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Australian SAS troops ordered on standby

October 4, 2001
PM John Howard flanked by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer (L) & Defence Minister Peter Reith during a press conference on Australia's part in the Afghanistan situation.  

CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- The Australian government has ordered a detachment of Special Air Service troops to be readied for deployment to join the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

Prime Minister John Howard made the announcement Thursday after meeting with the Australian Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Adm. Chris Barrie.

Howard also said that an air-to-air refueling aircraft would be made available.

Barrie briefed the prime minister on his discussions with U.S. military officials in the U.S. this week.

"As a result I've instructed the CDF to have available a range of military assets, including a detachment of special forces and air to air refuelling aircraft," Howard told reporters.

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"We've already committed to an extension of the presence of HMAS Anzac which currently is serving with the United States Fifth Fleet as part of the UN's multilateral interception force in the Persian Gulf.

"Should the need arise, we also stand ready to consider further contributions in such areas as long range surveillance aircraft and an amphibious command capability."

A Defence Department spokesperson contacted by CNN declined to comment as to the size, makeup, possible deployment destination or expected departure of the SAS unit.


Howard also said he had been shown, by the ambassador to Australia, intelligence material gathered by the United States.

"The material was very lengthy; I read it over a period of half an hour or 45 minutes and returned it to the ambassador. It was certainly very compelling,'' Howard said.

"The material he presented to me included some material that I, of course, was previously well aware of but also some new elements."

Howard said the material created a compelling case supporting the Bush administration's claim that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network he leads was behind the September 11 attacks.

Aid increase

On Thursday, Australia also tripled its aid to Asian refugee camps.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government would commit another U.S.$4.5 million to help displaced refugees, in addition to $11.8 million promised or spent in the last year.

"This commitment is a result of the deepening crisis as people movements increase across the region," Reuters news agency quoted Downer.

He said there were as many as six million Afghans at risk of famine in Afghanistan as well as 3.5 million Afghans in Pakistan or Iran.

The United Nations has warned of a "human catastrophe" as tens of thousands of Afghans continue to flee urban areas in fear of U.S. attacks.


• Chief of Defence Force (CDF)

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