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They said during a joint press conference that the last of Australian forces had closed their base at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan, which they have held since 2005, and were now on their way home.
“This war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with hope that Afghanistan is a better place and Uruzgan, in particular, is a better place for our presence,” Abbott said of the conflict which began in October 2001 when the US military invaded the country in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the then ruling Taliban.
He said that Australian forces had paid a high price – 40 dead and 261 seriously wounded in combat operations.
“But that sacrifice has not been in vain. Uruzgan today is a very significantly different and better place than it was a decade ago.”
Australia’s current military personnel of 1,550 – the largest contingent after NATO forces – were in charge of training the Afghan military. Some 400 military experts and trainers are to remain in Afghanistan in training and support roles.
“The Afghan National Army has performed with considerable distinction over the last fighting season. Certainly our soldiers are very happy with the progress of the Afghan brigade they have been mentoring over the last few years,” Abbot said.
The US military is currently negotiating with the Afghanistan government for a withdrawal of its own forces.
Most foreign forces, except those in advisory roles, are expected to leave by the end of 2014.