Today, along with the Chief of the Defence Force, the Defence Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, I visited Australian military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan to mark the approaching end of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan Province.
The ceremony at the Multi-National Base – Tarin Kot marked the closure of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, which directed Australia’s civilian-led development efforts in Uruzgan.
The ceremony honoured Australian, allied and Afghan sacrifices and achievements in Uruzgan. The ceremony helped to mark the transfer of lead security responsibility in the province to the Afghan authorities.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) mission in Uruzgan is drawing down and will be complete by the end of the year. By that time, over 1,000 Australian troops currently serving in Afghanistan will have returned home.
Our mission in Afghanistan has been critical to our 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.
Australia has helped to make a difference to the lives of people in Uruzgan.
We have helped to build and rehabilitate schools, improve health care and upgrade roads. There are now 26 girls’ schools in Uruzgan and around 200 schools in total – a twenty-fold increase since 2001. Up to 80 per cent of pregnant women now receive at least one pre-natal health care visit, and Australia is helping train nurses and midwives. Some 200 kilometres of roads and bridges have been upgraded, improving access to markets and health and education services.
It was important to reaffirm Australia’s ongoing commitment to support Afghanistan’s security, governance and development in 2014 and beyond. This support will include ongoing training for the Afghan National Security Forces and development assistance.
Australia will not walk away from Afghanistan but it will be for the Afghan people to determine their own future.