Australia to send extra 110 troops to Afghanistan

Australia will send an extra 110 troops to Afghanistan to bolster the fight against Islamist militants, increasing its presence in the country to about 300, the Australian government said on Tuesday. The deployment, which includes two Chinook helicopters, would provide additional medical evacuation and air mobility support to 190 Australian special forces troops in Afghanistan, it said. Australia's special forces were sent to Afghanistan in July to help hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who have doggedly pursued a violent insurgency since a 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban for harbouring the militant al Qaeda network.

Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, has been blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States. "(Australia's extra troops) will be deployed as part of Australia's continuing commitment to the fight against terrorism," Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, who is acting prime minister while John Howard is on holiday, told Australian radio. Australia initially sent 1,550 troops to Afghanistan in 2001 to join the U.S.-led attack, including special forces who were involved in some of the earliest and fiercest fighting.

Defense Minister Robert Hill said the helicopters and extra troops would be fully operational by March and would remain in Afghanistan for the rest of the special forces deployment, which is due to finish in September.

"Afghanistan has made significant progress since its liberation from the Taliban and it is important the international community continues to work together with the Afghan government to ensure progress continues," Hill said in a statement. The Australian Greens party said the country should be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, not sending more.

"Our troops should be in Australia and our neighborhood where our national interests are concentrated," Greens leader Bob Brown said in a statement. The Australian government is also due to decide whether to send a 200-strong reconstruction team to Afghanistan, reports the AP. I.L.

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