Over the past few days the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and I have had the privilege of visiting our troops deployed in Afghanistan.
It was a great honour to be able to address ADF troops on Anzac Day at the Dawn Service in Tarin Kot, Uruzgan Province, and to spend time with deployed ADF personnel on Anzac Day.
Their distinguished service in Afghanistan makes them a standard bearer for those who follow.
It was also a day to remember those 23 brave Australian soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.
This was the Chief of the Defence Force’s last ANZAC Day in uniform. Air Chief Marshal Houston has embodied the ANZAC spirit throughout his 41 years in uniform, and I again thank him for his distinguished service.
We took the opportunity to meet with Australian and United States operational commanders in Uruzgan Province and Afghan provincial security leaders.
It is clear that we are making progress on the security front.
ISAF and Afghan forces have extended security to areas previously controlled by the Taliban - from the Tarin Kot bowl to the Mirabad Valley in the east, Deh Rawud in the west, and north through the Baluchi Valey into Chora.
I visited Australian troops at Forward Operating Base Mirwais in the Chora Valley. A group of young Diggers told me that over the seven months of their deployment, the local Afghans were now more supportive of the combined efforts of Afghan and ADF troops to bring security to the valley.
This reinforced my view that progress is being made but we must expect the Taliban to fight back. The coming summer will be tough.
My meeting with Uruzgan Governor Shirzad in Kabul underscored the importance of development and governance for sustaining progress.
Governor Shirzad said his priorities for the province were education and roads, and to fill key civil service posts in the province.
I reinforced these points in my meetings in Kabul with Defence Minister Wardak, Interior Minister Khan, Foreign Minister Rassoul, Transition Coordinator Dr Ghani, and Reconciliation and Reintegration Minister Stanekzai.
I stressed to my Afghan colleagues that the single greatest contribution we could make to Uruzgan at this point in time is to support Governor Shirzad’s efforts to improve the social and economic opportunities of Afghan families.
I also met the NATO Senior Civilian Representative, Ambassador Gass, the Deputy Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Lieutenant General Bucknall, and the Commander of ISAF Joint Command, Lieutenant General Rodriguez.
Air Chief Marshal Houston and I were accompanied by the Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr Paul Foley, and the Commander of Joint Task Force 633, Major-General Angus Campbell.