Australian forces to quit Afghanistan by Christmas: Abbott

Australian soldiers, part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), stand near local Afghans at a ceremony to open a Trade Training School, funded by Australian forces at the Tarin Kowt military base in Uruzgan province, south of Kabul,
Australian soldiers, part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), stand near local Afghans at a ceremony to open a Trade Training School, funded by Australian forces at the Tarin Kowt military base in Uruzgan province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the end of Australia's "bitter-sweet" war in Afghanistan during a surprise visit to the country, with 1,000 troops set to return home for Christmas. -- PHOTO: AP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the end of Australia's "bitter-sweet" war in Afghanistan during a surprise visit to the country, with 1,000 troops set to return home for Christmas.

Mr Abbott flew to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) mission in Uruzgan province to make the announcement, an official statement said on Tuesday.

"Sweet because hundreds of soldiers will be home for Christmas. Bitter because not all Australian families have had their sons, fathers and partners return," he said at Australia's main base at Tarin Kot on Monday.

"Our mission in Afghanistan has been critical to our national security," added Mr Abbott's statement.

"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.

"People have paid a high price. We have lost 40 of our best." More than 20,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan, with 40 killed in action and 260 wounded since 2001 when Australia joined close ally the United States to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Mr Abbott reaffirmed Australia's commitment to support Afghanistan in the future, notably with training for the Afghan National Security Forces and development assistance. Several hundred Australians will continue to serve in non-combat roles in Afghanistan.