Australia says Afghanistan withdrawal a ‘milestone’ as reactions roll in

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan 'a significant milestone in Australia's military history'

Australia will end its involvement in the 20-year war in Afghanistan by September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

The decision follows a US announcement on Wednesday that it would end its longest war.

Mr Morrison said the move was "a significant milestone in Australia's military history".

Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and Nato-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.

Mr Morrison choked back tears as he read the names of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan at a news conference on Thursday.

"The loss is great. The sacrifice immense," he said, halting several times to collect himself, especially when mentioning Brett Till, 31, a sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.

"These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom."

While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.

Veterans groups pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among veterans of the conflict and other ex-servicemen and women.

The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.

Smooth transition

In making the withdrawal announcement on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden rejected calls to keep forces in place to help resolve that nation's grinding internal conflict.

Mr Biden set a deadline for withdrawing all 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, exactly 20 years after the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States that triggered the war.

"We went to war with clear goals," Mr Biden said. "We achieved those objectives."

Reactions around the world

The US decision prompted a positive reaction from top Afghan officials, Taliban leaders and former presidents of the United States.

Afghan President Asharaf Ghani

Afghan President Asharaf Ghani said his country will work with US partners to ensure a smooth transition.

“As we move into the next phase in our partnership, we will continue to work with our US/Nato partners in the ongoing peace efforts. Afghanistan's proud security and defence forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along, and for which the Afghan nation will forever remain grateful," Mr Ghani said.

The Taliban

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the US decision is specified in an agreement reached in the Qatari capital, Doha.

“If the agreement is adhered to, a pathway to addressing the remaining issues will also be found. If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable," he said.

Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah, a seasoned diplomat who heads the government body expected to lead inter-afghan negotiations, said it is time Afghans found a way to co-exist after the US decision.

"We believe that there is no winner in Afghan conflicts and we hope the Taliban realise that too," he said.

Mr Ghani said in 2019 that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president in 2014.

UN

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan estimates more than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.

Barack Obama

Former US president Barack Obama said the US must stay engaged diplomatically and through development efforts to support the Afghan people.

“But after nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm’s way, it is time to recognise that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it's time to bring our remaining troops home. I support President Biden's bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world," he said.

Updated: April 15, 2021 03:22 PM

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