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Australian troops in action

Australian special forces were in operation during the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.
Australian special forces were in operation during the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

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CANBERRA, Australia -- Australian special forces are now operating inside Iraq gathering details on Iraqi troop movements and military targets, Australia's defense department says.

"Our special forces task group has transitioned from the battle-preparation phase ... and is now undertaking active operations inside Iraq," Brigadier Mike Hannan told a news conference in Canberra on Friday.

"The [operations] would include long-range reconnaissance and surveillance operations where they would be seeking detailed information on such things as enemy troop movements, identifying targets such as key military ops and so on," Hannan said.

Australia has committed 150 Special Air Services troops in addition to combat jets, warships and around 1,900 other soldiers, to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, in what the Australian military have dubbed Operation Falconer.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard confirmed to radio audiences Friday morning the nation's forces had been involved in action against Iraq from the start of the war on Thursday.

"Last night, I spoke by telephone to Brigadier McNarn, who's the Australian Commander in the [Persian] Gulf, and he reported that all of our men and women were in good spirits, their morale was very high," Howard said.

Brigadier Hannan said no Australian forces had been injured in the first phase of the war.

He said Australia's F/A-18 Hornets were flying combat and combat-support operations, providing protection for coalition aircraft against any possible air threats.

"These are demanding missions, and they've seen our aircraft flying well into Iraqi territory," Reuters reports Hannan as saying.

He said the Australian navy was boarding dhows (sailing boats) in the Gulf in the hunt for any escaping Iraqi officials or anyone planting explosives in the harbors and shipping lanes.

"At this point of the operation, our ships are less concerned about contraband than they are with the movement of people who may wish to leave and who we may which to detain, or with the use of the dhows as part of a mining campaign in these narrow waterways," Hannan said.

Australia's government has staunchly supported U.S. President George W. Bush's hard line against Iraq and deployed troops to the Persian Gulf in January in preparation for the war, despite strong public opposition to an attack on Iraq without U.N. approval.

Australian forces also contributed to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

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