Australian troops have officially finished their mission in Afghanistan and are heading home to their families for Christmas.
Military families will have a special present this Christmas as Australian troops arrive home from Afghanistan two weeks early.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the exit of the last troops from Oruzgan Province this weekend as “bittersweet”, acknowledging the deployment of 26,000 personnel over the years had come at a cost.
Forty Australian military personnel died and 261 were seriously injured during a decade of conflict in the war-torn country.
“I accept that we have, as a nation, paid a high price,” he said on Monday.
“I accept that 40 families have paid an almost unbearable price.
“Nevertheless, if you look at the benefits for our country, for Afghanistan, and for the wider world, my conclusion is yes, it has been worth it.”
Australian Defence Force (ADF) chief General David Hurley said Australia had honoured those fallen by finishing the transition of security in Oruzgan Province to the Afghan National Security Forces.
“I remain immensely proud of the contribution the ADF has made in Afghanistan and greatly appreciate the work of all the supporting personnel and the sacrifices made by families here in Australia,” he said.
Defence Minister David Johnston was confident Afghan military officers would be up to the job after Australian soldiers left.
“This last fighting season, the Afghan national army has virtually fought without supervision,” Senator Johnston said.
Also on their way to Australia are Afghan language interpreters who worked with Australian forces, whose employment placed them at considerable risk of retaliation.
Australian special forces soldiers were first sent to Afghanistan in late 2001 and into Oruzgan Province in late 2005.
Numbers eventually peaked at more than 1500.
Australia planned to pass control of the base at Tarin Kowt to Afghan forces and withdraw from Oruzgan by the end of the year.
About 400 Australian military personnel will stay in the country next year, mainly in Kabul and Kandahar, in training and advisory roles.
The Australian government has also committed to spending about $100 million a year on the Afghan national forces, Mr Abbott said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that for many Australian veterans, the war would never end because of stress and trauma.
“Our veterans for decades will still be working through the issues of their service in Afghanistan,” he said.
“This nation owes them a debt of gratitude.
“All of us should support the efforts of helping our veterans, both returned with the military and those who leave the military.”