Australia may start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in two years if its mission to train Afghan soldiers goes as planned, the defense minister said Wednesday.
The timetable, while loose, was the most detailed yet given by Canberra for bringing troops home from an almost nine-year-old war that is increasingly unpopular among Australians. And it added pressure on a U.S. administration struggling to show progress against a stubborn insurgency, while losing key allies along the way.
Most of Australia’s 1,550 troops in Afghanistan are in Uruzgan, a southern province with a significant Taliban presence, where they are training an Afghan National Army brigade to take over security and stability.
The mission had been expected to take between three to five years. Defense Minister John Faulkner shortened that Wednesday, saying the latest advice from defense chiefs is it could be completed between two and four years.
“What that means is that at some time in that two-year to four-year timeframe we would see our training mission transition to an over-watch role, and that would obviously mean … we would start to see a reduction in the number of troops in Afghanistan,” Faulkner told reporters.
Faulkner’s comments marked the first time an Australian official has offered a possible timetable on plans to begin pulling forces out of the war-torn country.
Neil James, executive director of the independent security think tank Australian Defense Association, described the announcement as significant.
“They’re no longer talking about restoring security to the province. They’re saying, ‘once we’ve trained up the Afghans, that’s it,’” James said.
Source: Rod McGuirk for Yahoo! AP News.