Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Australia To Up Afghan Presence

Australia will nearly double its military deployment in Afghanistan to about 1,000 soldiers by the middle of next year, Prime Minister John Howard announced. Howard, a staunch US ally, would not rule out sending even more than 1,000 troops if the need arose. He also said Afghanistan was becoming more dangerous and that Australians should prepare for casualties. Only one Australian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001. "I should make it clear that all of the intelligence advice suggests that there is a heightened security risk," Howard said. "There is the distinct possibility of casualties, and that should be understood and prepared for by the Australian public."The Australian Defense Force will add 400 troops drawn from the Special Air Service Regiment and other elite units to its contingent of 550 currently in Afghanistan by the middle of this year. It will add another 50 by the middle of 2008, taking the deployment to about 1,000, Howard told reporters. The troops will be sent to Oruzgan province, where a 200-member special forces task group operated for a year until last September. "Their role will be to enhance provincial security by disrupting Taleban command and control supply routes and they will directly support the Australian reconstruction task force," Howard said.