NATO says Australia`s Afghan pullout part of war

The announcement was "fully within the framework" of a roadmap agreed by NATO and its partners in Afghanistan.

Brussels: Australia`s decision to bring troops home from Afghanistan earlier than expected was part of the war strategy and would not prompt other nations to rush out, NATO`s chief said Wednesday.

The announcement was "fully within the framework" of a roadmap agreed by NATO and its partners in Afghanistan to gradually hand over security control to Afghan security forces, said Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"It is within the line of our strategy that as we gradually hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans, we will also adapt our presence in Afghanistan," Rasmussen said as NATO defence and foreign ministers gathered for two days of talks.

"All 50 allies and partners within the ISAF coalition have committed themselves to the basic principle of, `in together, out together.` And I know that the Australians are committed to that principle as well," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday that most Australian soldiers would be withdrawn in 2013, a year earlier than expected, following significant security gains over the past 18 months.

NATO is gradually handing security responsibility to Afghan forces, hoping they can take the lead nationwide sometime next year and pave the way for foreign combat troops to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Australia has some 1,550 troops stationed in the strife-torn country and has so far lost 32 soldiers in the conflict.

Gillard said they would begin leaving as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Afghans would take responsibility for Uruzgan province, where most Australian forces are based.

NATO ministers, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, were meeting in Brussels to fine tune their war strategy and future ties with Afghanistan ahead of a summit of leaders in Chicago on May 20-21.


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