Prime Minister Scott Morrison has become emotional while listing names of Australians who have died on the Afghanistan battlefield during a press conference in Perth.
Mr. Morrison confirmed Australia would withdraw its remaining 80 military personnel in September after almost two decades in the country, in line with the US troop withdrawal.
US President Joe Biden confirmed American troops would time their withdrawal with the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Fighting back the tears, Mr. Morrison listed the names of the 41 Australians killed in the conflict.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense, the bravery and courage things we can speak of but not know of personally,” he said on Thursday. “These brave Australians are amongst our greatest ever who have served in the name of freedom. This day, we dedicate to their memories.
“We think of their families, their friends, the life they would have lived. But they gave that for others they did not know.” Mr. Morrison said it was an “emotional day” for all Australians, mainly the roughly 60 troops who remained in Afghanistan.
“But mainly, and most importantly, we must think of those who have been most significantly impacted: the families of those who are lost and that sacrifice which they live with every day,” he said.
“But also those who bore arms with them and served with them. They carry that loss with them every single day, and it is a reminder to all of us to be so grateful for their service.”
He did not confirm whether Australia’s withdrawal would also be timed with September 11. “September is the date we are currently working to. I won‘t give any further date with that,” he said.
Removal of the Taliban, a hardline Islamist group Washington accused of harbouring al-Qa’ida leader Osama bin Laden, was a key war aim in 2001. But the withdrawal of American soldiers from the country has sparked concern over a potential Taliban resurgence.
Former US President Donald Trump struck a power-sharing deal with the Taliban in February last year. His successor Joe Biden has this week suggested an interim arrangement that would return the group to power. Mr. Morrison was pressed on whether that outcome justified the lives lost.
“Freedom is always worth it. Australians have always believed that. That is why Australians who have serviced in our Defence forces have always pulled on that uniform,” he said.
Australia’s presence in Afghanistan was marred by the release of the Brereton report in November that found evidence of 39 murders of Afghan civilians and prisoners by SAS soldiers. Mr Morrison refused to comment on the news, saying “now is not the time” to discuss the allegations.