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Australian Troops To Pull Out Of Afghanistan Earlier

Australia has 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.
Australia will put out its troops from Afghanistan earlier than originally planned.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on April 17 that most of Australia's troops will be home by the end of 2013, a year ahead of schedule.
Numbering 1,500, Australia's troop contingent is the largest force provided by any non-NATO country.
Australian soldiers' main task has been training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Oruzgan Province. Thirty-two Australian troops have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Afghanistan, and public pressure has been building to bring the troops back home.
The announcement comes just days after the Taliban launched a series of attacks across Afghanistan.
Gillard said she would present the plan for the troop withdrawal to a NATO summit in Chicago next month.

"I'm now confident Chicago will recognize mid-2013 as a key milestone in the international strategy. A crucial point when the international forces will be able to move to a supporting role across all of Afghanistan," Gillard said.
The prime minister said the troops would start pulling out of Afghanistan as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Afghans would take responsibility of Oruzgan Province, where most Australian forces are based.
12-18-Month Withdrawal

She said Karzai was expected to make the announcement "in the coming months," and once he did, the withdrawal should take 12 to 18 months to complete.

"I also expect President Karzai to make an announcement on transition in Oruzgan and other provinces in the coming months, including which areas of Oruzgan will begin the process first," Gillard said.

"Once started, this 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."
Gillard said Australia stood ready to provide training to Afghan security forces after international combat forces complete their withdrawal in 2014.
The prime minister said she and Karzai will sign a partnership agreement at a meeting of NATO nations' leaders in Chicago next month.
Gillard's announcement means most Australian troops are likely to be home before parliamentary elections due by the end of next year, but the prime minister denied it was a political decision.

Gillard's Labor Party has been losing popularity, according to opinion polls.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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