Australia is sending an extra 150 soldiers to Afghanistan because of the worsening security situation in the country. The additional troops will strengthen a 240-strong army reconstruction team that was already due to leave for Afghanistan next month.

The additional troops mean a total of 390 Australian personnel will now be working alongside a Dutch-led reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province.

Australia already has 300 troops in the country, including special forces commandos. They were sent to bolster security for the elections last September.

The new deployment comes as Afghanistan goes through its most violent phase since U.S.-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. Canberra sent 1,500 troops to help in that campaign.

Attacks by Taleban fighters, al-Qaida and others opposed to the U.S.-backed government have increased in recent months, especially in the south.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the extra troops will provide protection for Australian army engineers and skilled craftsmen in the troubled country.

"We are proposing an increase to provide protection for the group that's going as part of the provincial reconstruction team," said Mr. Howard.

Canberra believes that tackling extremism in Afghanistan is a key element in the global war on extremism.

Australia also has around 1,400 troops in and around Iraq, in addition to large deployments dealing with local problems in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Prime Minister Howard said his government would not abandon Afghanistan as it made the transition from conflict to peace and stability. He said that democracy was taking root in the country.