Afghanistan troops discussed with Dutch

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has discussed Australia’s military commitment to Afghanistan with his Dutch counterpart Eimert van Middelkoop.

Tuesday’s meeting comes ahead of next month’s NATO summit in Bucharest, which Mr Fitzgibbon will attend with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Australia currently has 1,000 troops in the Oruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan, operating as part of the 1,650-strong Dutch reconstruction task group.

Mr Fitzgibbon, following his meeting with Mr van Middelkoop in Canberra, said the two countries had a strong commitment to the war in Afghanistan.

“Australia enjoys a very close and productive relationship with the Netherlands, the strength of which is forged through our ongoing security and reconstruction efforts in southern Afghanistan,” Mr Fitzgibbon said in a statement.

“The meeting today provided an invaluable forum to discuss the strategic and practical aspects of continued Australia-Dutch cooperation in Afghanistan.

“Importantly, it provided an opportunity to reflect on a broader, more integrated approach to security and development in the country.

“These aspects of the talks were very constructive, particularly in the lead-up to next month’s NATO summit in Bucharest.”

On Wednesday, Mr van Middelkoop will fly to Queensland to meet Australian and Dutch troops taking part in a mission rehearsal exercise ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan.

In an open letter released ahead of his visit, Mr van Middelkoop praised the work of Australian troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Fitzgibbon said: “The Australian government is honoured by the Netherlands recent public statement of appreciation for our continued work in Afghanistan.”

The Dutch minister also backed Australia’s plans to play a greater role in determining strategy for international forces in Afghanistan.

“Public expressions of Dutch support for Australia’s calls to be able to play a greater role in NATO strategic planning have been particularly appreciated,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“This should help define a more comprehensive approach and long-term NATO strategy for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.”

Mr Fitzgibbon expressed his support for the Dutch contribution, as well as its decision to stay in Afghanistan until at least the middle of 2010.

“Australia holds the Netherlands in the highest regard and respects their significant contribution to Afghanistan,” he said.

“Australia has welcomed the Dutch decision to extend their leadership role in Oruzgan to July 2010.”