Australia will send another 150 soldiers to Afghanistan to protect reconstruction efforts in the countryside, which is enduring the worst bloodshed since the Taliban regime toppled, the prime minister said yesterday.
Prime Minister John Howard told parliament that the troops are in addition to a 240-member task force promised in May to join a Netherlands-led provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province starting next month.
He said the task force would be bolstered with 30 soldiers to enhance security, robustness and flexibility.
An additional infantry company group of 120 soldiers equipped with armored personnel carriers would also be sent to safeguard the task force, he said.
The task force will be sent for two years and the level of security would be reassessed after six months, Howard said.
"The level of violence has increased in Afghanistan in recent months as the Taliban and other terrorist groups including al-Qaeda seek to chip away at the credibility of the Afghanistan government and prevent reconstruction taking place," Howard told Parliament.
"Security beyond Kabul, particularly in the east and south, is the worst since the Taliban fell," he added.
Australia already has 300 troops in Afghanistan, including 190 special forces soldiers sent last September to bolster security for elections that month.
"Australia cannot and will not abandon Afghanistan," Howard said. "We need to remain committed to supporting this fledgling democracy."
Opposition Labor Party Leader Kim Beazley welcomed the military commitment and accused the government of withdrawing troops too soon after the fall of the Taliban almost five years ago.
``This will be the most dangerous Australian mission to date in the war on terror,'' Beazley told Parliament.
An Australian soldier was killed in Afghanistan during the US-led war against the Taliban in late 2001.
Last month, another six Australian special forces soldiers were wounded in fighting in southern Afghanistan.
Australia also sent 2,000 troops to support the US as well as the British military in the Iraq invasion.