Australia's elite special forces have had their leave cancelled and been placed on standby for war against Iraq, The Australian newspaper reported Thursday.
The daily said that the country's senior defense commanders were told before Christmas to prepare for a war against Iraq as early as in March. It quoted defense sources as saying that canceling leave was a standard procedure ahead of a possible deployment, while units underwent intensive intelligence briefingson what to expect in Iraq.
"Since then, work has concentrated on administrative and logistic arrangements to facilitate Australia's contribution to the Iraq campaign," the newspaper said.
Prime Minister John Howard, now on his nearly-one-month holiday, keeps low profile and repeatedly insisted that no decision has been taken to go to war while admitting "contingency planning" is under way within the defense forces.
It is widely believed that Australia will commit up to 150 special air forces troops, a command headquarters, three warships -- one of them an amphibious command ship - four F/A Hornet fighters, two PC3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and two B707 inflight refuellers.
(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2003)