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29-October 2013

Tony Abbott visits Afghanistan to declare Australia's war over

PM says war is ending 'not with victory, not with defeat' at recognition ceremony also attended by Bill Shorten

Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott lay wreaths as a mark of respect to the fallen during the recognition ceremony.

Tony Abbott has declared a "bitter-sweet end" to Australia's war in Afghanistan, saying a high price had been paid but Australian involvement had made the country a better place.

Addressing soldiers in the main Australian base in Tarin Kowt, the prime minister said troops had done their work remarkably well with an extraordinary degree of professionalism.

"It has been worth it. This has been a very difficult commitment. People have paid a high price. We have lost 40 of our best. We mourn them, we remember them, we honour them, we want to work with their families. We will never forget them," he said.

Abbott said this was a sweet moment, as most of Australia's soldiers in Afghanistan would be home by Christmas.

It was bitter because 40 would not and Afghanistan remained a dangerous place, he said.

He said the war was ending, "not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that is better for our presence here".

Abbott said Afghanistan's interior minister, Omar Daudzai, had pointed out that there was now education and health available in Oruzgan province.

"As far as it can be in a rugged and difficult country, it is education and health for everyone including the women of Oruzgan province," he said.

Abbott, making his fourth visit to Afghanistan but first as PM, was accompanied by the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, in the first ever bipartisan political visit to Afghanistan.

Shorten said this was his first overseas trip as opposition leader.

"You make us proud to be Australian. This is an uncertain place," he said.

"I don't think saying thank you is quite enough but it's the words that we can find.

"You can be assured that every Australian knows of this and appreciates it and honours it."

The defence force chief General David Hurley said he was immensely proud of the work of defence personnel.

Hurley said over the next 10 weeks, the Australian Defence Force would complete its mission in Oruzgan and most would begin to return to Australia.

"As this process begins, we reflect on the lasting friendship that has been forged with the people of Afghanistan and ties that we have established with our Afghan and Coalition partners," he said.

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