Australia is set to follow in America's footsteps and will withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

"Today the Government is announcing that Australia will conclude the drawdown of our contribution to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a press conference on Thursday.

"In line with the United States and other allies and partners, the last remaining Australian troops will depart Afghanistan in September 2021."

Currently, there is approximately 80 military personnel in Afghanistan representing Australia.

The news came following President Joe Biden's announcement that the US would also withdraw troops.

"Over the last 20 years, Australia has been a steadfast contributor to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Australia has fought alongside coalition and Afghan partners to degrade the capabilities of terrorist organisations, including al-Qaeda," Mr Morrison said, tearing up before reading out the names of Australians who had lost their lives while fighting.

Since 2001, 41 Australians have lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan.

BIDEN ANNOUNCES US WITHDRAWAL

US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday it's "time to end" America's longest war with the unconditional withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, where they have spent two decades in a bloody, largely fruitless battle against the Taliban.

But Mr Biden warned the Taliban that he would hold them accountable on Afghanistan after the US exit and pressed nations including Pakistan to play supportive roles.

"We will hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the US or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well," Biden said in a speech announcing an end to America's longest war.

"We will ask other countries in the region to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India and Turkey."

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Dubbed the "forever war," the US military onslaught in Afghanistan began in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Now, 20 years later - after almost 2,400 US military and tens of thousands of Afghan deaths - Mr Biden is naming September 11 as the deadline by which the last US soldiers will have finally departed.

The war is at best at a stalemate. The internationally backed government in Kabul has only tenuous control in swathes of the country, while the Taliban are growing in strength, with many predicting the insurgency will seek to regain total power once the government's US military umbrella is removed.

In a speech later on Wednesday, Mr Biden will tell Americans that it's time to accept the reality that there's no alternative.

"We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," he was to say, according to excerpts released ahead of his speech.

"I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats," he said. "I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."

However, there was immediate criticism from some quarters that the United States is abandoning the Afghan government and encouraging jihadist insurgencies.

"We're to help our adversaries ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by gift wrapping the country, and handing it right back to them," senior Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani insisted Wednesday after a phone call with Mr Biden that his forces are "fully capable" of controlling the country.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also stressed that Washington expects the Taliban "to hold to their commitments" on keeping anti-US international jihadist groups out of Afghanistan once withdrawal is complete - something a senior administration official said would happen by September 11.

 

Mr Biden "has been consistent in his view that there's not a military solution to Afghanistan, that we have been there for far too long," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, without confirming the withdrawal date.

For Afghans the fighting will likely grind on. The official spoke shortly after US intelligence released a threat assessment report warning that the embattled Afghan government "will struggle" to hold off the "confident" Taliban if the US-led coalition withdraws.

The Trump administration reached a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 under which all US troops would leave by May 2021 in return for the insurgents' promise not to back al-Qaeda and other extremists - the original reason for the 2001 invasion.

US TO 'PUNISH' RUSSIA

The United States hopes to build a stable relationship with Russia but does not expect "trust" in its dealings with Moscow, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, local time.

"What we're working toward is predictable and stable. We're not looking for an establishment of trust as much as a predictability and stability," she told reporters.

Ms Psaki was speaking after US President Joe Biden talked with Russian President Vladimir Putin to express US concerns over the Russian military build-up along Ukraine's border.

Mr Biden called on Putin to "de-escalate tensions," according to the White House, and also proposed a summit in a third country.

Despite Washington's reaching out to the Kremlin, Ms Psaki said that US plans to punish Russia for what it says was election interference and a huge cyber attack remain in place.

"The president was clear: there will be consequences," she said.

Mr Putin and Mr Biden said in a phone call on Tuesday they would "continue dialogue" over ensuring global security, the Kremlin said.

"Both sides expressed their readiness to continue dialogue on the most important areas of ensuring global security," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The statement also confirmed that Mr Biden had proposed a summit between the two leaders "in the near future", but did not say whether Mr Putin had agreed.

Mr Putin last month suggested that he and Biden hold virtual talks after the US president agreed to a description of his Russian counterpart as a "killer", but Washington did not respond to the proposal.

Although the two leaders came to an agreement on extending a key nuclear pact, soon after Mr Biden's inauguration in January, his "killer" comment saw tensions between Moscow and Washington soar.

Their call Tuesday comes after tensions escalated even further in recent weeks, with Russia massing troops on its border with Ukraine and Kiev's allies including Washington calling on Moscow to pull back its forces.

The two leaders also discussed the Iranian nuclear program, Afghanistan peace talks and global climate change, the Kremlin said.

US COMMITS TO RENEW IRAN TALKS

The White House said Tuesday it remains committed to nuclear negotiations with Iran despite Tehran's "provocative" statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment.

"We are certainly concerned about these provocative announcements," Mr Biden's press secretary Ms Psaki, told reporters.

"We believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to a resolution."

Iran announced it was accelerating its production of enriched uranium after damage was inflicted on the Natanz nuclear plant in a mysterious incident that Tehran blames on Israeli sabotage.

The incident has cast a shadow over attempts by Washington to negotiate a renewal of the so-called JCPOA deal, which brought Iran's nuclear power industry under international scrutiny but which Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

Indirect talks between Washington and Tehran are underway in Vienna, and Psaki said she expects them to continue.

The six countries that negotiated the JCPOA with Iran should be "unified in rejecting" Iran's threat to accelerate uranium enrichment, Psaki said.

However, it "underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA," she said, calling talks last week "constructive." "While (talks) were difficult and while we expect this to be long, we expect and we have not been alerted of any change in planned attendance in meetings that will resume later this week."

US ENVOY TO CHINA WILL TALK CLIMATE

US climate envoy John Kerry will visit China this week in the first trip there by the Biden administration, which says it will find areas of co-operation with Beijing despite soaring tensions on multiple fronts.

The former secretary of state will visit Shanghai as well as the South Korean capital Seoul on a trip starting Wednesday, the State Department confirmed.

His trip comes in preparation for President Joe Biden's virtual climate summit next week to which the US leader has invited both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With global temperatures and natural disasters on the rise, Mr Biden has made climate a top priority, turning the page from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry.

Mr Kerry noted that he worked closely with China as he negotiated the 2015 Paris climate accord - which Mr Biden has rejoined after Mr Trump pulled the United States out of it.

"We hope that China will come to the table and lead. President Xi has talked about leadership, about China's role in this. We want to work with China in doing this," Mr Kerry said in an interview with India Today.

No global solution is likely without both the United States and China, the world's top two economies which together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

China alone produces almost 30 per cent of carbon emissions, far more than any country, after decades of rapid industrialisation.

But Xi has promised that China's emissions will peak by 2030, part of a major push to clean up the environment.

Originally published as 'Thank you for your service': PM confirms troop withdrawal



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