Afghan Mission Update: PM Julia Gillard Assures 2014 Pullout on Track

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Thirty-nine fallen soldiers after and a war bill amounting to around $10 billion, Australia is all set for the gradual drawdown from the Afghan Mission that started in 2001, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Wednesday.

She warned, however, that the transition from active combat involvement to an advisory level could prove difficult and to ensure that most of the Diggers would leave the country without major glitch, additional Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel would likely be sent tom aid with the whole withdrawal process.

In her annual update on Australia's involvement in Afghanistan, Ms Gillard assured the Parliament yesterday that much of the 1550-strong Aussie troops will be pulled by the latter months of 2014.

In fact, by the end of the 2014, Australian soldiers to remain in Uruzgan will mainly act as advisers to their Afghan counterparts and these service members, mostly coming from SAS units, will be housed in main bases.

Forward bases manned by Aussie forced would be handed over to the Afghan government security forces.

"We can and should conclude that today, across Afghanistan, the process of transition is on track ... Our progress since 2009, our plans through to 2014 and beyond should give Australians cause for measured confidence and resolve," the prime minister was quoted by News Ltd as saying.

Yet prior to leaving, Ms Gillard said the nation must face the reality of incurring more expenses for the Afghan Mission plus the thought of sending more Diggers in harm's way, with the prospect of dealing with "difficult days ahead, setbacks in the transition process, days when our resolve will be tested."

"As we begin detailed planning for its final phases, which of course remain some time off, it is likely that we will identify the need for some additional personnel and resources to complete those final phases of practical extraction and repatriation," ABC reported Ms Gillard as saying in her report.

She also reiterated that Australia will honour its earlier pledge of combating terror cells believed to operating from Afghanistan, disclosing that "our Special Operations Task Group will continue to operate against the insurgency and our Advisory Task Force will retain a combat-ready capability."

"Beyond 2014, Australia will still have a national interest in denying international terrorism a safe haven in Afghanistan," the prime minister declared.

According to Fairfax, the ADF is expected to rotate small units of SAS and other Special Forces members, numbering to around 300 highly-trained soldiers, in Afghanistan following the expected withdrawal of the bulk of Aussie troops in December 2012.

In a reaction, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has expressed satisfaction that "the international security assistance force and its Afghan partners have continued to make security gains."

Yet he acknowledged too that the Afghan Mission was far from being considered as a total success because "the Taliban remains difficult to dislodge across significant parts of the country's south, and the border with Pakistan ... remains porous."

The Coalition leader also conceded that the Afghan War will never achieve a clear victory for NATO forces but "every day that life is better than it would otherwise have been is a victory."

"Each village that is no longer subject to extortion, each child whose horizons have been lifted, each girl who is now able to go to school and make her own life, constitutes a kind of victory," Mr Abbott was quoted by ABC as saying.

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