21 Mar 2015

End of longest ever military deployment

7:11 pm on 21 March 2015

Soldiers and others who served in Afghanistan as a part of Operation Slipper were officially welcomed home in parades across the country today.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott praised the efforts of those involved. Photo: AFP

The parades marked the end of the operation, which was Australia's contribution to the conflict in Afghanistan, launched in response to the deadly September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Operation Slipper began in 2001 and involved more than 33,000 members of the Defence Force, Public Service and Federal Police who were deployed to Afghanistan and the Middle East.

During the mission, 41 ADF personnel were killed and another 261 wounded.

Parades were held in state and territory capital cities and in Townsville.

A memorial service was also held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Speaking at the ceremony in Canberra, Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised the efforts of all those involved in Operation Slipper.

"On this national day of commemoration we honour all who served in Afghanistan as part of Australia's longest war. Our armed forces personnel, our police, and our civilians," he said.

"That war ended not with victory, and not with defeat, but with hope, hope for a better Afghanistan, and for a safer world."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also paid tribute, promising to remember those who lost their lives.

"We pledge our support to the wounded and to all those who have come back to Australia forever changed by what they experienced. We pay tribute to your families who have known the long, lonely anxiety of a loved one in harm's way."

Major General Peter Warwick Gilmore led the first contingent of Australian Special Forces troops into Afghanistan back in 2001.

Speaking at the Sydney event, he said "we really didn't know what we were going in to".

"I still remember the first night we flew in, there were five of us flying into a dusty airstrip south of Afghanistan," he said.

"I don't think we knew then what lay ahead in the next 13 years, let alone in the next couple of days."

He said he was proud of the valour, courage and tenacity shown by Australians who "were given a job in Afghanistan".

"I think that every soldier, officer, sailor, every air man and woman who went across there did their job magnificently. It was a tough job. It started with a counter-terrorist mission, there is no doubt in Afghanistan where we were, we made a difference."

But while proud of Australia's achievements, Major General Gilmore also grieves for his comrades that did not come home.

"The faces that are etched in my memory of those that I served with that have been killed, that aren't here today ... those faces remain with us," he said. "I think of them many days."