400 Australian soldiers sent to Afghanistan

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Australian Special Forces Task Group soldiers during a training activity in Afghanistan, 2003

400 Australian soldiers have been officially farewelled at parade in Darwin, NT, ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan on Tuesday. Wishing the soldiers well, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says there is a high risk associated with the mission.

"We know that this is a dangerous mission but it's also an extremely important one," he said. "They will go beginning this week and be deployed over the next few weeks."

The group will work around the southern Oruzgan Province. Rising violence in the Taliban heartland province earlier this month prompted Australian Prime Minister John Howard to further strengthen the capability of the Reconstruction Task Force (RTF). Approximately 150 personnel will be added to the 240-strong force announced in May.

Defence says the RTF will form part of the Netherlands-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Oruzgan province under NATO.

More than 1800 people have been killed in fighting in Afghanistan this year, 92 of them foreign soldiers (12 being Canadian). A contingent of 190 Australian special forces, supported by a 110-member helicopter detachment, has suffered a steady flow of casualties since September year, with 11 wounded — a rate of one a month. The Age reports the Howard Government has "kept secret" how soldiers suffered the wounds, or the extent or nature of the wounds.

Dr Nelson said the soldiers would perform command, construction, communications intelligence, protection and logistics support. "We must stick with our allies and stand up for our values," he said. He told the troops they would be "dealing with people who are fanatically opposed to our way of life and everything we stand for".

Dr Nelson says the Australian contribution will also include skills training for the local population to "ensure the benefits of the deployment continue long after our personnel have returned home."

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