Australian PM defends pulling special forces out of Afghanistan
Tuesday September 26, 2006 (1340 PST)
SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister John Howard has defended his decision to withdraw special forces troops from Afghanistan in the midst of an increasingly bloody insurgency.
An elite special force task group of about 200 Special Air Services (SAS) troops and commandos is due to return to Australia this month after spending a year conducting operations in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan.
Howard defended pulling out the troops at a time when the insurgency was intensifying and NATO`s commander of the alliance`s mission in Afghanistan, General James Jones, has appealed for 2,000 extra soldiers.
Australia is in the process of deploying a 400-strong reconstruction team backed by infantry troops to work with a Dutch-led reconstruction taskforce in Uruzgan.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he met with NATO officials in Brussels overnight to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
He said more troops would be desirable but there was also scope for some European troops to remove caveats placed on their existing deployments so they could be reassigned from the relatively quiet north to hotspots elsewhere in the country.
"The real challenge is that a larger number of countries in Afghanistan need to abandon the sort of caveats there are on their involvement and be prepared to support the countries that are particularly shouldering the burden in the south of the country," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"I focus particularly on Canada, they`ve had 36 soldiers killed and they`ve been doing an enormous amount of work in the south of the country.
"We`d like to feel that some of the other countries in the north of Afghanistan would be prepared to come in and provide backup support when it was needed in the south."
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