It has already been a difficult year for the ADF. This year, Australia has lost two more brave soldiers.
Corporal Richard Atkinson was killed in an improvised explosive device strike on 2 February 2011.
Sapper Jamie Larcombe died as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during an engagement with insurgents on 19 February.
Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of Corporal Atkinson and Sapper Larcombe, as they to come to terms with their great loss. These soldiers served their country well and will always be remembered.
We have lost 23 fine Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
As well, four Australian soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan this year, with 168 ADF personnel wounded in action since 2002. Our thoughts are also with our wounded and their families.
The sacrifice our men and women are making is great, as is the appreciation of our nation and our people.
Our forces face a resilient insurgency, who, in coming months, will seek to re-take ground.
In this environment, we must steel ourselves for the possibility of further casualties.
Despite these tragic losses and the challenges ahead, Australia remains resolute.
We are seeing progress in Afghanistan.
This progress is fragile. The Taliban know they need to regain momentum, so we can expect them to fight back.
The coming fighting season will be tough. As we prepare for it we are also mindful of the civilian toll of the war.
We can expect high-profile attacks by Afghan insurgents to continue and to increase, like the 21 February suicide attack in Kunduz province that killed around 30 Afghans and wounded 36 others.
An increasing number of civilian casualties are caused by insurgent attacks and the deliberate targeting of civilians or tactics which result in civilian casualties.
These attacks are aimed at undermining Afghan and international confidence in the progress that is being made on security, governance and development and on transition.
Transition has commenced with President Karzai’s announcement on 22 March of the first provinces and districts to transition to Afghan authority.
Transition must be conditions based and irreversible. Transition must not be a signal to premature withdrawal.
The international community must continue to provide a long term commitment to Afghanistan.
That is why Australia has made clear it expects to maintain a presence in Afghanistan after our current training mission has concluded, either in further specialised training, overwatch or through civilian capacity building and development assistance.
Australia is confident that the international community has the right strategy for putting Afghanistan in a position to take responsibility for security matters and prevent it from again being a haven for international terrorists.
This military and political strategy and the required resources are now, at long last, in place and delivering hard won progress. We see this in Uruzgan as we see it elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Australia stands firm in its commitment to Afghanistan.
Ministerial Support and Public Affairs,
Department of Defence,