19 Oct 2010

Gillard says staying in Afghanistan in national interest

10:23 pm on 19 October 2010

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it is the national interest to keep the country's troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Federal MPs on Tuesday began the first-ever Parliamentary debate on the war, nine years after Australian troops were first deployed there.

Ms Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott opened the debate by reiterating their bipartisan support for the commitment as vital to combating the terrorist threat.

Ms Gillard said the goal is to make sure Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorists and Australia must stand by the alliance with the United States, the ABC reports.

The Prime Minister said Australia's main military mission should be completed by 2014, but warned that other support would be needed for at least the rest of this decade.

"The international community will remain engaged in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and Australia will remain engaged," she said.

"There will still be a need for Australians in a supporting role. There will still be a role for training and other defence cooperation."

Mr Abbott agreed, saying if Australia left it would effectively be an insult to the families of soldiers who have been killed in the conflict.

"A premature end to our involvement would tell the Americans and the British that Australia is an unreliable ally and fair-weather friend," he said.

Ms Gillard was briefly heckled by onlookers in the public gallery as she delivered her speech.