Australia to send troops to Afghanistan

Australia will send an additional 200 military personnel to Afghanistan to assist in reconstruction efforts there, Prime Minister John Howard said Tuesday.

Howard said the troops will be deployed in late July and will come under the command of a Dutch-led provincial reconstruction team. The force would be deployed over a two year period, Howard told reporters.

Howard said the deployment was "further evidence of the government's ongoing commitment to assist the people of Afghanistan."

Last month, Australia announced it would send an extra 110 troops and two helicopters to Afghanistan, increasing its military commitment to 300 personnel in the war-ravaged country.

Howard said the new Australian contingent would be a mixed security and reconstruction task force and will be focused in the volatile southern province of Uruzgan, which is known as a Taliban stronghold.

Fighters loyal to the toppled Taliban regime have renewed attacks in recent months, increasingly using suicide bombings against international forces and the Afghan authorities.

The announcement comes as NATO prepares to expand its peacekeeping mission from 9,000 to about 16,000 troops in Afghanistan and become responsible for security in about three-quarters of the country. The separate U.S.-led combat force will keep the lead role in the eastern sector where Taliban holdouts have been most active, reports the AP.


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