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Australia to send extra troops to Afghanistan

AUSTRALIA will send an extra 330 soldiers to Afghanistan, responding to an appeal from close ally the United States for more troops to combat Taliban militants, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said today.

The troops and a small number of police would help train Afghan security forces and secure presidential elections in August, Rudd said.

They would bring Australia's military contingent in the country to around 1,550, making it the largest contributor outside the NATO alliance.

"Australia will not bow to the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan. We will continue to stand by our American ally in confronting this threat," Rudd told reporters in Canberra.

Australia, a close Washington ally, was an original member of the U.S.-led coalition that arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

But with 10 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001, public support has begun to wane.

An Australian National University poll today found 53 percent support for Australian participation in the war.

Australian forces, including special forces troops who hunt down Taliban insurgents, are based in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province, working alongside alongside Dutch troops on reconstruction projects.

Rudd's centre-left government has previously refused to consider sending extra soldiers as the fight against insurgents stalled, urging larger European nations like Germany to do more instead to combat the Taliban in the country's south.

Rudd said the extra troops for Afghanistan would help train a brigade of 3,300 Afghan troops, who would eventually take over responsibility for security in Uruzgan.

An infantry company of 120 soldiers would also be sent for eight months to help with security for the coming Afghan national elections, while a team of civilian election officials would also be sent to help with the election in Uruzgan, he said.

A small team of police would also be sent to Afghanistan to help train Afghan police.


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