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Sarkozy, Rudd visit Afghanistan

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  • French and Australian leaders arrive in Afghanistan
  • Both leaders expected to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai
  • Both will visit with their respective country's troops
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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Australia's new prime minister assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday that his country's troops intend to be in Afghanistan "for the long haul."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

Kevin Rudd and French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew into the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Saturday to meet with Karzai and visit their respective country's troops participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

In a morning meeting, Sarkozy "assured President Karzai of his government's long term political and military support with the people of Afghanistan," according to a statement from the Afghan president's office.

Rudd, who was elected in a landslide victory Nov. 24, appeared with Karzai at a news conference, where he repeatedly said that the Australian commitment to Afghanistan is strong.

"We will be, as I said before, in this country, Afghanistan, for the long haul. It's important for us to be here in partnership with NATO countries," Rudd said.

"On the question of the broader security policy challenges faced within Afghanistan, of course they are significant, they are real. But we are confident that in partnership with our friends in the Afghan government and with our other allies, particularly in NATO, that we can continue to achieve real progress in the long-term security of this country," he added.

Australia's new defense minister, however, warned U.S. and NATO allies recently that they risk losing the war in Afghanistan without a sharp shift in military and reconstruction efforts there.

Joel Fitzgibbon, who took office with Rudd allies during a conference in Scotland earlier this month, said 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.

Karzai wished those at the news conference a merry Christmas, then thanked Australia, France and other countries for their help and support.

More than 1,900 French troops are in Afghanistan, serving both the ISAF and the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to the war in Afghanistan, with nearly 1,000 troops stationed mostly in the southern province of Oruzgan.

Sarkozy, elected to lead France last May, told the U.S. Congress during a visit last month that France would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States on the war in Afghanistan.

"Let me tell you solemnly today: France will remain engaged in Afghanistan as long as it takes, because what's at stake in that country is the future of our values and that of the Atlantic Alliance," he said.

Rudd made a surprise visit Friday to Iraq, where he promised continued Australian aid, despite a decision to withdraw all 550 Australian troops in Iraq by mid-2008 -- an effort his predecessor, John Howard, staunchly opposed.

Rudd had said he would start a phased withdrawal of Australian forces from Iraq if his Labor Party won the vote. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Journalist Farhad Peikar in Kabul contributed to this report.

All About Nicolas SarkozyKevin RuddHamid KarzaiAfghanistan WarAfghanistan

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