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Ministers from Afghan coalition approve ‘strategic plan’


London : Defence ministers from the eight countries involved in the international coalition fighting in southern Afghanistan have agreed on a “strategic plan” on how to go forward, Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said.

Fitzgibbon, speaking after a one-day ministerial meeting outside Edinburgh, Scotland, Friday said the talks had given Australia an opportunity to express its “frustration with the limited progress in Afghanistan”.

The other countries taking part were Britain, the US, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia and Romania.

Criticising some North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, which he refused to name, for not pulling their weight in Afghanistan, Fitzgibbon said the new Australian government would not send more troops unless others stepped up their contribution.

“We have no intention of increasing our contribution just so some other partner can reduce their contribution,” said Fitzgibbon, thus making clear that his criticism was not directed at the countries attending the talks.

A “strategic plan” for the southern part of Afghanistan had been agreed, he said.

“We believe there is a lack of coherent strategy and, of course, we are frustrated by the fact that some NATO nations, in our view, are not doing enough or making a sufficient contribution to the campaign,” Fitzgibbon said.

Media reports Friday said Australia’s criticism was directed mostly at Germany and Spain.

British Defence Secretary Des Browne said “significant progress” had been made at the meeting. Over time, “a shared strategic approach” had developed among the countries involved in Afghanistan, and that was now “paying off on the ground”.

Browne described the talks as “positive” and denied that the gathering was a “coalition of the reluctant”.

“There is absolutely no unhappiness in this family. We share a common objective to improve the most challenging part of Afghanistan, which is the southern part, and get it to the stage of other parts in the north and west.

“Of course, we continue to ask our allies to make more of a contribution but we have seen a response. The issue of burden sharing was on the table. There is no question of that.

“We have all been candid and honest about it, and we have all been straightforward. We are all looking for additional contributions and support, and increasingly we have been getting those,” Browne said.

The most important issue was that the coalition was making progress in southern Afghanistan, as demonstrated by the Afghan-led operation in the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, he added.

In a strategy statement earlier this week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made clear that Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan is “long-term”.

Brown said fresh emphasis would be placed on “isolating and eliminating” the Taliban leadership while talking to tribal leaders prepared to renounce violence.