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Abbott says Australia to exit Afghan conflict -

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TONY EASTLEY: Australia will soon join a list of nations that have seen their armies engage, fight and leave Afghanistan.

The Soviets hurriedly withdrew in 1989 after losing thousands of troops over ten years of fighting.

Australia lost 40 ADF personnel and hundreds were wounded. Unlike the Soviets, Australia is hoping its 12 years in Afghanistan will leave a valuable and lasting legacy.

Certainly the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, believes so. He's declared that Australia's longest war is about to wind up, ending not with victory or defeat, but with hope.

He was speaking at a special ceremony for Australian and international troops as well as Afghan leaders at the Australian-run base in Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province.

From there, the ABC defence correspondent Michael Brissenden filed this report.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Twelve long years after it began, this is the symbolic end of Australia's war in Afghanistan; a war that began as a mission to hunt down Al Qaeda and gradually morphed into a protracted fight against Taliban insurgents and a complicated and dangerous exercise in nation building.

History and timing have delivered Tony Abbott the opportunity to bring this conflict to an end.

TONY ABBOTT: 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.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: More than 20,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan - 260 were wounded, 40 were killed in action. The war has cost Australian lives and more than $7.5 billion.

TONY ABBOTT: This is a bittersweet moment for Australia. Sweet, because hundreds of soldiers will be home by Christmas. Bitter, because not all Australian families have had their sons, fathers and partners return. Sweet, because our soldiers have given a magnificent account of themselves. Bitter, because Afghanistan remains a dangerous place despite all that has been done.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: By Christmas the Australians will have left Tarin Kowt - the base will be gifted to the Afghans. But Australia is also leaving a legacy of more than 200 schools, health clinics and roads. It was a contribution, according to the Afghan interior minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai that wasn't wasted and will not be wasted.

MOHAMMAD OMAR DAUDZAI: Your troops have been the best. Your troops are the best. And whatever they have been doing here in the past few years, they have always put the Afghan people first.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As a way of underlining the bipartisan political support throughout the Afghanistan war, the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was also invited to the ceremony and to address the troops - the first ever bipartisan political visit to the Australian base.

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone and I don't know how you're going uniting Afghanistan but you've got Tony Abbott and I together supporting you, so well done.

(Sound of laughter)

Thank you very much and whilst I heard the very generous comments of our Afghan hosts saying you are the best, I have no doubt that there are none any better than you, anywhere else and certainly you hold up that tradition, you make us all proud to be Australian. Thank you very much.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the departure from Afghanistan is not the end of Australia's commitment to the country. Between 300 and 400 trainers and advisors will remain through next year stationed in Kandahar and Kabul.

The Government's $36 million Children of Oruzgan program will also continue educating and empowering local people with healthcare and maternity training.

But for all the good work, there is still a fragile uncertainty in what is one of the poorest areas of Afghanistan. Security is far from guaranteed once the Western forces leave. Corruption and violence are still endemic and keeping the peace will be a tall order for the Afghan army.

A sign on the memorial to the fallen troops inside the Tarin Kowt base reads: "Only the dead have seen the end of war". In Oruzgan that certainly rings true.

This is Michael Brissenden in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, for AM.