U.S. to lead Australian soldiers in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province

14:51, June 23, 2010      

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Australia's defense forces will be part of a new U.S.-led team in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province after the withdrawal of Dutch forces, Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner announced on Wednesday.

The multinational effort, called Combined Team Oruzgan, has been endorsed by the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization ( NATO), Senator Faulkner told reporters in Canberra.

Australia's 1,550 troops in Afghanistan have operated under the control of a 1880-strong Dutch taskgroup since 2006.

The Dutch had provided key support including a hospital, combat aircraft and helicopters and artillery, but they were set to start withdrawing troops on Aug. 1.

Australia has specifically rejected taking the lead role, and the new arrangements came after talks with Dutch defense minister Eimert van Middelkoop, Senator Faulkner said.

With U.S. involvement, Australian force numbers would remain unchanged.

"Our resolve in Afghanistan remains unchanged," Senator Faulkner said in a statement.

A new combined team Oruzgan arrangement would have multinational headquarters.

"Australia will take on a new responsibility by providing a civilian head of the Oruzgan provincial reconstruction team, which will be a very important part of the combined team Oruzgan," the minister said.

Senator Faulkner also indicated that Australian forces could start leaving Afghanistan in 2012 once troops had fully trained the 4th brigade of the Afghan National Army in the province.

Source: Xinhua


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