Australian PM makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

During her stop-over in Afghanistan on her way back from Cannes, Gillard also met Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Last Updated: Nov 07, 2011, 11:20 AM IST

Melbourne: Prime Minister Julia Gillard made
a surprise visit to Afghanistan and met the Australian troops
stationed there, days after three of her nation`s troops were
shot dead by a Afghan soldier.

During her stop-over in the country on her way back from
the G20 in Cannes, Gillard also met Afghan President Hamid
Karzai.

She flew into Tarin Kowt to share a barbecue lunch with
some of the 1,550 Australian soldiers stationed in the
southern Camp Holland base.

Her visit came just days after three Australian soldiers
were killed when an Afghan National Army soldier opened fire
at a base in southern Kandahar province.

Seven other soldiers were wounded in the incident, which
was Australia`s worst since three commandos were killed in a
helicopter crash in 2010.

"I wanted to spend some time trying to see this place
through your eyes as we are planning the next phase of what
happens here in Afghanistan," she said.

"I thought it was important to come and touch base and to
see what is happening here and to hear directly from you about
what the world looks like through your eyes."

She held talks with coalition commanders and local Afghan
officials before going on to meet Karzai in Kabul.

Gillard, according to ABC report, opened the new
Australian embassy in the capital, and praised diplomatic
staff for their work in dangerous conditions.

Afghan foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul says Australia has
made invaluable contributions to his country.

"For all these achievements, and others, we will always
remain grateful to the people of Australia for their sacrifice
in blood and treasure over the years to help us build a
secure, stable, democratic Afghanistan," he said.

Gillard said Australia would be engaged in Afghanistan
for the long term.

"We came to Afghanistan and we have found some tremendous
days of sorrow, but we have also found a great friendship,"
she said, adding "We do intend to stay engaged here with you,
in a spirit of friendship, for the long term."

PTI