Rudd fears for Australian troops in Afghanistan

December 24th, 2007 - 2:29 pm ICT by admin  

Melbourne, Dec.24 (ANI): Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has expressed concern about the safety of his countrys troops in Afghanistan.
Undertaking a lightning pre-Christmas visit to Australian soldiers in southern Afghanistan, which has become the most volatile part of the landlocked country of late, Rudd was reportedly given a grim assessment of the prevailing situation.
Rudd, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi each separately met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and underlined the growing NATO concern over the deteriorating security situation across Afghanistan. They, however, reiterated their governments commitment to maintaining NATO forces in Afghanistan till the situation improved, reports The Australian.
Australia has deployed a 400-strong reconstruction taskforce in southern Oruzgan province.
“I fear what the New Year might bring. But our advice and our conviction is that this is a job worth doing,” Rudd told troops at a Kabul air base.
Compared with the US, Britain and Canada, whose forces are doing most of the fighting in Afghanistan’s south, the Australian toll of three deaths since October is light.
Trooper David Pearce was killed by a roadside bomb, SAS Sergeant Matthew Locke was shot dead by a Taliban sniper and commando Luke Worsley was shot during an attack on an insurgent bomb-making factory.
Mr Rudd acknowledged the losses suffered in Afghanistan and thanked the Australian troops for their commitment.
“I know this mission has not been achieved without sacrifice. This is not work without sacrifice. I understand that, and I thank you, therefore, for your courage. There’s a lot of work still to do, and the message I have for you today is that when it comes to this theatre, Afghanistan, we, Australia, are here for the long haul,” Rudd said.
Mr Sarkozy promised that his 1900 French troops would stay the course, and said a decision on increasing their numbers would be made in the next few weeks.
“There is a war going on here - a war against terrorism, against fanaticism, that we cannot and will not lose,” he said.
Rudd, accompanied by Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston, came to Afghanistan from Iraq as part of an unannounced whistlestop tour of Middle East war zones under unprecedented security.
During his surprise visit to Iraq on Friday, Mr Rudd met his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, US commander David Petraeus and US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, before visiting Australia’s 550 combat troops at Tallil in the country’s south.
The Government has promised to withdraw Australia’s combat troops from Iraq by next year, with Rudd telling the troops on Friday they would be “the last battle group we deploy”.
But the Prime Minister assured Maliki that he was committed to a long-term partnership “to build a new Iraqi democracy”. Australia has committed 270 million dollars for this purpose. (ANI)

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