Australia could complete its core mission and pull hundreds of troops out of Afghanistan in as few as three years, Defence Minister John Faulkner said on Wednesday.
"Australia should complete its training mission with the Afghan National Army in a period of two to four years," Faulkner said, adding that troops would be likely to stay for a further 12 months in an oversight role.
Faulkner's comments come in the nation's bloodiest month since joining coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2001 -- with five soldiers dying in attacks and a helicopter crash since June 7.
Australia has some 1,550 soldiers in Afghanistan working alongside the Dutch in southern Uruzgan province, mostly training Afghan National Army soldiers.
Faulkner refused to provide a definitive time frame but said the Australian Defence Force had advised him that it would take two to four years for Afghan soldiers to take over main security responsibilities in the restive region.
"What it means is that at some point in that two to four year time frame we would see our training mission transition to an overwatch role and that would obviously mean at that time we would start to see a reduction in the number of Australian troops in Afghanistan," he told reporters in Canberra.
He said any drawdown would be influenced by conditions on the ground at the time.
Faulkner also announced that a US-led multinational unit will take over from Dutch troops who are currently working with Australians in the restive province but are due to start withdrawing in August.