As Australian, British and other forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, the head of Britain's armed forces says it's vital western countries don't "do a Russia" after their troops go home.

General Sir David Richards, chief of the United Kingdom defence staff, said the trick would be to depart after putting the Afghan army and police on a good long-term footing.

Australian Defence Force chief General David Hurley also warned that adequate government and development arrangements should be put in place in Afghanistan as the military presence contracted.

General Richards, in Australia for the Australian-UK Ministerial (AUKMIN) consultations which wound up in Perth last week, said Britain now had some 9000 troops in Afghanistan, but that was set to fall to 5200 by the end of this year.

The United Nations mandate concludes at the end of 2014.

"The most important single requirement is to ensure the Afghan people and army and police retain confidence in the west and we don't at the end of all this do a Russia," General Richards told an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) function in Canberra on Monday.

Russian invaded Afghanistan in 1979, fighting a bitter decade-long war.

Its forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and the Afghan government collapsed three years later, when Moscow withdrew funding and support, ushering in a period of chaos and eventually the Taliban.

"I see a lot of politicians, not only British but others, and I absolutely can assure you this lesson has been understood," General Richards said.

Australia now has some 1550 troops in Afghanistan.

The transition to full Afghan security responsibility in Oruzgan province is expected to be completed at the end of this year, although the government has given no indication of when troops can start coming home.

It has promised ongoing civil and military aid beyond 2014, including assistance with the British-run "Sandhurst in the sand" academy to train Afghan officers and possibly an ongoing presence of special forces.

General Hurley said the military could only create the space for other elements of national power, including civil development, police and justice.

"The danger in Afghanistan is that the government and development arrangements are not put in place adequately as the military contracts," he said.

General Hurley said as Australia's effort in Afghanistan reduced, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were taking over.

"There is a lot happening in all those spaces, but it takes longer to generate the effect you want," he said.

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