Australian troops to remain in Afghanistan in 2014: Carr
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
Bob Carr. REUTERS PhotoAustralian soldiers will stay "combat ready" in Afghanistan through 2014, Australia's foreign minister said today, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicated they would come home earlier.
Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers of the NATO-led coalition in Brussels, Foreign Minister Bob Carr told allies that Australia was committed to a plan for foreign combat troops to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Progress in Uruzgan province, where most of Australia's 1,550 troops are based, shows that transition of security control to Afghan forces "is achievable by the end of 2014 -- possibly earlier," Carr said in a statement.
"All of us, however, must continue to be present in support of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) and be combat ready to do so until transition is finally complete at the end of 2014," he added.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicated on Tuesday that most Australian soldiers would be withdrawn in 2013 following significant security gains over the past 18 months.
Gillard said they would begin leaving as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Afghans would take responsibility for Uruzgan province. Once he did, the withdrawal should take 12 to 18 months, she said.
While NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Australian announcement was within the agreed transition plan, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Wednesday said he was "surprised." The alliance has been at pains to explain its transition strategy ever since US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta indicated in February that NATO hoped to switch to a backup role some time next year.
Since then, NATO officials have stressed that Afghan forces are expected to take the lead nationwide by the end of next year but that NATO troops would continue fighting the Taliban until the end of 2014.