The people of Afghanistan have witnessed remarkable change in the 12 years since the international community responded to the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States and commenced operations to target al-Qaeda and its operatives.
Since that time, Australia's military mission in Uruzgan province has provided the conditions that have built the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces and created the security environment that has allowed the development of basic infrastructure and governance.
Along with other international partners, Australia has supported the development of governance and the restoration of services in Uruzgan province. Australia has contributed to the development of basic infrastructure and of primary-care medical facilities, which have made it possible for 80 per cent of women to receive pre-natal visits. Australia has also assisted in the development of schools- now 200 schools are operating across the province, including 38 schools for girls.
Before international forces arrived in Uruzgan, access to medical facilities and schools was hampered by the poor state of roads and river crossings. Today, travelling across the province is quicker and safer following improvements to 200 kilometres of roads and bridges. As a result, commerce and trade have returned to the main marketplaces within the province. These are promising signs that life has improved for the people of Uruzgan.
Across Afghanistan, all of the country's 34 provinces have now entered transition, an extended period of time where the Afghan Government is assuming full responsibility for its own security. Outside Uruzgan province there are important indicators that normalcy is returning to the lives of the Afghan people: 85 per cent of the population have access to basic health care services, compared to 10 per cent under the Taliban; life expectancy has increased by five years; more than seven million children, including 2.5 million girls, are enrolled in school, seven times the number in 2001. While these are telling statistics, development and capacity-building programs will need to continue well into the future.
Afghanistan still faces many challenges, but continued support to development assistance and to security force sustainment will assist the Afghan Government in its goal of creating a secure and prosperous future for its people.
Australia has committed to support Afghanistan's security, governance and development beyond 2014. The comprehensive long- term partnership Australia signed with Afghanistan in May 2012 underpins our commitment to strengthening bilateral ties and long- term support. Australia has also pledged to contribute to a post-2014 'train, advise and assist' mission led by NATO. Through these and other initiatives, Australia will continue to work with our international and Afghan partners to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.