Australia left the door open for a troop deployment to Afghanistan Tuesday, with Defence Minister Robert Hill saying recent gains made in the country needed to be consolidated.
Hill said the end of Australia's peacekeeping mission to East Timor and the success of law and order programmes in other areas of the Pacific had freed military resources to move to other regions.
"The operational tempo has been high, and is still high, but we have been able to reduce our force size substantially in the Solomon Islands, we've now completed the peacekeeping mission in East Timor, so in some ways there's a little more flexibility now than there was a year or two ago," Hill told reporters.
The minister said the government was still focused on Iraq, where some 900 Australian soldiers are deployed, but he did not rule out boosting Canberra's military involvement in Afghanistan.
"I think what's been achieved in Afghanistan is tremendous, but it needs to be consolidated. Other countries have been making that contribution, the United Kingdom again, Canada, the US, Europeans, NATO as a group is contributing," he said.
"Whether Australia makes another contribution is something that cabinet will have to decide in due course."
Australia currently has just one soldier engaged in land mine clearance in Afghanistan. But Canberra deployed some 150 Special Air Service soldiers to the country after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to assist a US-led invasion.
The US-led coalition is fighting a mainly guerrilla war against remnants of the former Taliban regime and other insurgents.
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US And Australian Forces To Stage Huge Military Exercise Off Queensland
Sydney (AFP) Jun 07, 2005
US and Australian military forces were preparing to stage their largest joint exercise for four years Tuesday, in an operation commanders from both sides said demonstrated the close ties between the long-time allies.
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