Most of the 1,650 Australian troops deployed in Afghanistan would leave this year, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said on Tuesday.

“We’ve been there for over a decade, and that’s far too long,” he said. “We expect by the end of the year, we will see at least 1,000 Australian personnel return home.” Most foreign combat troops are to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and hand over security responsibilities to Afghan soldiers and police.

The timing of Australia’s departure relates to the closure of the multinational base at Tarin Kot in the southern province of Uruzgan, a decision made by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

“The effect of that closure will be that Australia will no longer have a permanent presence in Uruzgan province and the majority of Australian Defence Force personnel will return from Afghanistan to Australia,” Mr. Smith said.

Australia has lost 39 soldiers in the conflict, which began in 2001.

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