Australian Defense Minister Backs U.S.’s Afghanistan Timetable

March 15 (Bloomberg) — Australia Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the nation supported the U.S. timetable for troops to remain in Afghanistan for five more years.

“Obviously Afghanistan, if we are to be successful there, is a long-term project, at least five years,” Fitzgibbon said today in remarks broadcast by Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “We’re committed to the project but of course it’s not unconditional; we expect those under-committed NATO countries to do more.”

Australia is a partner of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and has 1,000 personnel in southern Uruzgan province and around Kandahar Airport. Fitzgibbon and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Romania in April.

“We want to ensure that that Bucharest NATO conference adopts a new and comprehensive road map for Afghanistan, and of course, under-committed countries commit to do more,” Fitzgibbon said.

Fitzgibbon may change the make-up of Australian forces, he said in an interview in February. The country is unable to contribute more soldiers to help NATO troops fight the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, he said at that time.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has led calls for NATO allies to contribute 7,000 more combat soldiers to southern Afghanistan.

A U.S.-led military coalition ousted the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then handed the Afghan mission over to NATO command as President George W. Bush’s attention shifted to Iraq. Pitched to Europeans as a peacekeeping assignment, the increasingly violent campaign is losing public support in Canada and Europe.

NATO’s 41,000 soldiers in Afghanistan are responsible for fighting insurgents and rebuilding infrastructure shattered by almost three decades of conflict.

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