Afghanistan aid boosted

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has announced a major boost in Australia's aid to Afghanistan and committed troops to a continuing counter-terrorism role in the struggling nation past 2014.

The aid package, rising from $165 million to $250 million a year, would support development, Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard was in Chicago on Monday, talking about Australia's role in the NATO International Security Assistance Force with President Karzai.

She said Australian foreign aid would help expand basic services in health and education, agriculture and rural development as well as improve governance and financial management in Afghanistan.

"As I've said to the Australian people on more than one occasion, Australia will stay engaged with Afghanistan to the end of this decade at least, but the nature of our engagement will change after 2014," she said.

"At the end of 2014, the Afghan people will take responsibility for security in their nation, but we will continue to be engaged in Afghanistan, and the comprehensive partnership that I have signed today specifies the way in which we will work together.

"But I've said beyond 2014 we'll continue to be engaged with Afghanistan, we'll continue to be engaged in training, particularly in the artillery school and in a UK-led venture to train Afghan army officers.

"I have said we are leaving the door open for a potential role for Special Forces under the right mandate, but in my discussions today, whilst I've restated in those discussions the same position I've put publicly, there is still some time to work through what all of those arrangements post-2014 will look like."

Ms Gillard said despite moves by France to begin withdrawing from combat in Afghanistan, it was in Australia's national interest to remain committed to its role in the conflict.

"In 9/11, in Bali, we can actually trace the connections and trace the taking of Australian lives by terrorists to training that happened in Afghanistan, so it's unambiguously in our national interest to no longer see Afghanistan be a safe haven for terrorists," she said.

"And given all that we've done and all that we've lost, it makes sense for Australia, in our national interest, to see the rest of the job through."



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