Monday, May 08, 2006

240 Australian Troops To Be Stationed In Afghanistan

Australia will send a 240-strong military team to Afghanistan to work with a Dutch-led reconstruction project in the country's troubled south-central region, Prime Minister John Howard said. "The 240 personnel will begin going to Afghanistan in July and will proceed in appropriate numbers at an appropriate pace... over the weeks and months following that," Howard told reporters. The deployment of Australian personnel to Afghanistan's Uruzgan province was announced in February, but Howard said the size and composition of the force had now been determined following discussions with the Netherlands. The Netherlands, which will lead the reconstruction team, has committed some 1,400 troops to the project.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard (L) and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
Howard said the deployment was a "further reminder of our very strong commitment to the coalition effort in Afghanistan" despite the dangers of operating in the violence-wracked central Asian nation. "The situation in Afghanistan requires a continued strong coalition presence," he said. "Like all operations in that country there is danger. The situation in Afghanistan still remains in a number of parts of the country quite fraught." Howard said the latest deployment was a reinforcement of the commitment the Australian government made in 2001, when it was part of the US-led coalition force which ousted the fundamentalist Taliban regime harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Australia later withdrew its soldiers only to redeploy 190 elite special forces troops again in 2005 to counter growing rebel attacks. Australian special forces in Afghanistan have come under fire from militants since their deployment last year, with four soldiers so far wounded fighting anti-government elements. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said while the new deployment would cost about 270 million dollars (208 million US) it would not over-extend Australia's military commitments, which also include some 900 troops stationed in Iraq. "Whilst Afghanistan is remote for Australia, this is very much in the interest of the next generation fighting terrorism in this country," he said. The government would not deploy troops unless it could sustain the operation as well as run operations in other areas if need be, he said. "If, under any other circumstances, we are required to deploy, whether it's in our region or remoter parts of the world, we are ready, willing and able," Nelson said.