“The 240 personnel will begin going to Afghanistan in July and will proceed in appropriate numbers at an appropriate pace… over the weeks and months following that,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters.
The deployment of Australian personnel to Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province was announced in February, but the size and the composition of the force have only now been determined after discussions with the Netherlands.
“It will be known as a reconstruction task force (RTF). It will work on reconstruction and community based projects as part of Australia’s commitment to securing a stable and democratic future for Afghanistan,” Mr Howard said.
The Dutch are deploying about 1,400 personnel, including F-16s and Apache helicopters.
“We are very impressed with the military capability of the Dutch forces that are being deployed to Afghanistan. We’re very confident that we’ll be able to work with them very closely and we’re very confident in their abilities,” Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said.
Mr Nelson said that half of the Australian contingent will be tradesmen and engineers who will build water reticulation programs, roads, flood mitigation measures and a variety of infrastructure projects which will be nominated by the Afghanis.
The other half will be light infantry, including Australian Light Armoured Vehicles and Bushmasters designed for demanding terrain.
“The Australian reconstruction taskforce will be under Australian command, their immediate protection will be provided by Australian infantry and cavalry,” Mr Nelson said.
Mr Nelson said the new deployment would cost “around A$270 million” (US$208 million) it would not over-extend Australia’s military commitments.
“Whilst Afghanistan is remote for Australia, this is very much in the interest of the next generation fighting terrorism in this country,” he said.
Chinook deployment extended
The federal government has also decided to extend the deployment of two Chinook heavy transport helicopters to April 2007 to support the RTF and the Netherlands-led provincial reconstruction team.
The two Chinooks and their 110 support personnel are currently supporting operations of the Australian special forces task group.