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Prime Minister Rudd visits troops in Afghanistan

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has visited Australian military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan.

The Minister for Defence Materiel Mike Kelly, the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley and Australia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Jon Philp accompanied the Prime Minister. Mr Rudd was also joined by his wife Therese Rein.

Mr Rudd met members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) at Multi National Base-Tarin Kowt (MNB-TK). He was briefed by Australian and coalition commanders on progress in the military campaign and met the Governor of Uruzgan Province, Amir Mohammed Akhundzada.

Mr Rudd thanked Australia’s men and women in uniform for the vital work they are doing in preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists by building the capacity of the Afghan security forces. He paid tribute to the 40 Australian service men who have lost their lives in Afghanistan.

Mr Rudd said, “the Australian people are immensely proud of what our military and civilian personnel have achieved over the past seven years in Uruzgan in difficult and dangerous circumstances”.

Australian Defence personnel have trained and mentored the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) so they can provide security for their people. This year’s fighting season is the first time in over a decade that the ANSF are fighting the insurgency almost entirely alone.

There are now 38 girls’ schools and more than 200 schools in total, a sixfold increase since 2006. Up to 80 per cent of pregnant women now receive pre-natal health care and midwives and nurses have been trained to provide further support.

With other donors, we have upgraded more than 200 kilometres of roads and bridges, generating employment opportunities for thousands in the province.

The Prime Minister’s visit comes as Australia prepares to hand over full security responsibility for Uruzgan province to the ANSF by the end of the year.

In line with the phased draw down of international forces agreed with the Afghan government and Australia’s coalition partners, MNB-TK and the PRT will close and around 1,000 of Australia’s men and women in uniform will return.

Mr Rudd said, “It was an important time to honour the work of Australian personnel in Uruzgan as Australia’s contribution in the province draws to a close. Australia

military and civilian personnel have made real and tangible improvements to people’s lives in the province.”

The Prime Minister reiterated Australia’s commitment to supporting Afghanistan’s future beyond nationwide transition at the end of 2014, including through ongoing training and financial support for Afghan security forces and an aid program.

“The end of our mission in Uruzgan marks a change but not an end to Australia’s engagement with Afghanistan,” Mr Rudd said. “It is time for the Afghan people to build on the progress they have achieved with the international community’s help and take control of their future”.

Mr Rudd and Ms Rein laid wreaths at a memorial for fallen servicemen at Tarin Kowt.


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