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Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier (centre) is flanked by Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, head of the Canadian Army, left, and Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, head of Afghanistan mission, while announcing Friday that Canada will be sending an additional 200 troops and more armour to Afghanistan. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

Canada will send between 200 and 500 additional soldiers and a squadron of Leopard tanks to Afghanistan to battle resurgent Taliban fighters, the Canadian government said Friday.

The extra soldiers and equipment are "a necessary response to the Taliban,"the Department of National Defence said in a release.

The department said it will add aninfantry company from Quebec's Royal 22nd Regiment, the Van Doos, 15 Leopard tanks basedin Edmonton and armoured engineering vehicles called Badgers to help with rebuilding projects.

Four tanks will be shipped by air to Afghanistan as quickly as possible, Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, told reporters. The tanks will help battle the Taliban, which has changed its tactics and been fighting more conventional battles.

The reinforcements will raise the total number of soldiers to about 2,500.

The department's newsrelease said there are currently"more than 2,000 members of the Canadian Forces" in Afghanistan. However, military officials say the number is closer to 2,300, adding that the number of soldiers in the country fluctuates constantly.

NATO's top priority

ANATO meeting last week determined that rebuilding Afghanistan is the alliance'stop priority, Hillier said.

He added that the new forces will provide "a real boost" to the provincial reconstruction team (PRT),which is working to improve the lives of the population.

The additional soldiers and equipment "will help secure the region around Kandahar,"theDefence Department release said. The Taliban has been resisting Canadian efforts to re-establish the Afghanistan government's authority in the area.

The release said the "small increase in personnel and equipment" will help Task Force Afghanistan "dramatically multiply its opportunities to secure and stabilize the region."

Military engineers will be sent tohelpCanada's provincial reconstruction team to rebuild and develop projects, while a "counter-mortar capability" will be used to findTaliban mortar sitesso that the sitescan be neutralized.

The Taliban is using mortars and rocketsto attack Canada's bases.

Decision on more NATO forces at end of month

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said just a week ago that Canada had done more than its share in Afghanistan. He made the commentafter NATO called for another 2,500 soldiers because the Taliban attacks have been so fierce.

NATO leaders met last weekend, but there were no firm commitments of more forces.A final decision will be made at a NATO meeting set for the end of September.

At the time, O'Connor said no one had asked Canada for more soldiers."I've asked our military staff to look at our situation in Kandahar to make sure we have the right balance and right forces," he said.

On Friday, the department saidthe reinforcements were requested by Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, commander of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

Canadianskilled in Afghanistan since 2002include 32 soldiers anda diplomat. Most of the casualties occurred in 2006.