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Australian defense chief warns allies over Afghanistan war

  • Story Highlights
  • Australia's defense minister warns Afghan war could be lost without shift in efforts
  • He believes more needs to be done to win Afghan people's "hearts and minds"
  • Coalition needs more political advisers, more training for the Afghan police, he says
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(CNN) -- Australia's new defense minister warned U.S. and NATO allies over the weekend that they risk losing the war in Afghanistan without a sharp shift in military and reconstruction efforts there, according to his office.

Australia's defense minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, says clearing areas of the Taliban is having no real strategic effect.

Joel Fitzgibbon, who took office with the newly elected government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, told the allies during a weekend conference in Scotland that more work needs to be done to win the "hearts and minds" of the people of Afghanistan in the 6-year-old war against the country's former Taliban rulers and their al Qaeda allies.

While the U.S.-led coalition has been "stomping on lots of ants, we have not been dealing with the ants' nest," Fitzgibbon said.

The defense minister's comments were first reported in The Australian newspaper and confirmed by his office in Canberra. Fitzgibbon told his fellow defense ministers -- including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- that "We need much more than a military response" to a rise in attacks by the Taliban.

"We are winning the battles and not the war, in my view," Fitzgibbon told the newspaper. "We have been very successful in clearing areas of the Taliban, but it's having no real strategic effect." Video Watch images from the scene of an attack on Kabul police headquarters »

Rudd's government has pledged to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq -- an effort his predecessor, John Howard, had staunchly supported -- but Rudd has said he will keep Australia's commitment to Afghanistan. The country is the largest non-NATO contributor to the war in Afghanistan, with nearly 1,000 troops stationed mostly in the southern province of Oruzgan.

Fitzgibbon said the coalition needs more political advisers, more training for the Afghan police and army and a senior envoy to coordinate the reconstruction effort, a proposal Gates has endorsed as well.

Fitzgibbon's comments echo those of a leading candidate for the coordinator's job, British diplomat Paddy Ashdown. Ashdown, the former U.N. high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, told a British newspaper in October that the allies were at risk of losing Afghanistan.

Gates used the weekend conference in Edinburgh to push for greater contributions of troops and helicopters from NATO allies. And amid rising U.S. concerns about lagging progress in the war, launched after the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, the top U.S. commander in the region has launched a review of the American mission, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday.


The study is focused on efforts by U.S. troops along Afghanistan's rugged border with Pakistan, the official said. U.S. intelligence concluded early this year that al Qaeda has carved out a new safe haven since the overthrow of its Taliban hosts in 2001.

While the U.S. military feels it maintains a battlefield advantage over the Taliban, the senior military official told CNN that "there are far too many bombings and far too many IEDs." He said the Taliban has become more diverse, with religious ideologues joined by local fighters hired for pay, warlords, drug bosses and those simply fighting over local disputes. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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