- Created on Tuesday, 17 April 2012 11:15
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Australian troops could begin pulling out from Afghanistan in the coming months and may leave the country almost entirely by the end of next year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia said Tuesday.
That would mean that most of the more than 1,500 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan could leave a year earlier than the government had previously suggested.
"We continue to see steady gains in the fight against the Afghan insurgency," Gillard said in a speech in Canberra, suggesting that the strategy of international forces in the country had led to "security gains over the past year and a half."
She highlighted the progress made by Afghan troops, notably in the southern province of Uruzgan, where most of the Australian forces are concentrated.
Gillard said she expected the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to make an announcement in the coming months about beginning the process of putting Afghan troops in charge of security in Uruzgan and other provinces -- a transition that should take 12 to 18 months.
"And when this is complete, Australia's commitment in Afghanistan will look very different to that we have today.," she said, adding that "the majority of our troops will have returned home."
President Karzai: We're ready to defend our nation
That timetable puts Australian forces on a quicker withdrawal timetable than Gillard had previously described. In a speech to parliament in November, she had said that the transition in Uruzgan might well be completed before the end of 2014.
Australia has been among those nations who have contributed troops, supplies and other resources to the NATO-led military effort in Afghanistan, which began in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Gillard made her remarks Tuesday ahead of a summit meeting in Chicago in May. At the meeting, the leaders of countries with troops in Afghanistan will make key decisions about the future of the international coalition's mission there.