Australia to debate Afghan mission
Parliament starts 3-day discussion about 1,550-troop deployment
Australia's first parliamentary debate on its nine-year military deployment in Afghanistan has revealed emerging cracks in the national commitment to the war, its strategy and objectives.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard succumbed to pressure from the anti-war Greens Party by agreeing to begin a three-day debate in Parliament on Tuesday over Australia's commitment of 1,550 troops to the conflict.
Gillard relies on support from the Greens to rule since August elections gave no party a parliamentary majority.
Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott have both intimated that they will use their speeches on Tuesday to maintain bipartisan support for the Australian mission in southern Uruzgan province, where Australian soldiers are training an Afghan army battalion to take charge of provincial security.
That training mission is expected to take between two and four years.
2 legislators join Greens in backing pullout
But a legislator in Abbott's Liberal Party, Mal Washer, and newly elected independent legislator Andrew Wilkie, have announced that they agree with the Greens that Australian troops should be withdrawn.
Australia is the largest contributor of troops of any country outside NATO. Opinion polls show that that Australian support of the war has slid as the Australian death toll has mounted to 21.
Hugh White, a professor of military studies at Australian National University, said Gillard's explanation that the troops were protecting Australians by preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists was "very unsatisfactory."
Since U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda has created new bases in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that also pose threats to Australians, White said.