2011 to be tough year for Australian troops operating in Afghanistan

18:55, December 31, 2010      

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Next year will be a hard year for Australian troops operating in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province, an Australian commander forecast.

In 2010, 10 Australian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. Since Australia started operations in Afghanistan, 21 soldiers have been killed and 164 others woundedso far.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jennings, commander of Mentoring Task Force One which spent eight months in Oruzgan province this year, there will be increasing operation in Oruzgan province for 2011, as the Australian troops seek to bring the Afghan National Army (ANA) up to a standard whereby Australia can withdraw most forces in 2014.

Defense Minister Stephen Smith said 2011 would be a most influential year for the troops.

"When the fighting season resumes after the winter, everyone will be watching very carefully for how strongly the Taliban return and whether the International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) has been able to consolidate its gains," he told Australia Associated Press on Friday.

"But on the training front, we've been pleased with the progress, both on the army front, to a lesser extent the police front."

Australia currently commits 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, and Liberal Senator David Johnston said the morale was down, because Australian soldiers did not have the weapons they needed.

The Liberal senator went on to call for 360 extra troops to be sent to Afghanistan, along with tanks and helicopters.

However, Prime Minister Julia Gillard in October said the number of troops is about right for the task of training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army, and that existing resources are sufficient for the job.

Defense head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said more weapons will be dispatched to the Australian troops in the coming year, although that is unlikely to include tanks.

Meanwhile, one persistent criticism of the ANA is that the soldiery is mostly illiterate.

Defense figures showed that Oruzgan ranks as one of the least developed provinces in Afghanistan with a zero female literacy rate and only 10 percent for male. Nationally the figures are 12.6 and 43 percent respectively.

Australia's Middle East Commander Major General John Cantwell said although it was easy to be pessimistic as flaws were everywhere, there was room for optimism over Afghanistan's future.

"It's corrupt, it's inefficient, it (the government of Afghanistan) suffers from bureaucrats who are illiterate but slowly slowly we are seeing progress," General Cantwell said in the Australian Defense website.

Australia has increasingly invested in development and governance aid over the past years.

Aid exceeded 740 million U.S. dollars over the last decade and was delivered at national and provincial level in Afghanistan.

Source: Xinhua
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