Australian PM Announces Early Afghan Exit

Trying to counter perceptions that allies are ducking out early, US officials claim no plans have changed

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday Australia will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan about a year earlier than previously thought.

The 1,500 Australian troops in Afghanistan would begin pulling out this year and most would be home by the end of 2013, a full year before most international troops are supposed to leave in 2014.

The announcement of the early withdrawal – which Gillard said will take place in an election year in Australia – was made one month before an important NATO conference on Afghanistan in Chicago.

Senior U.S. defense officials disagree with the characterization Ms. Gillard’s announcement has received, claiming anonymously that Australia’s plans have not changed and are in line with past agreements.

This reaction is presumably meant to dispel feelings that even NATO and its allies have lost faith in the war in Afghanistan, which has gone on for ten years without any sign of progress and has exhibited successive high profile failures in recent months. France has also announced a 2013 withdrawal, also earlier than expected.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered U.S. military is readying itself for the insurgency’s annual blitz of increased violence for the spring months, as the overall mission crumbles.

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