Australian commando killed in Afghanistan

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CANBERRA, Nov 23 (Reuters) An Australian commando was killed in a clash with Taliban militia in Afghanistan today, a day before Australians go to the polls in national elections in which the war in Iraq and Afghanistan will feature.

The 26-year-old soldier was killed during an operation against Taliban bomb-making bases in Uruzgan province, Australian Defence Force commander Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told a news conference. ''It was part of our commitment to take the fight directly to the Taliban, who seek to deny the people of Afghanistan a brighter future,'' Houston told reporters in Canberra.

The soldier was the third Australian killed in recent months in the restive province. His death comes on the eve of the November 24 elections marked by popular opposition to Canberra's military role in both the Iraq war and Afghanistan.

Australia, a close US ally, was one of the first nations to commit troops in late 2001 to the US-led war to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda militants from Afghanistan. It also has about 1,500 troops in and around Iraq.

Australia's Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd has pledged to withdraw combat troops from Iraq but keep soldiers in Afghanistan.

Opinion polls show Australians are widely opposed to both wars and have begun to lose faith in Howard's tough security stance, which has won him previous elections.

Taliban insurgents have been intensifying their attacks over the past 20 months, the bloodiest period since the US-led troops verthrew the Taliban government in Kabul in late 2001.

Reuters ARB DB1305

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