Australia to withdraw most troops from Afghanistan by year-end

CANBERRA Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:25am EDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith (L) meet during a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defence ministers' meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Chip Somodevilla/Pool

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith (L) meet during a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defence ministers' meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels February 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Chip Somodevilla/Pool

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia will withdraw most troops from Afghanistan's south at the end of this year and shut down a major base for NATO-led forces, handing security to Afghan soldiers and police, Defense Minister Stephen Smith said on Tuesday.

Western and Afghan commanders, Smith said, had agreed that the major multinational coalition base at Tarin Kowt and its NATO airbase in Uruzgan province would close at the end of 2013.

Most foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 under a planned security transition from foreign forces to Afghans.

"It is a necessary and logical and natural consequence of transition being effective," Smith said.

"The effect of that closure will be that Australia will no longer have a permanent presence in Uruzgan province, and the majority of Australian defense force personnel will return."

Australia has around 1,650 troops in Afghanistan, including special forces, based mainly in volatile Uruzgan, and was an original member of the U.S.-led coalition that helped oust the former Taliban government in late 2001.

It has lost 39 troops in the war, with 242 wounded.

The United States and NATO allies are racing against the clock to train a 350,000-strong force of Afghan soldiers to meet the 2014 deadline, although there is widespread skepticism that target can be met.

"A lot of people are worried about the military side and how are we going to get to 2014," Washington-based Australian counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television.

"How are we going to hand over to the Afghans effectively and prevent the Taliban coming back?" he said on the ABC's "Four Corners" program late on Monday.

Australia had not yet decided whether special forces troops would remain in Afghanistan next year or after 2014, Smith said, with negotiations still underway with the Afghan government.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Comments (2)
explorer08 wrote:
Why on Earth is Australia waiting even that long?

Mar 25, 2013 10:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Free_Pacific wrote:
explorer08 wrote: “Why on Earth is Australia waiting even that long?”

Australia, like New Zealand, is more interested in long term stakes and ties with America, than it is about success or failure in Afghanistan. The entire security logic down under, is about maintaining these ties. It would take a gigantic geo-political change or challenge to even consider a rethink of this relationship.

Even disagreements, 20+ year military freezes and spats have not broken these countries ties with the US. Despite New Zealand suffering French terrorism in the 80′s, both remain Nato-Contact countries.

In essence, the logic goes, “If we stick by our mates, no matter what, then when our turn comes, they will stick by us”. Time is open ended… public cynicism or positivity about a single mission, will not dent the direction or historic realism attached to this policy.

Mar 26, 2013 2:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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