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Australia doubles anti-terror forces

CHOGM security
Australia boosted its security skills ahead of this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting  

By Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia has doubled its counter-terrorism capabilities with the creation of two new national security units.

Both the units will be based in Sydney -- Australia's largest city and main business center -- and were formed as part of the nation's response to the events of September 11.

The new units comprise a 300-person Incident Response Regiment trained in dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive incidents and a second Tactical Assault Group (TAG) to handle direct terrorist threats such as sieges and hostage situations.

Australia has an existing TAG based on the west coast of the continent.

Defense Minister Senator Robert Hill said Thursday while there was no known terrorist threat to Australia, the September 11 attacks showed that Australia could not afford to take chances.

"The potential consequences of an attack are just too catastrophic to ignore," Hill said.

Hill said Australia developed considerable skills in dealing with chemical, biological and radiation threats as part of its preparations for the Sydney Olympic Games held in 2000 and built on those capabilities when hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting earlier this year.

That meeting was the first majpr gathering of government leaders to be held in the post-September 11 environment.

The minister also said Thursday that the government would release more information to the Australian public on Iraq's program to build weapons of mass destruction.

Reasonable request

"There is considerable evidence that the weapons of mass destruction program (in Iraq) ... is progressing," Hill told radio listeners.

"It wasn't totally destroyed at the time of the Gulf War ... and no doubt more of that evidence will be declassified and put before the broader community."

Hill stressed however that Australia had not yet been asked by the U.S. to participate in any military action against Baghdad and that the government would prefer for the issue to be resolved without resorting to force.

"The US has not asked us to participate in a military campaign," he said.

"What the prime minister has said is that, if the US reaches the conclusion that there is no other alternative, and it seems to be gradually heading that way, then it is reasonable to expect that they will seek some assistance from Australia.

"And in the past, when the US has been under threat and has sought assistance from Australia, we've been prepared to give it."




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