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03-21-03, 05:29 AM
Australia: troops inside Iraq
From the International Desk
Published 3/21/2003 2:24 AM
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MELBOURNE, Australia, March 21 (UPI) -- Australia Friday said its troops were operating "inside Iraq" and Prime Minister John Howard sent a message to the 2,000 Australians serving alongside U.S. and British forces in the Persian Gulf.

"Our special forces task group has transitioned from the battle preparation phase and is now undertaking active operations inside Iraq," Defense spokesman Brig. Mike Hannan told Radio Australia.

He said Australian Special Forces were operating deep inside Iraq, gathering information on enemy troops movements and identifying key military targets.

Australia is one of three countries - the others are United States and Britain -- with troops in the Persian Gulf and is part of what U.S. President Bush has labeled the "coalition of the willing." The 250,000-strong allied forces is fighting to disarm Iraq of its suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Also Friday, Howard sent a personal message to the Australian forces in Iraq, thanking them and sending them the good wishes of the Australian public.

"The government believes that not only is your cause just, it is completely legal and it is in the long-term national interests of our country," he said in a three-minute video message that was electronically transmitted to the troops.

Radio Australia also reported that Australian naval ships patrolling the Persian Gulf were boarding Iraqi merchant boats, searching for senior officials about to flee or mines about to be dropped into the sea.

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