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Australia Wants Afghan Troops Ready In Five Years

CANBERRA (Reuters) -- Australia has set a five-year timetable for Afghanistan to take control of security in the restive Uruzgan Province after the death of an 11th Australian soldier in the country.

Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, including special forces and about 440 personnel helping to develop Uruzgan and train about 3,000 Afghan National Army troops, who will eventually take over security in Uruzgan.

"I would hope [in] four to five years, the job will be done," Australian Defense Force Commander Angus Houston said on July 21, countering analyst concerns that the war against Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers cannot be won.

The death of a private, killed by an improvised roadside bomb on July 18, has prompted a new debate about the Australian involvement in Afghanistan, with the government committed to the deployment but the Greens calling for a parliamentary review.

In a briefing to reporters, Houston said Australia had learned lessons from its mission to train forces in Iraq, adding that training an Afghan battalion did not signal withdrawal.

"Once you've done that, you have to think about command and control, logistics, the force multipliers like combat support, how you are going to carry them around the battlefield and so on," he said. "So it is quite a complex business."

Defense and strategic analyst Hugh White told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television the government should be considering changing its troop commitments to Afghanistan.

"At what point are we going to decide that Afghanistan can't succeed? At what point are we going to decide that we've tried hard enough and it is not working and we should leave it be? I think that point is very close," White said.

Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown wants parliament to debate Australia's troop commitment to Afghanistan, saying soldiers should return and be available for deployments closer to home.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government was "mindful" of the human cost of the deployment to Afghanistan, but said Australia needed to play a part to fight terrorism.

"Afghanistan used to be an unrestrained training ground for terrorists who operate worldwide, including in Southeast Asia," Rudd told reporters on July 21. "Our mission, together with our friends and allies around the world, is to prevent that from happening again."