Australian Troops To Be Sent To Afghanistan

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has announced the commitment of 1550 Australian ground troops to the war against Afghanistan.

ArmyThe commitment will consist of two P3 marine aircraft, Special forces troops, two B707 tanker aircraft, the guided missile frigate, HMAS Sydney, a naval task force on board an amphibious command ship with a frigate as escort, and four F/A-18 aircraft with one frigate as escort.

In a press conference at 10am this morning in Melbourne, Howard said: “I would expect this to be the probable limit to what we would contribute, but I can’t rule out whether we will be asked to give more. I don’t expect the Americans will make those requests of us.”

Howard said the commitment was significant: “There is nothing token about this contribution, this is a very significant important contribution being made by Australia and it should be seen as much by the Australian people.”

On October 4, Howard announced a much smaller commitment of 150 Special Air Service Regiment troops, two air-to-air refuelling aircraft, surveillance aircraft and landing ships.

There is no clear timetable for the departure of the troops, although it could be as early as next week.

Howard was at pains to emphasise the dangers involved in the deployment: “Whenever you go into battle there is always the risk of casualties, I can’t pretend there won’t be casualties. In those circumstances the possibility of deaths, the possibility of casualties is quite high.”

The announcement will dominate news bulletins over the coming days and will further diminish the airing of domestic issues in the election campaign.

The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, has strongly supported the commitment of troops.

Howard said he was telephoned last night by President George W. Bush who requested the deployment of troops. Beazley was also briefed on the decision last night.

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