More than 1,000 Australian troops have completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, marking the end of a deployment that has left dozens of troops dead and hundreds more seriously wounded.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday that soldiers had paid a “high price” during the 12-year mission, the longest in the country’s history, but that their sacrifice had not been in vain.
“This war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with hope with hope that Afghanistan is a better place and Uruzgan in particular is a better place for our presence. I firmly believe that to be the case,” Abbott said.
“We know that they’ve paid a high price – 40 dead and 261 seriously wounded – but that sacrifice has not been in vain.
“Uruzgan today is a very significantly different and better place than it was a decade ago.”
His announcement comes amid a rising death toll for the country’s civilian population.
A roadside bomb destroyed a police vehicle on Monday, killing three police officers and wounding another seven. One of the victims was an Afghan police chief. On Sunday another explosion ripped through a a passenger van, killing four civilians.
Abbott defends deployment
Abbott said since the war in Afghanistan had begun, the Taliban regime had been replaced, Al-Qaeda and their sympathisers had been driven out of their safe havens, and a degree of stability had returned to the Southern region.
“If you look at the benefits for our country, for Afghanistan and for the wider world, my conclusion is yes it has been worth it.
“But not for a second would I underestimate the price that has been paid by individuals and families.”
Canberra first deployed troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and had been in Uruzgan since 2005.
About 400 Australians will stay in Afghanistan in non-combat roles, but the majority of the 1,550 troops have left the country.
More than 25,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan since 2001. It has been the largest provider of troops to Afghanistan outside NATO.