28 Jul 2013

Rudd and Rein visit troops in Afghanistan

10:09 am on 28 July 2013

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made a surprise visit to Australia's troops in Afghanistan. He was accompanied by Therese Rein - the first wife of a prime minister to visit a war zone.

Mr Rudd and Ms Rein spent four hours on Saturday at the main Australian Defence Force base at Tarin Kowt, which will be closed by the end of 2013 with about 1000 troops returning home.

AAP reports Ms Rein has a family connection to the military. Her father was wounded while serving as a flight navigator in World War II.

She was given briefings on aid work and a viewing of military hardware.

The ABC reports it was Mr Rudd's fifth visit to the base. His first was a week after he was elected prime minister in 2007.

Addressing troops at the base on Saturday, he said he had come to say "thank you" for their sacrifice and effort.

"It's about time we brought you back," he said.

But he said Australia had a vital continuing mission.

About 300 troops will remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year. Special forces are also expected to continue to have a role, which is still being worked out in talks with Afghan authorities.

AAP reports Australia has had a permanent presence in Tarin Kowt since 2005 and about three-quarters of the base has now been dismantled.

The bulk of United States troops are due to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Forty Australian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002, with 257 wounded including 11 this year.