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Australia to increase troops for Afghanistan

Written by: Staff

CANBERRA, Aug 9 (Reuters) Australia will send an extra 150 troops to Afghanistan due to the worsening security situation in the country, Prime Minister John Howard said today, taking Australia's commitment to Afghanistan to more than 600.

The bulk of the troops are being sent to protect Australian military engineers, who are part of a Netherlands-led reconstruction team in the central Oruzgan province, Howard said.

Australia was one of the first countries to commit forces in late 2001 to the U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban and fight al Qaeda, blamed for the September 11, 2001 airliner attacks on the United States.

The extra deployment comes as Afghanistan goes through the bloodiest phase of violence since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, with Taliban attacks occurring almost daily in the south in recent months.

''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 Afghan government and prevent reconstruction taking place,'' Howard told Australian Parliament.

''Security beyond Kabul, particularly in the east and south, is the worst since the Taliban fell, suicide bombings have increased.'' Almost 80 foreign soldiers, hundreds of militants and Afghan forces as well as civilians and aid workers have been killed in worsening violence this year.

Australia already has about 200 special forces troops in Afghanistan. They are due to return home next month.

In July, six Australian special forces troops were wounded during heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan.

Reuters PB DB1134

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