A senior U.S. defense official is insisting that Australia remains a solid combat partner in Afghanistan and is not pulling out early.
The official says that Australia's plans to gradually turn over frontline fighting in strategic Uruzgan province to Afghans is being misunderstood. Australia's prime minister announced Tuesday that the country expects to pull most of its troops out of Afghanistan. The comments were interpreted as an outline for combat withdrawal next year.
But the U.S. official says Australia's plans have not changed and are in line with past agreements. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the NATO-led alliance has not formally addressed the issue. Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan _ the most of any nation outside the NATO alliance.