BRISBANE, Australia — Australia's main base in Afghanistan, at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, will close and most Australian troops will be home by the end of 2013.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith made the announcement on Tuesday, saying that at least 1,000 of the 1,550 Australian troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn.
Control of Tarin Kowt (Tarin Kot) — under the command of Australians since 2005 — would be handed over to Afghan national forces.
Australian special forces are expected to stay in Afghanistan after the withdrawal to help train local troops and police, and to conduct some operations.
Australia's ABC News quoted Smith as saying:
"We've been there for over a decade, and that's far too long."
Australia is the biggest military contributor to the Afghan war effort outside of NATO.
It was the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, to shut the Tarin Kowt base.
The withdrawal did not represent an acceleration of Australia's planned troop pullout, and security gains in the region were cited as a reason for the withdrawal.
However the war's popularity among the Australian public has plummeted.
Over the 12 years of Australian involvement in the war, 39 Australian troops have been killed.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced last May that her government intended to pull out its troops from Afghanistan nearly a year earlier than the December 2014 NATO deadline.
Smith noted that the Afghanistan war was "the easiest thing in the world to get in, hardest thing in the world to get out."
He said conditions for the people of Uruzgan were much better since the Australians arrived.
"If we were not confident that transition would occur in Uruzgan by the end of this year, then this decision would not have been made. The security in Uruzgan is in a much better state than when we first arrived."