Australia will bring its troops home from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned with most soldiers withdrawn in 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday.
Canberra, a key coalition ally of the United States, has repeatedly said it intends to keep soldiers in the war-wracked nation until 2014 but Gillard said Afghans would now be ready to take responsibility for security earlier.
She will take her timetable for withdrawal to a NATO summit in Chicago next month.
"I'm now confident that Chicago will recognise mid-2013 as a key milestone in the international strategy," she said in a keynote speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
"(It is) a crucial point when the international forces will be able to move to a supporting role across all of Afghanistan."
She said troops would begin withdrawing as soon as Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai declared Afghans would take responsibility for Uruzgan province, where most Australian forces are based.
Karzai is expected to make the announcement "in the coming months" and once he did, the withdrawal should take 12 to 18 months.
"And when this is complete, Australia's commitment in Afghanistan will look very different to that we have today," she said.
"We will have completed our training and mentoring mission with the 4th Brigade.
"We will no longer be conducting routine frontline operations with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The Australian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team will have completed its work.
"And the majority of our troops will have returned home."
Gillard said some special forces could remain in Afghanistan.
"We are prepared to consider a limited special forces contribution -- in the right circumstances and under the right mandate," she said.
"There may be a continuing role to train the ANSF to conduct -- and to work alongside them in carrying out -- counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan."
Canberra has faced increasing pressure over the long-running Afghan campaign and a 2013 pull-out will be a year in advance of the 2014 deadline previously laid down by NATO-led international forces.
Australia has about 1,550 troops stationed in the strife-torn country and has so far lost 32 soldiers in the conflict.© ANP/AFP