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Australia to re-assign troops in southern Iraq

Written by: Staff
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CANBERRA, Mar 14 (Reuters) Australia will re-assign about 450 of its troops in southern Iraq to provide backup for Iraqi security forces once their current mission is over, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said today.

But Nelson said the troops, currently providing security for Japanese engineers in southern Al Muthanna province, would not be deployed to Basra to replace British forces.

Britain said yesterday it would cut its troop numbers in Iraq by about 10 percent, or 800 troops.

''We will be supporting the Iraqi security forces, Iraqi police and Iraqi local government in administering and managing their own affairs,'' said Nelson, who has just returned from his first trip to Iraq.

Australia was one of the first nations to commit forces to the Iraq war and still has about 1,300 military personnel in and around Iraq. Britain's 8,000 troops are based mainly around the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Australia's Al Muthanna task group was due to end its deployment by mid-2006, when Japanese engineers are due to complete their Iraq mission, but Nelson told reporters the Australian forces would now stay well into 2007.

He said Australian forces in southern Iraq would take on an ''overwatch'' role, which generally involves observing enemy positions during operations of another unit.

Nelson said Australia's other forces, including a navy ship in the Gulf, security personnel in Baghdad and air-lift and surveillance aircraft, would also remain in Iraq well into 2007.

REUTERS CS SSC1333

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