Gillard assures Oz troops in Afghanistan committed to Oruzgan mission

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Canberra, Oct 3 (ANI): Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has assured the Australian troops in Afghanistan of her commitment to the Oruzgan mission during a surprise visit to the war-torn country.

According to The Australian, Gillard welcomed a debate on the war as a chance to build public support, as the US team leader rejected calls for tanks to be deployed in Oruzgan province.

Gillard said a grateful nation stood behind Australia's forces, who were performing a "critical" task that was clearly in the "national interest", despite growing doubts about the war and the apparent fracturing of a political consensus over its conduct.

She made the comments at the Combined Team Oruzgan base at Tarin Kowt, on her first foray on to the international stage as Prime Minister.

I did want to make sure that my very first trip as Prime Minister was to here, to come and see you and say hello to you," she told the troops at a lunch. I know many of you probably think that politicians can talk a fair bit and that's probably right, but there's really one word that I've come to say to you and that word is 'thankyou'," Gillard said.

In a gruelling 20-hour day, including about 11 hours in the country, she also travelled to the Afghan capital, Kabul, for talks with NATO commander General David Petraeus, and for her first meeting with Afghanistan's increasingly embattled President, Hamid Karzai.

Earlier, several voices across the political spectrum questioned the achievability of the western alliance's objectives as the death toll mounts and progress is seen as either slow or non-existent. The Australian death toll in Afghanistan stands at 21.

"I know it has been a really hard period, a really hard year, a really hard few months, and we very much value what you are doing here ... because the mission is so important to our national interest, the mission is critical to making sure that this place, does not again become a training ground and a place that sponsors violence and terrorism that is visited on innocent people around the world, but particularly on innocent Australians," Gillard added. (ANI)

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