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Australia to Boost Military Presence in Afghanistan

Australia is to nearly double its military presence in Afghanistan. Prime Minister John Howard says 1,000 troops will be deployed there by next year. Three hundred elite Special Forces commandos will soon be sent to Afghanistan's Oruzghan province. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Prime Minister John Howard says the move to boost Australia's military muscle in Afghanistan is a response to the worsening security situation.

Special Forces commandos will be at the sharp end of efforts to combat violence by Taleban fighters. The elite units are returning to Afghanistan after being withdrawn toward the end of last year.

Mr. Howard has warned that Australian troops faced the "distinct possibility of casualties." He says they will be doing an important job in very trying circumstances.

"Their role will be to enhance provincial security by disrupting Taleban command and control supply routes and they'll directly support the Australian reconstruction task force," he said. "It is difficult. It's dangerous work and that should not in any way be under-estimated but there is a lot at stake."

The Australian government believes that a key part in the global war on extremism is tackling militants in Afghanistan.

Mr. Howard says that if the Taleban establish a safe haven there once again, then countries around the world would suffer.

Until it was ousted from power in 2001, the Islamic fundamentalist Taleban gave a safe haven to the al-Qaida terrorist network that is tied to attacks in the United States, Europe, Africa and Iraq.

The Australians will operate as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The new deployment has come after discussions with the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.

Canberra has about 550 troops in Afghanistan. That figure is expected to nearly double by next year and there is a promise that more troops will follow if they are needed.

While the opposition Labor party opposes Australia's military involvement in Iraq it supports the mission in Afghanistan. Party leaders have described Afghanistan as "terror central."

Taleban forces are maintaining strong opposition to NATO troops, particularly in the south and east of Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, six Canadian soldiers were killed in the worst single incident for the coalition since 2005.