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Aussie forces asked to stay in Afghanistan

Julie Bishop Afghanistan
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Afghanistan’s new president has asked Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to reconsider the planned withdrawal of Australian troops by 2016 during a meeting in Kabul on Monday.

Ms Bishop made the surprise trip to Afghanistan to visit Australian troops on Australia Day and reaffirm the Abbott government’s commitment to the country.

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In a meeting with Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani, Ms Bishop was asked to reconsider the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, as the country continues to battles Islamic extremism and the Taliban.

US President Barack Obama has pledged to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by 2016, but both he and Afghani leaders have expressed concerns the country could fall back under the influence of terrorist groups.

“He [Ghani] is an impressive figure … He has made the case that the timeframe may well need to be adjusted, depending upon the opportunities and the challenges that present over the next two years,” Ms Bishop said on Monday.

The Obama administration is set to draw down its number of soldiers in Afghanistan to 5000 by next year, a fraction of the 50000 US soldiers that were based in the country in 2009.

Australia has also reduced aid to the country in recent years, from $200 million in 2011/12, to $134.5 million this year.

Ms Bishop said Australia was committed to the progress made in Afghanistan since US involvement began in 2001, with increases in life expectancy and the amount of children enrolled in schools.

“Over the past 10 years or more we have seen extraordinary gains in opportunities for women – in education, in health, in the number of women who are able to participate in society,” Ms Bishop said.

“I am acutely conscious of the needs here, and I’ll ensure that the progress we’ve made and the gains we’ve made for the programmes to empower women will not be lost through the Australian aid programme.”

While visiting the 400 Australian troops stationed in Kabul, Ms Bishop said she could think of “no more important place” for her to be on Australia Day than with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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