Australian PM flags early end to Afghan mission

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2011 9:52 PM
Australian PM flags early end to Afghan mission

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday that the Australian military training mission in Afghanistan could be completed before the 2014 target date, after an Afghan army commander told a newspaper that Australian troops should be withdrawn immediately.

Gillard's speech to Parliament raises the possibility that the Australian troop withdrawal could begin within the next three years.

Gillard said her government had no timetable for the Australian military's primary objective of training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Uruzgan province.

"But given the progress we now see, it may well be complete before the end of 2014," she said.

The commander of the Afghan troops being trained by the Australians, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Zafar Khan, told The Age newspaper in an interview published Monday that the mentors should go immediately, leaving behind modern equipment including mine detectors, night vision goggles and medical evacuation helicopters.

"Three years is too much time for the Australians to stay here," Zafar told the newspaper through an interpreter at his Tarin Kowt headquarters in Uruzgan.

He could not immediately be contacted by The Associated Press on Monday for comment.

Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, the largest force provided by any country outside NATO. Thirty-two Australian soldiers have been killed in the conflict.

Australia's military deployment in Afghanistan maintains bipartisan political support, but opinion polls show the popularity of the commitment among the Australian public is plummeting with the rising death toll.