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Rudd must stand up to NATO over Afghanistan.

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The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs (to 22 September 2008)

Following statements by the Prime Minister that ''...Australian nation needs to prepare itself for further losses in the year ahead'' in Afghanistan, the Federal Opposition has again called upon the Government to demand that European NATO members increase troop numbers, and remove the absurd conditions on their troops in Afghanistan which prevent them from helping in combat zones.

''When Mr Rudd went to the NATO meeting in Bucharest earlier this month he failed to gain a commitment for extra NATO troops to be posted in southern Afghanistan to assist with the fighting in the most dangerous area, where the Australian forces happen to be,'' said the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Andrew Robb AO MP.

''Contrary to the spin, the Bucharest NATO meeting was a major setback for Australia.

''It has been well known for some time that NATO forces in Afghanistan are critically under resourced.

''Mr Rudd's task at that NATO meeting was to gain a commitment for an extra 10,000 troops, and to see these troops posted to southern Afghanistan where the dangerous fighting is taking place, and where Australian troops are taking on the Taliban.

''However, at that meeting Mr Rudd was sold a pup by the European members of NATO. A little over a thousand troops were committed by Europe, and on the condition that they not be posted to the hot spots in the south.

''In particular, Mr Rudd came out of his meeting with the French President, Mr Sarkozy, warmly welcoming the commitment of French troops and advising that the French had agreed to support Australia's bid for a temporary seat on the Security Council in 2013-14. Mr Rudd appeared as an apologist for the Europeans. He pulled his punches,'' Mr Robb said.

''Mr Rudd should have been insisting that European troop numbers be vastly increased, and that the conditions which prevent their troops being placed in fighting zones (apart from the Danes and Dutch who are in the fighting zones) be removed.

''The NATO countries represent a total military strength of around 2 million troops yet have committed 47,000 troops to Afghanistan. This inadequate situation is made all the more problematic by the absurd condition placed on over half the troops by European countries that they not be positioned where they might be fighting the Taliban.

''In other words, a majority of the 47,000 troops are prohibited from assisting Australian troops in the fighting zones. This is unacceptable.

''Removing the caveats on European troops participating in combat zones would effectively double the fighting force in Afghanistan overnight,'' Mr Robb said.

This view is supported in comments by Australian Defence Association Executive Director, Neil James, that "You don't win counter-insurgency wars by sitting inside secure fire bases...You've got to get out there into the areas the insurgents are trying to dominate and dominate them instead'' and terrorism expert Clive Williams that ''..there is a general reluctance on the part of many NATO countries to be engaged in Afghanistan and particularly in the south where it is more dangerous.''

''What kind of message is this sending to the Taliban? Either you are fighting a war or you are not,'' Mr Robb said.

''This is unfinished business for Mr Rudd.''