CANBERRA - 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.
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.