taliban forces unless they urgently changed tactics.

The United States has also announced that a review is under way.

Karzai has been calling for more focus on militant bases outside of Afghanistan, notably in Pakistan, while there has been increased emphasis this year on training the Afghan forces and promoting reconciliation.

A NATO summit in Bucharest in April is set to review efforts to help Afghanistan end the insurgency and establish democracy


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