World | Afghanistan
Australia to withdraw troops from Kabul a year earlier
Gillard to take timetable of the proposal to Nato meeting in Chicago
Published: 00:00 April 18, 2012
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Image Credit: Reuters
Australias Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets members of the Australian army during her visit to multinational base Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan in this October 2, 2010 photo.
Canberra: Australia will start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this year and expects all international forces there to be playing a supporting role for Afghan forces by mid-2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday.
Gillard will take her timetable for Australia's troop withdrawal a year earlier than planned to a Nato conference on Afghanistan in Chicago in May.
"I am now confident that Chicago will recognise mid-2013 as a key milestone in the international strategy," Gillard said in a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.
"A crucial point when the international forces will be able to move to a supporting role across all of Afghanistan."
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All foreign combat troops are due to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and Australia had been expected to withdraw then too.
Karzai accuses Nato of failure over attacks
US President Barack Obama and other Nato leaders are expected to define more clearly Western withdrawal plans at the Chicago conference and outline measures to ensure Afghanistan does not collapse into civil war when foreign troops go home.
Gillard rejected suggestions the faster timetable was being driven by Obama and his desire to have withdrawal plans finalised before the November US presidential election, saying it was reliant on progress agreed by Afghan and international forces. A major assault in Kabul by the Taliban this week has raised questions about whether Afghan forces will be able to control security after foreign troops withdraw.
A spokesman for Nato's Afghan force said its members were drawing up plans for handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces and Gillard's announcement would be taken into account.
"We are at the stage where all nations are discussing their plans and their role in transition," the spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, told Reuters.
"This will be carefully orchestrated with the government of Australia," Jacobson said. "This is nothing that is in any way out of what we are all doing."
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