updated 2/21/2005 9:45:42 PM ET 2005-02-22T02:45:42

Australia will send 450 more troops to southern Iraq to help protect Japanese engineers and help bolster the country’s fledgling democracy, Prime Minister John Howard announced Tuesday.

The new detachment will include a cavalry squadron, infantry company and a team to train local forces, Howard told a news conference in Canberra.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, sent 2,000 troops to take part in the invasion of Iraq and still has nearly 900 troops in and around the country. Howard said it would take about 10 weeks for the new troops to prepare for their trip to Iraq and that they would likely stay there for a year.

“This has not been, is not and will not be an easy decision for the government; I know it will be unpopular with many,” Howard said. The Australian troops will replace Dutch soldiers who had been serving in the al-Muthana province of southern Iraq but are scheduled to pull out by mid-March.

“I believe this is the right decision,” Howard added. “It will make a significant contribution to the coalition effort; it will make a significant contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq.”

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