Australia to Double Its Military Force in Afghanistan

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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 Tuesday, warning that the troops may suffer casualties.

Howard, a staunch U.S. ally on the war on terror, would not rule out sending even more than 1,000 troops if the need arose. He said that Afghanistan was becoming more dangerous and that the Australian public should prepare for possible casualties. Only one Australian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-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," he added.

The Australian Defense Force will add 400 troops to its contingent of 550 currently in Afghanistan by mid-2007. It will add another 50 by the middle of 2008, bringing the deployment to about 1,000, Howard told reporters.

Howard said the troops will be sent to Oruzgan province, where a 200-member special forces task group operated for a year, through September.

"Their role will be to enhance provincial security by disrupting Taliban command and control supply routes and they will directly support the Australian reconstruction task force," he said.

"There is renewed commitment and activity by the Taliban," he added. "The possibility of Afghanistan once again becoming a bolt hole, a safe haven for terrorists is quite real."

Howard said there had been extensive discussions between Australian Defense Chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and his counterparts in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.

Australia sent troops to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led war on terror in late 2001, but withdrew all but one land mine specialist in 2002 as security improved.

However, more Australian soldiers were sent in September 2005 to provide security for elections in that month.

"We're not losing the war, but we will not win it without renewed and increased effort," Howard said.

Howard said he appreciated a recent increase in Canadian troops in Afghanistan and wished some European countries would place fewer caveats on their troops' deployment.

Australia also has 1,400 troops in Iraq, a deployment that is opposed by the opposition Labor Party. Labor supports Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan.