, Sydney October 29- Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared Australia’s longest war at an end during a surprise visit to Afghanistan, with more than 1,000 troops to return home before Christmas in a “bitter sweet” withdrawal.
“Australia’s longest war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that’s better for our presence here,” Abbott said.
He flew to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) mission in remote Uruzgan province on Monday to make the announcement on the withdrawal which he said was a “bitter sweet moment for Australia”.
“Sweet because hundreds of soldiers will be home for Christmas. Bitter because not all Australian families have had their sons, fathers and partners return,” he said at the main base of Tarin Kot.
In an official statement released Tuesday, Abbott said the mission had been critical to Australia’s national security.
“We have worked to ensure Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorists and have worked with our allies to make the world a safer place,” he said.
“People have paid a high price. We have lost 40 of our best.”
More than 20,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan, with 40 killed in action and 260 wounded since 2001 when Australia joined close ally the United States to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda.