Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has supported the US decision to beyond the end of the current Resolute Support mission, saying it recognises the reality of the situation in the field.
That was dramatically demonstrated when the north-eastern city of to Taliban forces in a matter of hours in October.
Turnbull will discuss Australia’s mission in Afghanistan with the foreign minister, , and the defence minister, Marise Payne, when they return from top-level Australia-US ministerial talks in Boston.
“We will work very closely with the US, we will consider the decision they have taken,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
Turnbull acknowledged the US had recognised the reality of the security situation in the field.
Australia ended combat operations in at the end of 2013 but 250 troops remain under the Resolute Support mission, which started in January and winds up at the end of 2016.
Most are in the capital, Kabul, providing advice and assistance to the Afghan national army, principally at the ANA officer academy.
A long-running task ended on 1 October with the conclusion of the mission advising commanders of the ANA’s Kandahar-based 205 corps, a force of 20,000 troops responsible for much of the security in the country’s south.
Just a handful of Australians remain in Kandahar.
In the announcement in Washington overnight, the US president, , said 9,800 troops would remain through most of next year, reducing to 5,500 in 2017. Their mission, training and support of Afghan security forces and counter-terrorism operations, won’t change, he said.
The decision wasn’t unexpected. US officials have often said they don’t want to see a repeat of Iraq, where security rapidly deteriorated following the withdrawal of US forces in 2011.
Following the meeting of Nato defence ministers in June, former defence minister Kevin Andrews said the Australian government was inclined to “stay the course” in Afghanistan, given the very significant investment, including the deaths of 41 soldiers.
Afghanistan and US intentions were discussed in detail at the Australia-US ministerial talks.
US secretary of defence Ash Carter said Australia had been with the US from day one, in both combat and support of Afghan forces. “I assured minister Payne that the US is absolutely committed to seeing the mission through beyond 2016.”
Senator Payne said Afghan security forces had made enormous strides. “Notwithstanding that, there is of course more to do,” she said.