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More troops for Afghanistan.

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As Australians will know, the Government has in recent weeks been considering providing more troops for Afghanistan. After careful examination and proper consultation, the Government has decided to boost significantly Australia’s military contribution to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan.

We have a clear national interest in helping to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a safehaven for terrorists.

This decision is also based on the Government’s steadfast commitment to helping Afghanistan’s democratically elected government create a secure and stable environment in that country, and on Defence’s advice that the increasing threat posed by the insurgency requires the deployment of additional force protection and support elements.

It follows intense consultations, including during my recent visit, with our key partners in Afghanistan - President Karzai’s Government, the United States, the Dutch and other International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contributors.

Approximately 400 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are already contributing to a Reconstruction Task Force in Oruzgan Province, working closely with Dutch forces to deliver reconstruction and community-based projects. This valuable work includes skills development and engineering projects and helps both to strengthen local capacity and to increase Afghan security.

The Government believes that it is strongly in the interests of Afghanistan and the international community that these efforts succeed, and therefore that we reinforce our existing presence.

Accordingly a Special Operations Task Group of about 300 personnel will shortly deploy to Oruzgan province for at least two years. It will operate in direct support of ISAF elements in Oruzgan. Its role will be to enhance provincial security by disrupting Taliban extremists’ command and control and supply routes. These forces will operate under an Australian commander working within the ISAF framework.

The Task Group’s activities will directly support the Australian Reconstruction Task Force, support the development of the Afghan national security forces and help reinforce the legitimacy of the Afghan Government with the local population. 1

The existing RTF Protection Company Group (about 120 personnel) will be extended and will continue to provide close protection to RTF personnel until August 2008.

An RAAF air surveillance radar capability (about 75 personnel) will deploy to Kandahar Airfield, where it will assume control of a portion of Afghan operational air space from mid-2007.

Our expanded force in Afghanistan will be supported by additional logistics and intelligence capabilities, the planned return of two Chinook helicopters to Afghanistan in 2008, and the deployment of an additional C-130J Hercules aircraft to the Middle East.

The total ADF deployment to Afghanistan will reach approximately 950 by mid-2007 and will peak at approximately 1000 personnel in mid-2008.

The advice received by the Government points to an elevated threat environment in Afghanistan. Our personnel are very well equipped and superbly trained and led. But we should all be fully conscious of, and prepared for, the possibility of casualties. I know that our personnel serving overseas, their families and support personnel at home are in the thoughts of all Australians.

Afghanistan faces a crucial phase as international and Afghan national security forces work to consolidate the gains made since the overthrow of the Taliban regime. This new contribution underlines Australia’s continuing commitment to supporting the Afghan Government as it strives to deliver a stable future for its people.

10 April 2007 2