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Australia to Send Elite Military Force to Afghanistan

Australia says it will deploy elite troops to Afghanistan to fight growing insurgent violence ahead of September's parliamentary elections.

John Howard (File photo)
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced 150 elite troops will go to Afghanistan by September.

Canberra is responding to requests for help from Britain, the United States and Afghanistan, which is preparing for parliamentary elections.

There are concerns that fighters linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network and the ousted Taleban regime will try to disrupt the September 18 vote.

Australia's Treasurer Peter Costello is confident the new military force will make a difference to Afghanistan's stability.

"It is a question of doing the job, finishing the job, making the contribution," he explained. "Our forces have adequate capability to meet the needs where they can help the fight against terrorism."

Members of the Special Forces unit are expected to patrol remote and hostile parts of Afghanistan searching for militants.

Australia says it will consider sending additional troops sometime next year, if needed.

More than 1500 Australian soldiers took part in the US-led military campaign in late 2001 that toppled the former Taleban government - after it provided refuge to al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Apart from a solitary military engineer, Canberra pulled its forces out of Afghanistan the following year.

The decision to send them back now has the support here of the main opposition Labor Party, which has argued that they should never have been withdrawn in the first place.

Labor has described Afghanistan as "terror central" where the opium trade has financed extremist groups around the world.

Canberra has been a loyal supporter of the American-led war on terror and it currently has about 1400 troops in and around Iraq.