Afghanistan exit could be by 2013: Aus minister

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith made the announcement without giving any definite date.

Melbourne: Australia on Tuesday said that its primary mission in war-torn Afghanistan could be completed by the end of 2013, up to a year earlier than planned.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith made the announcement without giving any definite date.

"I`m deliberately not being definitive about it because some people will immediately rush to post that as a precise date," Smith was quoted as saying by `The Australian` newspaper.

He said seven provinces had already been handed back to Afghan government control.

Smith said Oruzgan province in Afghanistan`s restive south would likely be in the third tranche to be decided in the second half of next year.

That opened up the prospect of making the transition from Australian to local control "some time towards the end of 2013 but certainly by 2014".

Prime Minister Julia Gillard had on Monday said that the complete transition to Afghan security responsibility in Oruzgan province had yet to be decided but might happen before the end of 2014.

Gillard said Australia was paying a high price in Oruzgan province with 32 soldiers dead and 214 wounded, but progress was being made and would continue to be made by the 4,500 Australians who will serve there next year.

PTI