Australia to double Afghan forces

Prime minister says extra troops needed to combat expected Taliban offensive.

    Australian special forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan last September [Aust. Govt/DoD]
    Australia withdrew its special forces from Afghanistan in September but kept about 500 soldiers to help with reconstruction work in Uruzgan province.
     

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    Aside from the special forces troops, Australia will also send air force radar crews to Kandahar, extra logistics and intelligence officers, and extend the deployment of a team providing protection and security, Howard said.
     
    When last deployed in Afghanistan, Australia's special forces were sent on clandestine missions in small teams to penetrate the Taliban heartland, spending weeks at a time away from their base.
     
    Howard, a key US ally in the so-called war on terror, said he would not rule out sending more than 1,000 troops if the need arose.
     
    Britain and the US have announced increased troop deployments to Afghanistan.
     
    Casualties
     

    Howard said he expects to eventually
    deploy about 1,000 troops [GALLO/GETTY]

    "I should make it clear that all of the intelligence advice suggests that there is a heightened security risk," Howard told a news conference.
     
    "There is the distinct possibility of casualties and that should be understood and prepared for by the Australian public."
     
    Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Australian Defence Force commander, said the special forces would hunt Taliban commanders.
     
    "Essentially their operations will be targeted on the Taliban, disrupting Taliban operations and going after the Taliban leadership," he said.
     
    Over the past month, Nato and Afghan troops have been engaged in a major offensive in the southern Helmand province, the opium heartland of Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer.
     
    Limits
     

    Some Australians say that the country's troops are operating at the limits of their capacity.

     

    "I wouldn't say they're overstretched but they're fully committed and there is a difference. I think a further deployment would really stretch them," Professor Alan Dupont from the University of Sydney told Al Jazeera.

     

    He says Australian troops are in countries like East Timor and the Solomon Islands to play a stabilising role but also to deliver an important message.

     

    "There is an identity issue there, and an issue about asserting ourselves in the region - not aggressively, but in terms of saying to people Australia has an important role to play in the region."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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