Report: Australia to Exit Afghan War Sooner

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By Erik Pineda | February 7, 2012 3:45 PM EST

America's recent hint that its combat role in Afghanistan could be transformed into training mission by middle of 2013 could accelerate Australia's withdrawal from the war-torn country.

In an earlier declaration, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has acknowledged that U.S. troops' role in the Afghan War could see rapid changes by 2013 but stressed that the drawdown timetable laid down by U.S. President Barack Obama remains in place.

"Hopefully by the mid to latter part of 2013, we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role," the U.S. defence chief told media during a news briefing.

He clarified too that the 2014 deadline that Washington has earlier set will be the guiding timetable as international forces in Afghanistan refocus their energy on training the country's security forces.

Analysts said that with America mulling an earlier exit for much of its combat troops, Australia could follow suit and reconfigure its mission in Afghanistan.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian government has not ruled out the possibility of ending its combat mission in the Afghan War, which has so far killed 32 Diggers since the conflict started in 2001.

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith has indicated last week that the early pull out of Aussie troops from Afghanistan has always been a consideration of the Gillard government, with the Defence Ministry ready to implement the measures if ordered.

"Australia continues to believe that we are on track in Uruzgan province to transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces by 2014, perhaps earlier," Mr Smith was reported by SMH as saying prior to his departure for the NATO summit in Brussels.

Sources cited by the paper that as a clear signal of the country's earlier withdrawal from Afghanistan, only 150 Aussie troops will be deployed by the end of 2012, mostly taking the role of military advisers to the Afghan National Army.

The war has gradually become unpopular to majority of countries participating in the U.S.-led campaign to rid the country of the Taliban insurgents and terror elements aligned with the radical group.

The United States launched the war following the 911 attacks, in pursuit of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan in 2011.

France has earlier indicated that it may pull out its soldiers from Afghanistan earlier than planned following attacks perpetrated by elements of the Afghan security forces on French troops.

Such incidents have become prevalent in the past years, resulting to the deaths of a number of Australian, American, German and Italian troops.

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