Australia to withdraw troops from Afghanistan earlyAgence France-Presse . Sydney
Australia said on Tuesday it would bring its troops home from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned with most soldiers withdrawn in 2013 after significant security gains over the past 18 months.
Canberra, a key coalition ally of the United States, has repeatedly said it intends to remain in the war-wracked nation until 2014 but prime minister Julia Gillard said Afghans would now be ready to take responsibility earlier.
She will take her pull-out timetable to a NATO summit in Chicago next month with her announcement coming a day ahead of NATO foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels to fine-tune their own troop withdrawals.
‘I’m now confident that Chicago will recognise mid-2013 as a key milestone in the international strategy,’ she said in a keynote speech shortly after a wave of coordinated Taliban attacks in Afghanistan left 51 people dead.
Australia has some 1,550 troops stationed in the strife-torn country and has so far lost 32 soldiers in the conflict.
Gillard said they would begin leaving as soon as Afghan president Hamid Karzai declared Afghans would take responsibility for Uruzgan province, where most Australian forces are based.
Karzai is expected to make the announcement ‘in the coming months’ and once he did, the withdrawal should take 12 to 18 months.
‘And when this is complete, Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan will look very different to that we have today,’ she said.
‘We will no longer be conducting routine frontline operations with the Afghan National Security Forces. The Australian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team will have completed its work.’
‘And the majority of our troops will have returned home.’
While most soldiers will head home, she made clear Australia stood ready to ‘provide niche training to the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014’.
‘We are prepared to consider a limited Special Forces contribution—in the right circumstances and under the right mandate,’ she said.
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