Australia is to nearly double its military deployment in Afghanistan, citing an anticipated Taliban offensive, amid warnings from the prime minister that they may suffer casualties as a result.
John Howard said the deployment would take the number of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan to about 1,000 by mid-2008.
The new deployment would be largely made up of about 300 special forces soldiers, sent to Uruzgan province in southeastern Afghanistan.
"It is a very crucial phase in the modern history of Afghanistan," Howard said, pointing to renewed Taliban activity in the country.
Australia withdrew its special forces from Afghanistan in September but kept about 500 soldiers to help with reconstruction work in Uruzgan province.
Aside from the special forces troops, Australia will also send air force radar crews to Kandahar, extra logistics and intelligence officers, and extend the deployment of a team providing protection and security, Howard said.
When last deployed in Afghanistan, Australia's special forces were sent on clandestine missions in small teams to penetrate the Taliban heartland, spending weeks at a time away from their base.
Howard, a key US ally in the so-called war on terror, said he would not rule out sending more than 1,000 troops if the need arose.
Britain and the US have announced increased troop deployments to Afghanistan.
"I should make it clear that all of the intelligence advice suggests that there is a heightened security risk," Howard told a news conference.
"There is the distinct possibility of casualties and that should be understood and prepared for by the Australian public."
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Australian Defence Force commander, said the special forces would hunt Taliban commanders.
"Essentially their operations will be targeted on the Taliban, disrupting Taliban operations and going after the Taliban leadership," he said.
Over the past month, Nato and Afghan troops have been engaged in a major offensive in the southern Helmand province, the opium heartland of Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16