- Australia and NATO make a joint political declaration
- Prime Minister Julia Gillard commits troops to train Afghan security forces
- She says Afghanistan will be a central focus of the partnership
Australia pledged Thursday to provide troops and resources in Afghanistan beyond a 2014 deadline to withdraw combat forces, a commitment that came as NATO's chief vowed the alliance would not leave a security vacuum in the country.
The announcement followed news of a joint political declaration between Australia and NATO during a news conference in the Australian capital of Canberra.
The agreement unites Australia and NATO in battling terrorism, piracy and cyber crimes, though the primary focus in the near term will be on Afghan security forces.
"Afghanistan will be a central to our focus for our partnership for some time to come," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.
Australia will provide troops to train Afghan security forces as well as resources to the country, she said without spelling out specifics.
NATO plans to remove its final combat troops and hand over full security responsibility to Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The Afghan government is set to have about 350,000 of its own security forces in place then - with a yet undetermined number of international forces left behind to train them.
Rasmussen has said some NATO members have agreed to contribute money for the $4 billion a year needed to help fund Afghan security forces.
"We will not abandon Afghanistan, we will not leave behind a security vacuum," Rasmussen told reporters Wednesday in Australia.
It was unclear whether Australia's commitment of troops and resources would also include money to fund Afghan forces.
"We will make sure we will maintain the gains we have achieved in blood and resources," Rasmussen said.
Many have questioned whether Afghanistan's forces will be able to independently take responsibility for the country's security by the end of 2014.
France has said it plans to withdraw its troops by the end of 2012, and the United States is pulling at least 30,000 of its troops by the end of the year.
Gillard has previously said Australia will accelerate the withdrawal of its roughly 1,500 combat troops, citing security improvements.