Most troops home from Afghanistan by year’s end

The majority of Australian troops stationed in Afghanistan will be home by Christmas.

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Australia still has some 1600 troops in Afghanistan, most in Oruzgan province.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith says at least 1000 will return to Australia by the end of this year and the multinational base at Tarin Kot will close.

 

Amanda Cavill reports.

 

Australian forces operate from two camps within Tarin Kot, Camp Russell and Camp Holland.

Mr Smith says planning has now started to transfer all of Camp Russell and part of Camp Holland to the Afghan government by the end of 2013.

 

He says the decision by the International Security Assistance Force to draw down and close the multinational base was made after consultation with Australia and Afghan authorities.

From 2014, Australia will train, advise and assist the Afghan national security forces.

 

Mr Smith says defence personnel will continue to provide embedded headquarter’s staff, advisers at the Corps level and trainers at the Officer Academy in Kabul.

 

He says Australia remains prepared to make a special forces contribution into the future.

 

“After transition at the end of December 2014 we remain ready, willing and able to engage in training, particularly officer training, and we have also indicated that we would hold out the prospect of a special forces contribution under an appropriate mandate either for counter terrorism activities or for training. When the closure of multinational base Tarin Kot occurs in Oruzgan that will see an effective draw down and return to Australia of some one thousand troops.”

 

Defence Force chief General David Hurley says there are still decisions pending on the further use of special forces in Afghanistan.

 

He says in the meantime Australian troops will continue to train and advise Afghan army forces.

 

“Later this year we’ll commence with the United Kingdom with the training and education of the academy and that will run through 2014. We’ll continue with our embedded staff. There’s still the decision to be made about continued employment of the special forces element in Afghanistan pending the final determination of the nature of the mission and the troops that will be required in the mission post 2014. So those decisions lay ahead.”

 

General Hurley says the special operations task group will continue to conduct partnered combat operations to disrupt the insurgency.

 

Australian troops have been involved in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

 

Mr Smith says the troops have been there far too long.

 

“The easiest thing in the world to get in, hardest thing in the world to get out. We strongly supported, a strong cross parliament, bi-partisan support of the intervention in Afghanistan. So strong bi-partisan support to go in. A UN mandate to continue. the loss of five or six years as a result of the Iraq distraction which wasn’t subject to the UN mandate and then the easiest thing in the world to get in, hardest thing in the world to get out.”

 

Thirty-nine Australian soldiers have died in the conflict in Afghanistan.

 

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