Australia urges Europe to do more in Afghanistan

SYDNEY (AFP) — Europe should deploy more troops to the dangerous southern regions of Afghanistan, Australia’s foreign minister said Friday as the country mourned its second soldier killed there in three weeks.

Alexander Downer said Australia would welcome forces from NATO’s European members joining them in southern Afghanistan, the former stronghold of the extremist Taliban regime and now the focus of insurgent attacks.

“Many of the European NATO countries have their troops in the north, which is not free of Taliban activity, but it is a good deal quieter and a less threatening environment,” Downer told reporters.

“We would like to see some of the restrictions that European parliaments have placed on their troops lifted.”

His comments echo those made earlier this week by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who said restrictions on where European troops could be deployed and what they could do were putting NATO soldiers at a serious disadvantage.

Downer was speaking following the death of an elite Australian soldier in southern Uruzgan province who was killed by small arms fire while on patrol.

Special Air Services (SAS) Sergeant Matthew Locke’s death late Thursday followed that of trooper David Pearce who died after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb on October 8.

Prime Minister John Howard said despite the likelihood of more fatalities, he would not flinch from his support for the US-led operations in Afghanistan or Iraq, where Australian troops are also serving.

“It always gets difficult in democratic societies if these conflicts go on for a long time,” Howard told commercial radio.

“People do grow, with the passage of time, more weary of them; I understand that. But it can’t alter the calculation somebody in my position has to make that it’s in the national interest.”

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