PM makes surprise visit to troops

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made a flying visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan, telling them she wanted to be "in country" to discuss the transition to Afghan responsibility and Australia's role in the handover.

Ms Gillard mingled with hundreds of Australian soldiers at an informal dinner at the Australian headquarters at Tarin Kowt.

She told them stories of loss and survival that she had heard when she attended Friday's 10th anniversary commemorations of the Bali bombing, as she linked the tragedy that claimed 88 Australians to the troops' role in Afghanistan, countering international terrorism.

Earlier, Ms Gillard raised Australian concerns about "insider" attacks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai at a meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul.

Ms Gillard said the president had told her that everything that could be done was being done to prevent insider attacks, which in late August claimed the lives of three Australians in one incident.

During a long and hectic day, the PM was also briefed by the commander of the coalition forces, the United States' John Allen, as well as by the Australian military. She told a news conference later that General Allen had said the mission was on track for the full handover to the Afghan security forces by the end of next year.

He had made the point that two fighting seasons remained to prepare the Afghan troops.

At Tarin Kowt, Ms Gillard met the governor of Oruzgan province and inspected the hospital at the base, talking with Australian medical personnel before addressing the troops.

She related to the soldiers the story of someone who had been dancing at the Sari club on the night of the Bali bombing, leaving the floor because they didn't like the song being played - if they had stayed dancing they would have died.

She had also spoken to a girl who was 12 at the time: her sister had died and she had become separated from her father and was just "rattling around at the hotel".

"When you think about those stories, they really add up to something very powerful about what terrorism is about," Ms Gillard said.

In the flash of a second, the lives of people doing ordinary things were changed - people were left grieving for a lifetime or coping with the physical or psychological effects of injuries.

She said that all the more than 100 Australian deaths from terrorism since September 11, 2011 were linked back to Afghanistan in some form.

"And so it was fighting global terrorism that brought us here," she said. But it was one thing to define the mission - "it's another to come and do it".

"You're the people who come and do it, and it's really hard to do".

She got a laugh when she talked about the lack of hot showers being among to hardships but then went on to the "really big things" involving the loss of mates.

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