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Australia deploys to Middle East

From CNN Producer Rich Dubroff

Foreign Minister Downer, left, with Colin Powell

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Australia will deploy a ship, a special forces task force and an air force reconnaissance team to the Middle East to prepare for possible military action against Iraq.

According to Robert Hill, Australian Minister for Defense, Prime Minister John Howard had said these moves were probable in his January 10 press conference.

Hill said the forces being sent to the Middle East are "the sea transport ship HMAS Kanimbla, lead elements of a Special Forces Task Group and an Australian Air Force reconnaissance team."

This "would allow the Australian Defense Force to prepare for operations should military action against Iraq become necessary."

A date for the deployment, known as "Operation Bastille" has not been disclosed.

Hill says that Australia "has not made any decision to commit defense personnel to military operations against Iraq. The government believes, however, that the forward deployment adds to diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein."

The Australian ships Anzac and Darwin are already in the Persian Gulf as part of a U.N.-sanctioned force.

Australia was one of the first countries to offer military support to the United States following the September 11 attacks, but the country has been split over the issue of military action against Iraq.

Australia also has a 51-year-old defense treaty with the United States pledging mutual support if either nation is attacked.

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