Da The Sydney Morning Herald del 21/02/2006
Originale su http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/200-extra-troops-for-afghanistan/2...

200 extra troops for Afghanistan

A top US general today warned Prime Minister John Howard of a rising tempo of violence across southern Afghanistan as 200 Australian troops prepare to deploy into troubled Oruzgan province.

General John Abizaid said US forces had operated in Oruzgan Province since 2001 amid substantial military activity.

The chief of the US Central Command with overall responsibility for an area including Iraq and Afghanistan, General Abizaid today met Mr Howard, new Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and defence force head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

The general is optimistic about the future of both Iraq and Afghanistan, but says he's realistic enough to accept that there's much fighting ahead.

"I am optimistic but there is going to be increased action there (Afghanistan) during spring time, but we will be able to handle it militarily," he told reporters.

"It is primarily along the Afghan-Pakistan border area in what I would call the Pashtun Belt."

Mr Howard and Dr Nelson today announced deployment of a 200-member Australian Defence Force provincial reconstruction team (PRT) into Oruzgan province in south-central Afghanistan.

That unit will work alongside a 1400-member Dutch formation as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force push to extend Afghanistan government control into the south of the country.

With a 300-member special forces task group also in Oruzgan Province, the PRT will take Australian numbers in Afghanistan to 500.

Mr Howard and Dr Nelson said the combined force of engineers and infantry would head off in late July and stay for two years, undertaking reconstruction and community projects.

"Australia is committed to assisting Afghanistan to achieve a stable and secure future," Mr Howard said.

"It is important that we continue to work with the Afghan people to prevent the return of the Taliban and to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists to plan, organise and train."

Mr Howard said the Australian PRT would operate in partnership with the Netherlands as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) expansion into southern Afghanistan.

That includes a 4000-member British force, deploying into Helmand Province, and 2200 Canadians in Kandahar.

Mr Howard foreshadowed the despatch of the PRT to Afghanistan when he announced the special forces deployment last July.

He said today the decision to send a new force followed extensive consultations with the governments of Afghanistan, the Netherlands, plus NATO and other partner countries.

"Defence is now finalising detailed planning with the Netherlands," he said.

"The final composition of our contribution will be settled in coming months. The deployment will begin later this year and Australian personnel will be deployed under Australian national command."

The mission appears to be not without risk.

Australian Special Air Service Regiment troops have already exchanged fire with anti-government forces in Oruzgan Province and last week defence force head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston warned of a rising incidence of suicide bombing.

"The level of activity has remained reasonably constant. What seems to have changed is the tactics that the anti-Afghanistan government elements are using," he told a Senate committee.

"In the past there was a tendency for them to use guerrilla marauding tactics almost exclusively. What we have seen in the last three months or so is the emergence of terrorist suicide bomber type tactics. That is a new development within Afghanistan."

Afghanistan is now regarded as the world's major producer of heroin with opium poppy cultivation widespread, including in Oruzgan province. That's despite significant programs to divert farmers away from poppy production.

As a partner of the larger Dutch force, the Australian PRT will enjoy a substantial level of protection.

The Dutch contingent includes a substantial infantry element for security as well as Apache attack helicopters and F-16 jet fighter bombers.
Labor welcomed the deployment.

Opposition defence spokesman Robert McClelland said this was a valuable and strategically shrewd contribution to the fight against terrorism.

"We believe security in Afghanistan has direct relevance to Australia," he told reporters.

"It's the source of the drug trade that funds so much of the terrorist activity in the South East Asian region.

"It clearly is where al-Qaeda is still active. It clearly is the area where Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding out."

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