CANBERRA - Australia will start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this year and complete the pull-out by mid-2013, a year earlier than planned and just before an expected election which Prime Minister Julia Gillard is forecast to lose, media said.

Gillard will take her timetable for the troop withdrawal to the NATO conference on Afghanistan to be held in Chicago in May, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said on Tuesday

"I am now confident that Chicago will recognize mid-2013 as a key milestone in the international strategy," the newspaper quoted extracts from Gillard's speech as saying.

"A crucial point when the international forces will be able to move to a supporting role across all of Afghanistan."

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