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Australian Defence Min has close shave in Kandahar

Melbourne: Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith had a close shave when Taliban insurgents fired rockets at his military plane at the tarmac at Kandahar Airport.

Smith and senior officers of the Australian Defence Forces were preparing to leave the Kandahar Airport after an unannounced trip to visit troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday when the airfield`s radar defence system detected incoming rockets, Australian news agency AAP reported.

Australian officials said the rockets reportedly fell elsewhere on the base. "The C-130 Hercules was immediately placed in full lockdown with all the VVIP occupants ordered to don helmets and assume crouching positions on the floor of the plane," the agency said.

Confirming the dramatic scare, Smith told Sky News "I wouldn`t describe as a close call." The minister said the incident had occurred as his plane waited on the airport in the Southern Afghan city that is plagued by violent attacks by Taliban. This is a second major attempt by Taliban to target top Western alliance leaders whose forces are deployed in Afghanistan.

Nearly two years ago British Prime Minister David Cameron had come close to being assassinated in Southern Afghanistan when authorities intercepted communications of plans by Taliban to shoot down his Chinook helicopter by firing shoulder launched missiles.

Smith said that the rockets did not appear to be "aimed at us". "It did not come near us. It`s a known risk….. we were briefed in advance of such threats in Kandahar," he said.

The Australian Defence Minister said his aircraft and a number of others on the tarmac took "standard precautions" and the takeoff was delayed for half-an-hour, until they got the all-clear.

Smith was in Afghanistan to address and meet Australian troops based in Tarin Kot near Kandahar and to hold talks with Afghan leaders and ISAF commanders about Australia`s plans to withdraw combat troops from the war-torn country by next year.

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