Australia, NATO enhance ties

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Saturday, April 2, 2005

Australia is likely to work more closely with NATO in the future, according to Defence Minister Robert Hill.

Australia has plans to post a defence attaché to NATO headquarters in Brussels, and enhance counter-terrorism intelligence co-operation — but will not be increasing troop numbers to assist the multilateral defence body in its task in Afghanistan.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested during a recent visit that more help in the troubled nation would be welcome. Australia currently supplies just one soldier to Afghanistan who assists in the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance. Up to 150 had at one time been on the ground there after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, but were brought home by November 2002.

"We are facing terrorism everywhere and anywhere," Mr Scheffer said. "We are all facing – the NATO alliance, Australia and this region alike – the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are all faced with the consequences of fragile and failing states."

Defence Minister Robert Hill said a change of role for NATO, set up to counter the perceived threat from the Communist Bloc in the Cold War, meant Australia was likely to be working more closely with the organisation in the future. NATO now provides security in Afghanistan and trains Iraqi personnel.

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