Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Australia To Leave Afghanistan Earlier Than Planned

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australian troops would withdraw from Afghanistan one year earlier than anticipated.  Although no specific date was given, Gillard said that Australian troops had near completed their mission of transferring security responsibility to Afghans.

Australia has a contingent of 1550 troops in Afghanistan deployed in a training mission.  The soldiers' primary objective has been training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Uruzgan province.  Prime Minister Gillard said that she expects Afghan President Hamid Karzai to announce the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in Uruzgan and other provinces. She said that once this process starts, it will take 12-18 months to complete the withdrawal process, to be completed one year ahead of schedule.

With a war weary public and an upcoming federal election, one lawmaker suggested that the move was an attempt to win over the public.

"This is a war with a purpose. This is a war with an end.  We have a strategy, a mission and a timeframe for achieving it."

The U.S. and its NATO allies have set a time frame for withdrawal of its troops by the end of 2014.  The  move has come under criticism, alleging that by giving a timetable for withdrawal, it empowered the Taliban, which merely has to wait out NATO.

During recent months there have been demonstrations by the public and infiltration into Afghan Security Forces.  This past weekend co-ordinated attacks, led by the Haqqani network, were carried out on government buildings and NATO installations.   Afghan led forces quelled the attacks, but it took almost 24 hours with the support of NATO troops and air power.  It raised the question of whether or not Afghan Security Forces could handle their own security.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attacks said that it was the start of their spring offensive.

In May there will be a conference to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan, which will include the retention of a small force of U.S./NATO soldiers.  France's President Nicola Sarkozy has also indicated an early withdrawal.  Approximately 130,000 troops remain in Afghanistan,   Canada, which ended its training mission in July 2011, maintains a contingent of 900 trainers.

Australia has lost 30 soldiers in the decade old war. 

"Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is in line with the timeline that was set down by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after the Lisbon conference. What’s happened since 2011 is a gradual transition in parts of the country from ISAF to Afghan leaders. That’s a four stage process – we’ve had tranche one and two already.
Australia’s involvement has always been very closely tied to Uruzgan province. This province is not insignificant but not as significant as Kandahar or the provinces along the border with Pakistan.
So it stands to reason that as ISAF works towards its 2014 timeline for transition, Uruzgan will be transferred to Afghan lead prior to some of the more important provinces in the south. This is likely to start in the next tranche, some time in 2013."  The Conversation

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