Last Australian military combat troops leave Afghanistan

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian combat troops have completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday, marking the end of the country’s longest war that has left 40 soldiers dead.
Abbott announced that more than 1,000 troops would withdraw from the restive southern province of Uruzgan before the end of the year during a surprise visit to their base in Tarin Kot in October. The withdrawal was completed on Sunday and most of the soldiers were due to return home by Christmas.
“This war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with the hope that Afghanistan is a better place and Uruzgan in particular is a better place for our presence,” Abbott said. “I firmly believe that is the case.”
Canberra first sent troops to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, but they have been in Uruzgan since late 2005.
“We know they paid a high price – 40 dead and 261 seriously injured – but that sacrifice was not in vain,” Abbott said, referring to the 12-year mission.
“Uruzgan today is a very different and better place than ten years ago.”
Some 400 Australians will remain in Afghanistan in non-combat roles, mostly in Kabul and Kandahar, but the bulk of the 1,550 Australians who had served there were now out of the country.
“None of them should be involved in combat,” Abbott said of those who remain to work with the Afghan police and army.
Asked if he was confident local authorities could take over security, Abbott said Australian troops were pleased with the progress made by the Afghan National Army (ANA) brigade they had framed.
“The ANA played with considerable distinction over the past fight season.” Abbott said that since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban regime had been replaced, al-Qaeda and its sympathizers had been driven from their safe havens and some stability had returned to the region.
Defense Minister David Johnston said the withdrawal was a huge logistical achievement, but the Australian mission had closed and the majority of troops had left the country.
More than 25,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan since 2001, when Australia joined a close US ally to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. AFP

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