File image.
File image. Australian Defence Force

Afghanistan almost secure enough for troops to head home

DEFENCE Minister Stephen Smith is absolutely confident responsibility for security in Afghanistan will be handed over to local authorities, he said after visiting troops on the ground on Tuesday.

Mr Smith and Defence Force chief General David Hurley visited troops over two days early this week, speaking to the heads of the International Security Assistance Force and President Hamid Karzai.

The visit included high-level meetings to discuss the likelihood of success once security responsibilities are handed over, and the potential threats to peace from the Taliban.

"President Karzai and Foreign Minister Rassoul also cede this, that it's not just about security, it's about trying to have peace and reconciliation talks with those members of the Taliban who are prepared to throw down their arms and their weapons and abide by the Afghan constitution," Mr Smith said.

"So, these efforts are now running in parallel with the security efforts and the transition effort."

He said while Australia had been, in some respects, involved in the conflict for too long, Australians would remember how the nation's troops left Afghanistan and finished the job.

"It continues to be a difficult job, it continues to be dangerous. The risk profile changes, but there still are risks," he said.

"So we want to see the job completed and well done, we also want to make sure that our soldiers, our men and women, are careful and take care of themselves."

Mr Smith said there was now no doubt the transition was on track in both the more active Uruzgan province and across Afghanistan more widely.

"So we are absolutely confident that by the end of this year, we would have been able to transition security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces.

"And, of all of the visits I've been on to either here in Tarin Kot, or to Kabul, there's never been a visit where all of the conversations have been about the end of transition and what we might do after 2014.

"But we still need to take it step by step, but we are absolutely confident that we can transition in Uruzgan by the end of this year."

While the majority of Australian troops were expected to leave after the transition was complete, it is understood some training and Special Forces troops may remain on the ground for a longer period.



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