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Australia withdraws troops from Afghanistan

The last Australian troops have left Afghanistan, the country’s defense force has confirmed. The withdrawal ends the nation’s 12-year military presence in Afghanistan, during which 40 soldiers were killed.

The drawdown was completed on Sunday with the departure of more than 1,000 soldiers from the southern province of Uruzgan. Most are expected home by Christmas.

"This war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with hope that Afghanistan is a better place and Uruzgan in particular is a better place for our presence," Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, having announced the final withdrawal during a surprise visit to the Tarin Kowt base in October.

"I firmly believe that to be the case … We know that [troops have] paid a high price - 40 dead and 261 seriously wounded - but that sacrifice has not been in vain.”

More than 25,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan since the country committed troops following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The Australian government had committed around 64 million euros ($89 million) a year to help fund the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Around 400 military personnel will remain in Afghanistan in non-combat training and support roles.

"Obviously that gives us a capacity to keep an eye on things, which we'll exercise," Abbott said.

Abbott said Australian troops had played a key role in replacing the Taliban regime and blunting the influence of al Qaeda. He was optimistic military training and mentorship undertaken by Australian troops had been effective: "The ANA has performed with considerable distinction over the last fighting season."

Several other nations are expected to have completed the withdrawal of their troops by 2014, including Germany and Spain. Also on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the UK would stick to a timetable to withdraw all its combat troops by the end of 2014. He said he was "confident that after some discussions" that a security deal allowing continued training will be signed.

"That's clearly in Afghanistan's interest, that's in America and NATO's interest too and so I'm confident that after some discussions an agreement will be signed," he told reporters at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province.

NATO endorsed their troop withdrawal plan in May 2012, a year after Osama bin Laden - founder of al Qaeda - was killed in Pakistan by US Navy SEALs.

ph/mz (AFP, AP, dpa)