As U.S. allies focus on Pacific, Aussies to exit Afghanistan 1 year early

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Compiled by Miles Yu,

In a surprise announcement, Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced April 17 that she would present NATO with a plan in August to withdraw all 1,550 Australian troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, one year earlier than the original December 2014 schedule, when most NATO troops are supposed to withdraw.

Australian soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stand guard in Tirin Kot, capital of Uruzgan Afghan province. / AFP

Australia has been America’s staunchest ally in all the recent wars in which the U.S. has been involved. With America’s strategic and military shift of focus to the Asia-Pacific region, Australia has become a natural ally of the U.S., again in the region to contain escalating tensions caused by China’s rapid military rise and the associated expansion of Beijing’s territorial claims that are disputed by nearly all of China’s Asia-Pacific neighbors.

A new base for 2,500 U.S. Marines has been established in Darwin, West Australia. Canberra has offered Washington other help including the use of the Cocos Island as a base for drone aircraft.

But the ongoing war in Afghanistan has begun to irritate many Australian voters and Gillard is worried that her limited political capital at home might not be enough to allow her to stick to her friend, President Barack Obama, through the end of 2014.

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