Afghan withdrawal timeline firms up for Aussie troops
The timeline to withdraw most of Australia’s troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013 has firmed, with moves to transfer full security responsibility for Oruzgan province to Afghan forces set to start midyear and take 12-18 months.
THE timeline to withdraw most of Australia’s troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013 has firmed, with moves to transfer full security responsibility for Oruzgan province to Afghan forces set to start midyear and take 12-18 months.
But that’s not set in stone, with the federal government leaving open the possibility it could take longer.
A joint statement on Monday by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith said Australia’s target of completing transition in Oruzgan “by the end of 2014 and possibly earlier” was on track.
Mr Smith said all of Oruzgan province had been included in the third tranche of provinces and districts announced by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday where Afghan security forces will now progressively take full responsibility.
“Our analysis remains that we believe that in Oruzgan we can transition to Afghan-led security responsibility by 2014, if not earlier,” he said.
“Once we make that judgment as we go, we will then be in a position to make judgments about what draw-downs so far as Australia’s mentoring and training task force is concerned.”
Ms Gillard said the transition process could take 12-18 months.
“And it is at the end of transition in our province, Oruzgan province, that we would see the bulk of Australian forces come home,” she said.
Australia now has some 1550 troops in Afghanistan, most operating from Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan Province in Afghanistan’s restive southern region. The Australian task group includes the Mentoring Task Force (MTF) with 730 troops and Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) with 300 troops.
In two previous tranches, Afghan security forces have progressively taken responsibility for a large part of the country and the latest tranche, which includes Oruzgan and two other provinces, takes that to around 75 per cent of Afghanistan’s population.
In Oruzgan, Australia’s principal task has been training the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade.
As the transition process gets underway, the MTF and SOTG will support Afghan forces as they progressively take the lead.
This followed the 2010 Lisbon Summit, at which the Afghan government and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) agreed on the process for the transition to Afghan security control by the end of 2014.
Next step will occur this weekend at the Chicago NATO-ISAF leader summit which will assess progress and launch planning for post-transition assistance for Afghanistan.
Both Ms Gillard and Mr Smith will be attending and are tipped to announce a package of measures for ongoing assistance.
Mr Smith said the government had made clear it was prepared to consider a presence in Afghanistan post-2014 including military advisers and aid for development and capacity building.
With the proper mandate, the government would also consider an ongoing presence of special forces, he said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the coalition provided bipartisan support to the government on the Afghanistan mission.
“We want to let the Australian fighting personnel in Afghanistan know that we’re right behind them and we want them to leave Afghanistan when the job is done,” he told reporters.
“We want them to leave that country with a win under their belt.” – AAP