Australia reportedly plans to accelerate its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, with Diggers stationed in the war-torn nation set to be reduced dramatically next year.
Reports carried by Fairfax publications suggested that by 2012, only 150 Aussie soldiers will be deployed to Uruzgan province, where they will serve as trainers and advisers for the Afghan National Army.
They will add up, Fairfax said, to the 900 Diggers already serving duties in the area, with the dwindling numbers apparently in preparation for a full withdrawal by 2013, a year before the United States completes its promised "total pullout" from Afghanistan.
The news broke as British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted last week that he is mulling ways to further reduce his country's troop presence in Helmand province, en route to a full phaseout that will be completed next year.
Sources quoted by Fairfax had indicated that Australian officials are working to end the country's commitment in Afghanistan soon despite earlier pronouncements from Prime Minister Julia Gillard that she intends to complete the mission.
And that plan will be set in motion by triggering a faster rotation of tours for soldiers serving in the war, with the aim of pushing for quicker sendoffs for the all the Diggers in the country by the last months of 2012.
Defence officials have reportedly tapped a commander, a brigadier general, who will oversee the whole process of the drawdown, the main purpose of which is to ensure that all Australian troops should be home by late 2013.
The plan, reports said, appears to have the blessing of both Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith, with both signalling in recent weeks that an early withdrawal remains an option.
Yet news of differing developments coming from Canberra proved bothersome for military commanders on the ground. One high-ranking officer was quoted by Fairfax complaining that performing the troops' mission became more complicated as politicians frequently alter their positions.
"The only reason I can think of is that it's politically expedient, and I just think that's unacceptable," Fairfax quoted its unnamed source as saying.
The source suggested as well that Australia will be best served should its policymakers focus on successfully completing its mission without compromising the number of troops required to train Afghan security forces.
Also, aid workers serving in the area aired grave concerns that reducing Australians' presence in Uruzgan would expose them to danger, further jeopardising much-needed relief that the ordinary Afghans hope to receive from the international community.
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