Australian prime minister says NATO forces must do more to stabilize Afghanistan

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday it is “critical” that NATO countries do more to stabilize Afghanistan, or they risk losing the war.Responding to a report in The Australian newspaper, which quoted Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon as saying NATO forces were “winning the battles and not the war” in Afghanistan, Rudd said more efforts were needed to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

“The defense minister was also underlining the point … that is to encourage our NATO partners to do more when it comes to Afghanistan,” Rudd told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

“This is quite critical,” he said. “Unless we stabilize Afghanistan, we have got problems beyond those that we experience at the moment.”

Rudd pointed to the resurgence of Afghanistan’s opium crop, used to produce heroin, as a potential long-term security problem if the region is not stabilized quickly.

Fitzgibbon returned to Australia on Sunday after attending a meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland with his counterparts from the United States, Canada, Britain and other NATO and allied forces.

Fitzgibbon told The Australian he had said at the meeting that NATO and its allies in Afghanistan needed to change their tactics immediately, or risk succumbing to an increasingly resurgent Taliban.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, making it one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the war effort. Rudd has promised to keep troops in Afghanistan “for the long haul.”

“We are just so frustrated that so many other NATO countries are not making a contribution,” Fitzgibbon told the newspaper for its Monday edition.

While allied forces have been “very successful” in clearing areas of the Taliban, the overall effort was having “no real strategic effect,” he said.

“We need much more than a military response,” Fitzgibbon said. “This is largely about winning the hearts and minds of the more moderate of the Taliban and other sections of the Afghan community.”

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