Australia's defense minister, citing progress in Iraq, said Friday that the US-led coalition must not hand a victory to terrorists fighting in that country by leaving too soon.
After meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Brendan Nelson told reporters that Australian troops will continue supporting the US in Iraq. When asked for how long, he said the decision would be made based on what was happening in Iraq.
"We are not about to leave Iraq prematurely," Nelson said. "Progress has been made, but it's extremely important that we have the determination and the political will to see this through."
Australia has about 1,600 troops in and around Iraq, 550 of them in combat roles. The timing and circumstances of the troops' withdrawal is a political issue in Australia as it heads toward national elections due by early next year.