More wheels for Diggers in Afghanistan
AUSTRALIA'S latest military deployment to Afghanistan will be bolstered in coming months with extra land transport and possibly helicopters.
The 190-strong force already includes SAS troopers, a commando detachment and chemical warfare specialists from the army's Incident Response Regiment and logistics experts.
Senior defence sources told The Australian the army's new Bushmaster infantry vehicle, already deployed to Iraq, would be used in a supporting role at the Australian group's logistics base in Afghanistan.
The Bushmaster can carry 10 fully equipped soldiers on rough roads and offers good protection against landmines, which continue to be a hazard for off-road vehicles in Afghanistan.
The special-forces-led task group could also be equipped later this year with army helicopters, primarily for search and rescue work.
Initially the Australians will rely on the US for aviation support in Afghanistan.
Yesterday John Howard, Defence Minister Robert Hill, defence force chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley farewelled the Afghanistan task group at Campbell Barracks, the Special Air Service headquarters in Perth.
The Prime Minister told departing troops they were on a fundamental mission in the war on terror, with a vital role in protecting Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.
"If that happens and democracy takes root in that country ... then a massive blow is struck in the war against terrorism," Mr Howard said.
The taskforce will serve for six months in Afghanistan.
The SAS will be sharply focused on counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan against Taliban and al-Qa'ida forces along the sensitive border regions with Pakistan.
Senator Hill said they would be employed in roles similar to those performed in 2001-02. Those included combat patrols of remote regions, reconnaissance and surveillance operations.
Australia's latest deployment to Afghanistan comes less than a month before national elections, due on September 18, and amid a deteriorating security environment in the country.
Mr Howard said yesterday that it was in Australia's strategic interest for democracy to succeed in Afghanistan.
"If the democratic experiment in Afghanistan fails then that's a huge victory for terrorism," he said.The UN Security Council this week expressed grave concern about increased attacks by the Taliban, al-Qa'ida and other extremist groups in the run-up to the elections and the higher threat posed to foreign military forces serving in the country.
Jean Arnault, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, told the Security Council that attacks by extremists had resumed with greater intensity in the south and east of the country.
US and Afghan army forces have battled the resurgent Taliban in recent weeks in the south in an effort to prevent disruptions to the September poll.
Von: 25 August 2005, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au, by Patrick Walters