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Australia is seriously considering sending troops to Afghanistan and expects to have a decision within weeks, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said tonight.
"There have been requests to us (for troops) on many occasions, actually, at particularly low and middle levels but I recall the secretary general of NATO when he visited Australia earlier in the year particularly asking that we make a contribution," Mr Downer said.
"And now that we've wound down our contribution to the peace-keeping force in East Timor and we've wound back significantly our operation in the Solomon Islands we can have another look at this and we will."
Originally posted by jnkhampton
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"The poppy crop in 2004 was the largest ever because everybody thought they could grow poppy with impunity but we have already turned the corner, as a survey of this year's crop showed in February," Qaderi said.
The survey, carried out jointly by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, indicated that the amount of land under poppy cultivation had decreased in comparison with 2004 in all but five of the country's 34 provinces.
Despite this progress, although the amount of land under opium production is set to drop in 2005, the nation's per-hectare productivity of the deadly crop has risen.
The head of UNODC, Antonio Mario Costa, said that despite the reduction in cultivation and the eradication of poppy fields, production was likely to still be significant this year. This was partly due to a wetter winter after several years of drought in Afghanistan.
America unaware of Afghan plea.
The United States has made no request for Australia to deploy troops to Afghanistan and is unlikely to make such a request when the Prime Minister, John Howard, visits Washington the week after next.
The US Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, said he was unaware of "any particular request" for deployment of Australian forces, saying the US "very much appreciated the Australian help we've had".
In fact, Mr Zoellick seemed unaware that senior Afghan government officials had already made a request for an Australian deployment.
Mr Howard has said he is considering a request to send troops to Afghanistan, where the security situation has deteriorated in recent weeks, with an increase in attacks by Taliban and al-Qaeda groups against US and Afghan security forces.
Yesterday, he said cabinet would consider a new troop commitment next week, and "if a decision is taken, I will announce it on behalf of the Government".
"We will take into account the advice we receive from the military and I am not going to pre-empt that discussion," he said.
There had been "a standing request from the Government of Afghanistan over quite a period of time to a lot of countries, including Australia, to send troops" and "now we are going to look at it".
The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, said Labor would support a further deployment if there was winding back of forces in Iraq, something Mr Howard is unlikely to countenance on the eve of his visit to Washington.
Mr Howard criticised Mr Beazley for "sending very confused signals" on Afghanistan, given that Labor's defence spokesman, Robert McClelland, had unconditionally supported a renewed military deployment.
Afghanistan and Iraq were "two separate issues", Mr Howard said.
Prime Minister John Howard was seriously considering a request to send more troops to Afghanistan, with a decision likely as early as next week, he said today.
Australia is under increasing pressure to extend its troop deployment to the country after a renewed plea this week by Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Dr Abdullah called for help from Australia to stem escalating violence, with the shooting down of a US helicopter by Taliban forces last week highlighting fresh security concerns in his country.
Afghanistan's ambassador Mahmoud Saikal asked Canberra last week to commit to sending more troops.
Mr Saikal said great progress had been made in Afghanistan since 2002 and a further deployment of troops would provide stability as the country prepares for elections in September.
Mr Howard said the request would be considered by Cabinet next week.
"There's been a standing request from the government of Afghanistan over quite a period of time to a lot of countries including Australia to send troops," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.
Cabinet will tomorrow consider whether to bolster its military commitment to Afghanistan.
Australia currently has one mine clearance officer in the troubled nation.
Prime Minister John Howard, who heads to Washington on Friday for meetings with US President George W Bush, promises the public will be the first to know if troops are to be sent to Afghanistan.
The government has been hedging over recent months on whether to increase its numbers in Afghanistan but pressure for action has been building.
The Federal Government will today order Australian troops back to Afghanistan, two years after they last fought there in the terrorist mountain havens.
Labor has backed in principle a deployment to fight what party leader Kim Beazley has called "terrorism central".
Most of the previous deployment of Diggers to Afghanistan were withdrawn by late 2003, and at present Australia has just one army officer in Kabul, helping with mine clearing.
Mr Howard is expected to announce a decision before he leaves for Washington late in the week, to prevent being accused of telling the Americans before the Australian people.
Australia will send 150 special forces troops to Afghanistan in September in a bid to curb renewed resistance in the war-torn nation.
Prime Minister John Howard announced the deployment today and said the 12-month mission would cost up to $100 million.
"We have received at a military level requests from both the US and others, and also the Government of Afghanistan, and we have therefore decided in order to support the efforts of others to support in turn the government of Afghanistan to dispatch a Special Forces Task group, which will comprise some 150 personnel," he said.