15 Mar : NATO has asked Australia to send more troops to Australia to help provide security during elections in the strife-torn nation later this year, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on Sunday.
Smith said Australia had not yet decided if it would grant the request for a short-term deployment around the 20th August election date. "We’ve received a request from NATO to give consideration to an additional contribution for effective supervision of that election," he told the news channel.
"That would be obviously a short-term or temporary measure and we’ll give consideration of that"."I’m not tilting the lever one way or the other, whether we will or we won’t, we’ll give consideration to it."
Smith said he would not be surprised if the United States asked Australia to boost its troop numbers on a more permanent basis as it seeks to overcome a Taliban-led insurgency.
"We’ll consider that on its merits," he said."We certainly don’t want any enhanced Australian contribution to enable other countries not to make a similar contribution or to rest on their oars."
Australia has 1,100 troops in Afghanistan, including 330 special forces and a 440-strong reconstruction taskforce in the southern province of Uruzgan, formerly a Taliban stronghold.
The subject of additional troops may be raised when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd meets US President Barack Obama in Washington on 24th March.
Smith also said Australia was contributing three million dollars (1.95 million US) to Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission."We think that’ll play a good part in trying to ensure that there is a good turn-out for the Afghanistan election and it’s conducted in a transparent and free and fair way," he said.