Australia to send 200 more troops to Afghanistan

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says the Federal government will contribute another 200 troops to assist the Dutch military in a former Taliban stronghold. Australia also pledges $150 million in aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"We have 190 at the moment, special forces, we've got another 110 going there to provide additional support for them with two helicopters, and this would be another 200 on top of that." Mr Downer said.

Speaking outside a two-day international donors conference in London, Mr Downer said Australia's commitment to Afghanistan was not as large as some countries, but it would nevertheless make a big difference.

He said Australia would build on the millions it has already spent in Afghanistan, with a new pledge of $150 million over 5 years through aid agency AusAID. Canberra has spent 110 million dollars in the war-torn country since the coalition invaded in late 2001.

Mr Downer joined world leaders in London for the signing of the Afghanistan Compact: "a road-map for international donors and the Government of Afghanistan to work together to rebuild the country into a stable and democratic state."

Australia's latest troop commitment, for a provincial reconstruction team in conjunction with the Netherlands, will take its total in Afghanistan to 500 troops. Downer said that the troops would probably be sent to take part in a proposed provincial reconstruction team with Dutch soldiers in the southern province of Uruzgan as early as July.

"July, August would be the pencilled-in planning at the moment, so that would involve Australia sending around 200 troops over and above the troops we already have in Afghanistan," he said.

Mr Downer said Afghanistan still had a security problem but things were going in the right direction.

"We know how important it is for the new democratic government in Afghanistan and the new free and democratic processes there to survive, and every country that possibly can needs to give support to Afghanistan," he said.

Under the compact, Afghanistan has pledged to meet targets in security, governance, rule of law and human rights, and economic and social development in return for military and financial aid from its international partners.

Australia also has about 900 troops in Iraq. About 450 of the soldiers are guarding Japanese forces in southern Samawa, which Japanese media reports said could end by May.

Downer said Australia would "wait and see" what Japan would do before deciding whether to bring its Samawa troops home or redeploy them elsewhere in Iraq.

Australia has already committed some 300 troops and support personnel to Afghanistan.