SYDNEY: Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday said Australia would not abandon Afghanistan, despite suffering a spate of deadly attacks by rogue Afghan troops.
In an address to parliament on the decade-old conflict, Gillard said there was no evidence to suggest the attacks, in which four Australians have died this year, were part of a pattern.
In the worst of three incidents this year, an Afghan opened fire on a parade in October, killing three Australians and wounding seven others.
In May, an Australian lance corporal was shot dead by an Afghan with whom he was sharing guard duties at a patrol base in the Chora Valley, and earlier this month an Afghan soldier opened fire on Australians, seriously wounding three.
The attacks have prompted renewed debate about Australia's involvement in the war, to which it was first committed in late 2001 by then-prime minister John Howard. It withdrew and then redeployed in 2005.
Delivering her annual statement on Afghanistan, Gillard insisted progress was being made and that the 1,550 troops based mostly in the southern province of Uruzgan were on track to hand over the lead role on security by 2014.
“Australia will not abandon Afghanistan,” she said.
Australian troops are training the Afghan National Army's 4th Brigade and Gillard said the timing on completely handing over to Afghan forces in Uruzgan “may well be complete before the end of 2014” given progress being made there.
While this would lead to a drawing down of Australian forces in the country, she repeated her stance that Canberra would be engaged in Afghanistan through this decade at least.
Gillard said she had discussed a long-term partnership with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during their meeting in Kabul last month, adding the government would consider keeping Special Forces troops there beyond 2014.