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Australia Sends More Troops to Afghanistan

  • Phil Mercer

Australia is to almost double its troop numbers in Afghanistan. It will send a 200-strong reconstruction team to the country's volatile southern region. The Australian contingent will work alongside Dutch soldiers as part of a force preparing to expand peacekeeping and rebuilding operations.

The new deployment will take the number of Australian troops in Afghanistan to 500.

The new contingent will arrive in July for a two-year mission and will work with Dutch-led reconstruction teams.

Half the force will be military engineers who will help build roads while other personnel will provide security in what will be a potentially hazardous environment.

They will operate in the southern province of Uruzgan, a former stronghold of the Taleban force that once ruled Afghanistan. The Taleban is allied with the al Qaida terror network, and militants from both have staged attacks throughout Afghanistan over the past few years.

Defense Minister Brendan Nelson says that stability in Afghanistan has a direct bearing on Australia's national security.

"Australians need to appreciate that fighting terrorism is a global activity and we're not going to wait for these people to turn up on Australian beaches, so to speak," he said.

Australia helped U.S. forces oust the Taleban regime in late 2001 and then wound down its military presence in Afghanistan.

Amid concerns that insurgents were regrouping and becoming more dangerous, Canberra sent around 200 Special Forces soldiers back to the troubled country last year. In January of this year 100 additional Australian soldiers were sent in as support along with two Chinook helicopters.

The Netherlands said earlier this month that it would send an extra 1,200 troops to Afghanistan as it assumes the lead role in the NATO security operation.

The Australian government says the latest increase in troop numbers is needed to ensure the Taleban do not return to power.

The defense minister says said the deployment will not affect Australia's commitment of about 900 troops in Iraq.

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