Australia studying earliest possible troop withdrawal
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Defence Minister John Faulkner said Australia will seek a pull-out of its troops from Afghanistan in the "shortest time-frame", admitting the move would compromise a US push for military reinforcements in the war-torn country.
Defence Minister John Faulkner said on Wednesday that Australia was studying how to complete its military operations in Afghanistan in the "shortest time-frame", despite US and NATO moves for more troops to shore up the campaign.
Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan with no date set for their withdrawal.
"I've certainly asked the Australian Defence Force for any recommendations they have about ensuring we do complete that important role and responsibility both effectively, but in the shortest time-frame possible," he told ABC radio.
Faulkner admitted Australia's move would affect the push by General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, for an Iraq-style troop "surge" against the increasingly powerful Taliban militia.
Although Faulkner would not provide details about his government’s forthcoming pull-out strategy, he said he did “acknowledge that there will be impacts on the approach that NATO and ISAF partners will be taking.”
McChrystal warned last month that the war could be lost within a year without extra resources to fight the resurgent Islamists, who were driven from power by the 2001 US-led invasion.
President Barack Obama is considering boosting US troops by 40,000 to more than 100,000.
Australia has lost 11 soldiers in Afghanistan and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has acknowledged the war had become "unpopular".
Rudd sent an extra 450 troops in April, acknowledging the "current civilian and military strategy is not working". However last week he said Australia would not follow Britain's move to send another 500.
"We are in the business of raising an Afghan national army brigade, we are training Afghan police and we are also engaged in capacity building with the Uruzgan provincial authority," Rudd said.
About 100,000 international troops are currently based in Afghanistan, including a US contingent which will hit 68,000 by year-end and another 9,500 from Britain.
Germany has 4,200 troops while France is the fourth-largest contributor with 2,900, although President Nicolas Sarkozy is refusing to send any more.
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