southern Afghanistan bomb 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Australia may start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in two years if its mission to train Afghan soldiers goes as planned, the defense minister said Wednesday.
deploy Israeli-made UAVs in Afghanistan
soldiers killed by bomb in Afghanistan
The timetable, while loose, was the most detailed yet given by Canberra for bringing troops home from an almost nine-year-old war that is increasingly unpopular among Australians. And it added pressure on a US administration struggling to show progress against a stubborn insurgency, while losing key allies along the way.
Most of Australia's 1,550 troops in Afghanistan are in Uruzgan, a
southern province with a significant Taliban presence, where they are
training an Afghan National Army brigade to take over security and
The mission had been expected to take between three to five years.
Defense Minister John Faulkner shortened that Wednesday, saying the
latest advice from defense chiefs is it could be completed between two
and four years.
"What that means is that at some time in that two-year to four-year
timeframe we would see our training mission transition to an over-watch
role, and that would obviously mean ... we would start to see a
reduction in the number of troops in Afghanistan," Faulkner told
Faulkner's comments marked the first time an Australian official has
offered a possible timetable on plans to begin pulling forces out of the
Neil James, executive director of the independent security think tank
Australian Defense Association, described the announcement as
"They're no longer talking about restoring security to the province.
They're saying, 'once we've trained up the Afghans, that's it,'" James
Polls show public support for Australia's military involvement in
Afghanistan is waning, raising pressure on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to
find an exit.
That pressure was underscored by the deaths of five Australian soldiers
in the past two weeks in Afghanistan, for a total of 16 since the war
began in 2001 — the country's worst record of military deaths abroad
Other US allies have even firmer plans to leave Afghanistan — the
Netherlands is pulling out its 1,600 troops in August, and Canada plans
to withdraw its 2,800 troops next year. Poland wants to scale back its
2,600 forces starting next year.
Britain's new government is reviewing its Afghanistan strategy, though
Washington's staunchest ally says no reduction in troop numbers is being
considered anytime soon.
Faulkner also said a US-led multinational force will replace the Dutch
troops in Uruzgan, where they have a leadership role.
Observers had said Australia was well placed to increase its own troops
and take over from the Dutch, but the Australian government ruled out
sending more soldiers.
Faulkner sidestepped questions on the controversy enveloping the
Afghanistan war commander, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal, over disparaging
comments he made about President Barack Obama and his top aides.
Obama has summoned McChrystal to Washington for a rebuke.
"I do believe that is matter for Gen. McChrystal and the US
administration, but ... I note that he acknowledged he shouldn't have
said what he did say ... He's apologized for his error of judgment,"
In a similar vein, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said McCrystal's
comments were an issue for Washington and made no difference to his
country's commitment to Afghanistan. New Zealand has about 140 troops