Afghanistan commitment drawing to end

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard plans to announce details of an increased Australian development role in Afghanistan at a NATO meeting in Chicago next month.

Ms Gillard said the majority of Australian troops would be withdrawn from the Afghanistan conflict by the end of 2014, with the first withdrawal to be announced soon.

More than 1500 Australian troops are currently deployed in the Middle Eastern country, in counter-insurgency, development and training roles.

But Ms Gillard said that while the combat role of Coalition forces would not be completed, the handover of security responsibility would be well underway.

"Once started, this should take 12 to 18 months. And when this is complete, Australia's commitment in Afghanistan will look very different to that we have today," she in a major policy speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra on Tuesday.

"We will have completed our training and mentoring mission with the 4th Brigade.

"We will no longer be conducting routine frontline operations with the Afghan National Security Forces.

"The Australian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team will have completed its work. And the majority of our troops will have returned home."

Ms Gillard said her main priority for the Chicago meeting was to map out a formal process to hand over security responsibility to the Afghan Government.

She also said the Federal Government would be offering niche training expertise to the Afghan special forces, after the major withdrawal.

"We will ensure sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014," she said.

"And we will support the long-term development of the Afghan government, economy and institutions.

"We will not abandon this mission for which so many have worked so hard - and for which some have lost so much."

News of a sooner than expected withdrawal of Australian troops received a mixed response from political leaders.

New Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne, in describing the war in Afghanistan as a "failure", welcomed a possible troop withdrawal.

"It is time we brought the troops home safely," Senator Milne said.

"And we would like to see that that withdrawal ... start straight away."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott offered in-principle support for an early troop withdrawal, but said Australia should "keep its commitments" in the conflict.

"We said that we were in Afghanistan to first of all train the Afghan army and second, do our best to ensure that there is a stable, effective government in that country and I think it's important that we stay the course," he said.



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