Australia may send more troops to Afghanistan

KABUL — Australian Prime Minister John Howard says his country is considering sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Howard was not specific on the proposed reinforcements during his surprise visit to Kabul today.

However, he says Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan remains steadfast.

Earlier Thursday, during a stopover in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, Howard thanked some of the 550 Australian troops for their work in that volatile corner of the country.

Meanwhile, Howard says Australia is also planning what he calls a moderate increase in military trainers in Iraq.

Australia currently has 1,400 troops in and around Iraq.

Howard’s visit to Afghanistan on Thursday was his second visit to the war-ravaged country.

“We remain committed as a nation in assisting Afghanistan in resisting terrorism, in resisting the Taliban forces, in providing in co-operation with other countries a level of stability and a level of security, so that your country can build for itself a strong and prosperous and secure future,” Howard told reporters after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“We are looking at a possibility of some increase in our commitment to Afghanistan,” he said in response to a question.

Thursday’s visit by Howard came at a time when Australia, a non-NATO member, was known to be considering boosting its troop contribution for the 36,000 NATO-led force.

NATO commanders have been struggling to get more troops, and the issue has opened divisions within the alliance.

Major contributors, including Britain, the United States and Canada, have been irritated by the reluctance of some European allies to commit extra troops and, in particular, to allow them to be sent to the violent southern and eastern regions of the country where the Taliban-led insurgency is strongest.

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