The Australian government has asked military commanders to find ways to complete their missions in Afghanistan as soon as possible. The announcement is being seen as a clear hint that Canberra may pull its 1,500 troops out of Afghanistan earlier than expected.
Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner has asked military chiefs to recommend how their forces can complete their tasks swiftly, and prepare for an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Australia has the largest non-NATO troop presence in the troubled country. This review of its operations there comes after the senior allied commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, called for a large increase of troops.
Canberra says that the soldiers it sent to provide security during elections in August will stay for the presidential run-off, next month.
Faulkner says he wants to have a clear idea as to how soon Australian forces might be able to pack up and come home.
"I haven't, of course, put a timeline on completing the training task but I certainly asked the Australia Defence Force for any recommendations they have about ensuring that we do complete that important role and responsibility both effectively but in the shortest time frame possible," he said.
Political and security analysts say any Australian withdrawal is likely to be several years away.
Faulkner told a parliamentary committee that the government will not start withdrawing troops immediately and they will stay in Afghanistan until local forces can take responsibility for security.
A total of 11 Australians have died in Afghanistan in a war that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledges is unpopular with voters.
Canberra deployed an extra 450 troops in April.
Although Mr. Rudd told lawmakers Wednesday that he is unlikely to send additional forces, he said that Australia is in Afghanistan for the "long haul."
About 100,000 international troops are deployed in Afghanistan.
Reports of widespread fraud in Afghanistan's presidential elections will be a key point of discussion at a NATO conference in Slovakia on Friday.