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Australia to reduce Afghan force in 2-4 years
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian will start to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan in two to four years, after Afghan forces take over security operations in Uruzgan province, Australian Defence Minister John Faulkner said on Wednesday.
Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, including about 200 special forces and about 1,000 troops based at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan, working with Dutch forces on reconstruction and helping to train the Afghan National Army.
Faulkner said Australia would maintain its troop numbers in Uruzgan when Dutch forces pull out from August, and Australia will appoint a new civilian head of the reconstruction mission.
"Our resolve is firm," Faulkner told reporters.
"On the basis of our solid progress to date, Defence now estimates that in between two to four years we will be able to transition the main security responsibility to the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan province," Faulkner said.
"At the conclusion of that mission I would expect to see our mission transition from a training role to an overwatch role. That is what happened in Iraq. In Iraq, that overwatch period was 12 months."
In the past month, five Australians have been killed in action in Afghanistan. A total of 16 Australian have been killed in Afghanistan since late 2001 when Australian troops joined the U.S.-led mission to oust the Taliban.
An opinion poll published on Monday found 61 percent of those surveyed believed Australia should withdraw troops from Afghanistan, while 24 percent believed troop numbers should be maintained. (Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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