updated 4/9/2007 10:08:12 PM ET 2007-04-10T02:08:12

Australia plans to nearly double its military deployment to Afghanistan by sending 400 additional soldiers, Prime Minister John Howard said Tuesday.

The Australian Defense Force will add the 400 troops to its contingent of 550 currently in Afghanistan by mid-2007. It will add another 50 by the middle of 2008, bringing the deployment to about 1,000, Howard told reporters.

Howard, a staunch U.S. ally on the war on terror, would not rule out sending more than 1,000 troops if the need arose.

He said the troops will be sent to Oruzgan province, where a 200-member special forces task group operated for a year, through September.

“Their role will be to enhance provincial security by disrupting Taliban command and control supply routes and they will directly support the Australian reconstruction task force,” he said.

Howard said there had been extensive discussions between the Australian defense chief and his counterparts in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.

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