Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has visited Australia's troops in Afghanistan, telling them that "it's about time we brought you back."
Rudd, who only weeks ago took over the leadership of the ruling Labor Party from the embattled Julia Gillard, said he was there to thank the 1,550 Australian troops serving in Afghanistan ahead of a withdrawal of most of the force later this year.
Most Australian Defense Force troops are located at the Tarin Kowt base, about 200 miles southwest of Kabul in Uruzgan province, which is being handed over to the Afghan authorities.
Rudd, who is facing an uncertain political future ahead of a looming federal election, broke with convention in bringing along his wife.
According to The Australian newspaper, Therese Rein — a millionaire businesswoman — became the first wife of a serving Australian Prime Minister to visit a war zone since the Vietnam War era.
The visit also came as polling back in Australia showed the Labor Party's prospects for re-election improving — a situation that owes much to Rudd's own personal popularity.
Still, Australia's ABC cited Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as saying the poll — which puts Labor's primary vote at 40 percent, higher than at the 2010 election, which they won — did not make him nervous.
"Absolutely we can win but it won't be easy. We are not far from the summit but it's still a long, hard climb."
Rudd's visit to Afghanistan quashed mounting speculation that he might call an election for the end of next month.
However, to do that he would need visit to the governor general in Canberra, Australia's capital, by Monday to request an Aug. 31 election.
He would be unlikely to make it back to the country in time, leaving September the most likely poll date.
In his speech to Aussie troops at Tarin Kowt, Rudd said:
"Your mums and dads, your brothers and sisters, your wives and husbands and partners and your kids are all enormously proud of you. It's time we brought you home... when the flag of Australia is brought down for the last time a few months from now, you will have been a part of history."
Provincial governor Akhundzada told Rudd that there had been an "80 percent" improvement in the province over a decade.