Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has visited Afghanistan, her office said Monday, days after three of her nation's troops were shot dead by a rogue Afghan soldier who fired on a parade.
Gillard made the unannounced stopover in the war-torn Central Asian nation, where she met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, on her way back from the G20 leaders' meeting in Cannes, France.
Addressing soldiers on Sunday in the restive southern province of Uruzgan, where most of Australia's 1,550 troops are stationed, Gillard acknowledged the loss of three of their colleagues on October 29.
Seven other soldiers were wounded in the incident, which was Australia's worst since three commandos were killed in a helicopter crash in 2010.
"When I started planning this trip I didn't realize that it would be in the shadow of very deep sadness," Gillard said in comments quoted in The Australian newspaper.
"I know the way you feel that sense of loss is with a spirit of determination about your mission."
But she said Canberra was determined to continue its engagement in Afghanistan, where so far 32 Australian soldiers have been killed.
"We are determined, as you are, to see this mission through. And we know that in order to see the mission through we've got to combat, from time to time, fear," Gillard said.
The prime minister also travelled to Kabul where she met Karzai and opened Australia's new embassy.
"We came to Afghanistan and we have found some tremendous days of sorrow, but we have also found a great friendship," Gillard said in opening the new mission which she added was a symbol of Australia's commitment, ABC reported.
"We do intend to stay engaged here with you, in a spirit of friendship, for the long term."
Australian troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in late 2001 before being pulled out in 2002. Australians were redeployed to the war in 2005 and have been training Afghan soldiers in Uruzgan.
|Copyright © 2012 Naharnet.com. All Rights Reserved.||http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/19644|