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Australian special force troops head for Gulf

HMAS Sydney
Guided missile frigate HMAS Sydney has already departed for the Persian Gulf  

By CNN's Grant Holloway

CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- An advance party of 30 Australian special force troops are en route to Afghanistan to help pursue and capture hard-core elements of the al Qaeda terrorism network.

A further 120 Special Air Services will leave for the Persian Gulf next week as part of Australia's overall commitment of 1,550 troops to the U.S.-led coalition against terror.

Australia has also sent fighter jets, surveillance aircraft, navy frigates, transport ships and refuelling aircraft to the Gulf.

Recently re-elected Australian Prime Minister John Howard told media Wednesday said the SAS troops would be involved in operations "particularly relating to the pursuit of the al Qaeda hard core, the capture of which is the ultimate objective of the operation".

The deployment, along with similar moves by elite U.S. and British forces, suggests covert operations to locate and capture suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan are about to be stepped up.

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When asked if the troops would be involved on the ground in Afganistan, Howard replied that Australian special forces were not normally sent anywhere unless they were going to be involved in actual operations.

"There is not to be a limit on their involvement, they are to be involved in operations as distict from just search and rescue missions," he said.

Howard said he believed the war in Afghanistan was going well but history showed the final achievement of military objectives often took longer than expected.

"Quite often the final achievement of the goal is delayed long months, even years, by the presence of a hard core that refuses to yield," Howard said.

"The need for special force presence, not only from Australia but also most particularly from the United States and others, is still there."

Howard said how the Australian troops will be specifically deployed will be decided by Australia's force commander and the Americans.

Australia and the United States this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS military pact which promotes close military ties between the two countries.


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