By Vienna Ma
CANBERRA, FEB. 1(Xinhua) -- Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith on Wednesday said Australian special forces could stay in Afghanistan for years after an official international troop withdrawal.
Smith said Australian special forces would likely remain in Afghanistan after the official withdrawal of about 1,500 troops, scheduled for 2014 or earlier.
Before leaving for Brussels, Belgium for an international defense ministers' meeting, Smith said any transition has to be conditions-based.
"Once the transition occurs - whether that's in 2014 or earlier- there will be a continuing need for some form of assistance," Smith said in a statement.
"Our objective in Afghanistan is to make sure that Afghanistan does not again become a breeding ground for international terrorists.
"Post-transition, there may well be a need to continue with a special forces presence to assist the Afghan security forces ... but also as a counter-terrorism force."
Smith said while he did not want Australia to remain in Afghanistan for years to come, he admitted there was no time frame on when special forces would all leave.
"Because our special forces are so highly regarded, one of the possibilities that I've spoken about publicly is an ongoing presence," he said, adding that could potentially be in a training role, but also in an operational sense.
Smith's admission came as he announced the deployment of trained interrogators from Australia to Afghanistan to help question those detained during Australian military operations.
The development coincides with the government's decision to extend the duration detainees can be held for interrogation at Australia's Tarin Kowt Initial Screening Area in Afghanistan from four days to 10 days.
Moreover, the development will enable the Australian Defense Force to play a greater role in the collection of vital information, and will support the protection of Australian and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel and the local population. It also assists in the potential prosecution of detainees through the Afghan justice system.
Smith said the Brussels meeting between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and ISAF defense ministers would discuss ongoing progress in Afghanistan ahead of a Chicago summit in May that will deal with the post-transition arrangements.