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Troop withdrawal criticised as electioneering -

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been accused of playing politics with the announcement of a
detailed timeframe for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The Prime Minister's been accused of playing politics after today
announcing a detailed timeframe for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

Critics say the timing's less to do with military strategy and more to do with electoral
imperatives, both here and in the United States.

But Julia Gillard says the Australian mission in the province of Oruzgan has made clear progress
and the time's right to spell out how and when Afghan forces can take over.

Political correspondent Tom Iggulden reports from Canberra.

TOM IGGULDEN, REPORTER: After a decade of fighting and 32 soldiers killed in action, the
Afghanistan war's getting harder for the Government to defend.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: This is a war with a purpose, this is a war with an end.

TOM IGGULDEN: Julia Gillard anticipates a green light for troop withdrawals at next month's
conference of Afghan war allies.

JULIA GILLARD: I am now confident Chicago will recognise mid-2013 as a key milestone in the
international strategy; a crucial point when the international forces will be able to move to a
supporting role across all of Afghanistan.

TOM IGGULDEN: That means some troops could be home as soon as this year, with most returned by the
end of next year, leaving Afghan forces to fend for themselves against the Taliban insurgency.

JIM MOLAN, RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL: So it will be the real test now, as to everything that we've done
over the past 10 years, whether the sacrifice has been worth it.

TOM IGGULDEN: Critics say there's more than military strategy feeding into the withdrawal

ANDREW WILKIE, INDEPENDENT MP: It's all about the Prime Minister wanting to get this off the table
as an election issue at next year's federal election.

JIM MOLAN: And of course the Chicago conference next month is being driven by the US presidential
cycle. There's very little strategy in any of this.

TOM IGGULDEN: But the Prime Minister says those observations are off target.

JULIA GILLARD: The requirements of the new international strategy led to the adoption of the
timeline, not the other way around. Bin Laden is dead, most of Al Qaeda's senior leaders have been
killed or captured. We have pushed Al Qaeda's remaining leaders into the Afghanistan/Pakistan
border area.

TOM IGGULDEN: The Prime Minister offered the response of Afghan forces this week to Taliban attacks
on Kabul is further reassurance for the transition plan, including in Oruzgan province where
Australia operates.

JULIA GILLARD: I also expect president Karzai to make an announcement on transition in Oruzgan and
other provinces in coming months, including which areas of Oruzgan will begin the process first.

TOM IGGULDEN: Australian aid and advice will continue past the withdrawal date, and the Prime
Minister left the door open for a small contingent of special forces to stay past the transition
date. But others say there's little evidence Afghan forces stand a chance of stopping the country's
descent into chaos following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

ANDREW WILKIE: The war is lost. It's just holding the line until we get out of there and that's
hard for people. And the problem we've got right now is a lack of backbone from politicians who are
prepared to say it as it is.

TOM IGGULDEN: But Tony Abbott's supporting the accelerated exit strategy.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: We want them to come home with a success under their belt, not a
failure but I have no reason to think that it shouldn't be possible to finish the job sooner rather
than later.

TOM IGGULDEN: With four Australian soldiers killed by rogue Afghan comrades, concerns about the
Afghan National Army's ability to glue together a fragmented nation seem legitimate.

Australia may have written itself out of the script, but how Afghanistan's next military chapter
unfolds remains anything but clear.