Obama committed to Afghan war: Australia PM

Australia`s new PM Julia Gillard said she supported the war in Afghanistan.

Last Updated: Jun 25, 2010, 15:19 PM IST

Sydney: Australia`s new Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she supported the war in Afghanistan and had told US President Barack Obama on Friday he could rely on her to continue the fight.

Gillard, who was installed as Prime Minister on Thursday after Kevin Rudd was deposed as Labor Party leader, said she had spoken with Obama on the rising casualties in Afghanistan.

"I assured President Obama that my approach to Afghanistan will continue the approach taken to date by the Australian government," she told reporters.

"I fully support the current deployment and I indicted to President Obama that he should expect to see the Australian efforts in Afghanistan continuing."

Australia has around 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, mostly training Afghan National Army recruits in restive southern Uruzgan, and the issue has bipartisan political support in Canberra.

But a string of deaths in the past fortnight, including those of three commandos in a helicopter crash this week, have brought Canberra`s involvement in the distant war under heightened scrutiny.

Forced to re-evaluate its position in Uruzgan following the withdrawal of its Dutch partners, Canberra said this week it would continue its mission in the province.

But Defence Minister John Faulkner said Australian troops were on track to hand over to Afghan troops within two to four years and could begin to leave the country within three years.

Gillard said Australia and the United States had a strong and enduring relationship and would continue to work together in the Central Asian state.

"We are close as nations, we are in an enduring strategic alliance, we are close as peoples. We have fought together around the world, and we continue to fight together in Afghanistan," she said.

"We spoke about the cost this causes to our nations, but our determination to continue the deployment continues."

Gillard said Obama expressed regret at having to twice delay a visit to Australia due to health reforms and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis, and told her he was still keen to make the trip.

Any time he chose to travel to Australia he would be "very welcome indeed", Gillard said.

The new Prime Minister said she would make calls to other international leaders on Friday to introduce herself and apologise for not being able to make the G20 meeting in Toronto this weekend.

Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan will attend instead.

Bureau Report