Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday announced plans to pull most of the country’s troops out of Afghanistan next year.
The premier said the withdrawal would be completed by mid 2013, nearly 12 months ahead of schedule.
But Gillard stressed the pullout would only begin once Afghans took on responsibility for security in Uruzgan province, the region where the majority of Australian troops are stationed.
“I also expect President (Hamid) Karzai to make an announcement on transition in Uruzgan and other provinces in the coming months, including which areas of Uruzgan will begin the process first,” she said.
She said the pull-out would take between 12 and 18 months once Karzai had made that commitment.
“When this is complete, Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan will look very different to that which we have today,” Gillard said.
She will take her timetable to a NATO conference on Afghanistan in Chicago in May.
Australia has some 1,500 soldiers amongst the 130-000 strong NATO-led force.
All foreign combat troops are expected to quit Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
NATO is currently in the process of handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
The Australian announcement comes two days after a spate of militant attacks across Afghanistan left more than 50 people dead.