An additional 10,000 troops are needed to quell a Taliban and al-Qaida insurgency in southern Afghanistan, but European NATO partners appear unwilling to deploy more soldiers, Australia's defense minister said Thursday.
"At least 10,000 would give us the critical mass necessary to do what we need to do on the military front," Joel Fitzgibbon told The Associated Press at his office in the Australian capital Canberra.
About 65,000 international troops are stationed in Afghanistan, including 51,000 from the 40-nation NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The United States has about 33,000 troops in the country.
"Having spoken to a number of European countries over the course of the last four months, I don't see a lot of hope that anyone else is about to put their hand up anytime soon. That's a worry because if (the extra troops) don't come, progress will continue to be all too slow," he said.
He declined to name the European countries he was referring to.
Fitzgibbon said Australia was already carrying its fair share of the burden with 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, the 10th-largest national contribution and the largest outside NATO.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Canberra could not comment Thursday. A Defense Department official in Washington was not immediately available.
Fitzgibbon said he expected Washington would send more troops to Afghanistan as it withdrew others from Iraq.
He said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom he met at an international security conference in Singapore last weekend, agreed on the need to substantially increase troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Military campaign will last '10 years'
"He's certainly given me the impression that the United States remains absolutely committed to the project and he's certainly given me the impression that there's likely to be continuity on that issue across the administration regardless of who wins in November," Fitzgibbon said, referring to the upcoming presidential elections.
The head of Australia's defense force told a Senate inquiry Wednesday the military campaign in Afghanistan "will last at least 10 years."
Fitzgibbon said Thursday that military operations could take less time with adequate resources, although reconstruction of the country will take longer.
Fitzgibbon's center-left government, which came to power in November elections last year, fulfilled a campaign pledge this week by beginning to withdraw 550 combat troops from Iraq. Another 1,000 Australian troops, sailors and air crew will remain in and around Iraq in non-combat roles.