Australia said on Wednesday it would deploy 1,550 military personnel, including elite Special Air Service troops, four fighter aircraft, three frigates and two refuelling aircraft to join US-led attacks on Afghanistan, Australian Financial Revue reports. The total number of Australian personnel would be 1,550, with the bulk being sent overseas by mid-November, said the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard. He said the exact departure date had not been confirmed, but said it would be soon. The announcement follows a call from the US President, Mr George Bush, to Mr Howard overnight. The commitment is much larger than Mr Howard's initial announcement on October 4. At that time he said Australia would supply 150 Special Air Service Regiment troops, two air-to-air refuelling aircraft and possibly surveillance aircraft and landing ships. Mr Howard said he briefed the Opposition leader, Mr Kim Beazley, on the deployment on Tuesday night. He said Mr Beazley supported the action. Mr Howard said there was a risk of Australian casualties. ``Whenever you go into battle there is always the risk of casualties. I can't pretend there won't be casualties. ``In those circumstances the possibility of deaths, the possibility of casualties is quite high.'' Mr Howard said some could leave within a week or two. He said the increased deployment would not leave Australia defenceless. ``I'm quite satisfied on the advice of the chief of the defence force that the deployments are within the capability of the ADF [Australian Defence Force] without jeopardising the capabilities required for other tasks,'' he said. Mr Howard said he could not rule out further troops, but did not think it was likely at this stage. ``I would expect this to be the probable limit to what we would contribute, but I can't rule out whether we will be asked to give more,'' Mr Howard said. ``I don't expect the Americans will make those requests of us.'' He said the commitment of 1,550 personnel was significant. ``There is nothing token about this contribution. This is a very significant important contribution being made by Australia and it should be seen as much by the Australian people.'' Mr Howard would not comment on the military input by other coalition countries. Australian forces would be under Australian command, he said. ``The overall calling of the shots will obviously be in the hands of the Americans because it is their operation and they have overall control,'' he said. ``But within that you have a separate national command, you have separate terms of engagement for the Australian forces. I think that what happens is that sensible people talk to each other.'' Mr Howard said the APEC meeting in Shanghai would still go ahead. ``It is very important it goes ahead. The great value of the APEC meeting is it will bring together a lot of people in our part of the world involved in the Pacific who will want to talk about what they want to do collectively in relation to terrorism.'' He said Australia would consider contributing more humanitarian assistance to people in Afghanistan. Mr Howard said he regretted the sending of troops was necessary. ``It is a very unusual situation and a set of circumstances that we wish had ever arisen there would not be a person alive who wouldn't want to turn back the clock to avoid the events of the 11th of September,'' he said. Australian military forces going to Afghanistan: Two P3 marine aircraft. Special forces troops. Two B707 tanker aircraft. Guided missile frigate, HMAS Sydney. A naval task force on board an amphibious command ship with a frigate as escort. Four F/A-18 aircraft with one frigate as escort. 1,550 military personnel in total.
Henry L. Marconi PRAVDA.Ru Sidney