Premier wants troops out early
Australian soldiers will start to pull out of Afghanistan this year, a year earlier than planned, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday.
She will take her new timetable for Australia’s troops to a NATO conference on Afghanistan in Chicago, US in May.
“I am now confident that Chicago will recognise
mid-2013 as a key milestone in international strategy - a point when international forces will be able to move to a supporting role across all of Afghanistan,” Gillard said in a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.
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.
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.