Australia spells out Afghanistan exit plan

Sydney: Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an early withdrawal of Australian troops from Afghanistan Tuesday, a day after the 18-hour terror siege of Kabul ended.

Giving the keynote address at Council of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the Australian Prime Minister said the troops would start returning home later this year and the withdrawal process would be completed by the end of 2013.

If Australia removes forces from Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, where most of the troops are located, it would be one year earlier than the other partners of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The announcement of moving the exit plan forward has come a month before a crucial NATO conference in Chicago that Gillard would be attending.

However, Australia would wait for President Hamid Karzai to announce a transition to Afghan forces in Uruzgan province.

At least 48 people, including 36 terrorists, were killed and 65 injured when the dramatic siege of the Afghan capital Kabul by Taliban suicide attackers ended early Monday.

While making the announcement of the escalated withdrawal, Gillard also expressed concern over terrorist groups using Pakistan to launch cross-border attacks. She stressed on the critical role to be played by Pakistan to ensure stability in Afghanistan.

“There is also no doubt that parts of Pakistan are being used by terrorist groups – particularly in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas,” Gillard said.

“I am realistic about the threat that poses – realistic too about what can be done to limit that threat.

“Our strategy, to build Afghanistan’s own security forces, is founded in that realistic assessment of the country’s future strategic environment,” she said.

“We will work with Afghanistan and with Pakistan in those areas where our best judgment is that cooperation against terrorism which threatens both states is effective and real.”

The psychological impact of the Sunday attacks in Afghanistan has been felt across the political spectrum in Australia as various political leaders have expressed concern over the US-led campaign in that country.

Independent MP from Tasmania Andrew Wilkie has been one of the most vocal critics of the allied campaign in Afghanistan. The federal member from Denison reckons allied forces have lost the Afghan war and Australia should withdraw at the earliest.

“Unfortunately though the war is lost, it’s just holding the line until we can get out of there, and that’s hard for people and the problem we’ve got right now is a lack of backbone from politicians who are prepared to say it as it is,” Wilkie told ABC Radio in Hobart Tuesday.

“Like Vietnam in 1972, we’ll declare victory and pull out only to see the place collapse a year or two later,” the former lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army added.

Similar sentiments have also been expressed by the new Australian Greens leader Christine Milne who says the war in Afghanistan has been a “failure on just about every level”.

“We have seen since 2007 more than 11,800 civilian deaths in Afghanistan,” Christine Milne said Tuesday.

“We saw this week all of that bombing in the green zone,” the Greens leader said while urging for a troop pullout at the earliest.

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