Asia-Pacific

Australia's Gillard assures US over Afghan war backing

Julia Gillard 25.6.10
Image caption Julia Gillard renewed an invitation for President Obama to visit Australia

Australia's new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has assured US President Barack Obama that she supports the military campaign in Afghanistan.

She said she had told him by phone "he should expect to see Australian efforts in Afghanistan continuing".

Australia has about 1,550 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly training Afghan National Army recruits.

Mr Obama sacked his commander in Afghanistan this week after Gen Stanley McChrystal mocked his officials.

Appointing Gen David Petraeus in his place, the US leader said US strategy would not be affected.

Ms Gillard became Australia's first female PM after ousting her predecessor Kevin Rudd in a leadership challenge.

She is due to preside over her first cabinet meeting later on Friday.

"I assured President Obama that my approach to Afghanistan will continue the approach taken to date by the Australian government," she told reporters.

'Enduring alliance'

Ms Gillard said Australia and the US had a strong and enduring relationship.

"We are close as nations, we are in an enduring strategic alliance, we are close as peoples. We have fought together around the world, and we continue to fight together in Afghanistan," she said.

"We spoke about the cost this causes to our nations, but our determination to continue the deployment continues."

The recent deaths of five Australian soldiers have brought Canberra's involvement in the campaign under closer scrutiny at home.

Ms Gillard said President Obama had expressed regret at having to twice postpone a visit to Australia.

She told him that "any time he chooses to travel to Australia he would be very welcome".

Ms Gillard, who was born in Barry, Wales, was sworn in as prime minister after a surprise leadership vote in the ruling Labor Party on Thursday.

Mr Rudd chose not to take part in the ballot knowing he would suffer an embarrassing defeat to his deputy, correspondents say.

The Labor Party has suffered a sharp drop in support and Ms Gillard vowed to revive its fortunes ahead of a general election due in October.

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