Thirteen years after the first diggers set foot in the still smouldering, devastated city of Dili, Australia has ended its security mission in East Timor, handing responsibility to local security forces.
Australia formally concluded the operation on Thursday with 400 troops now preparing to head home. The process of repatriating equipment and closing bases will be completed by April next year.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith says East Timor has seen its economy grow and its institutions strengthen, culminating this year with three successful rounds of national elections, celebrations of the 10th anniversary of independence and a new government.
"Timorese security services have risen to the challenge and served their nation well throughout these events," Mr Smith said this week.
Australia's withdrawal from East Timor is step one in the long-anticipated drawdown of forces engaged in international operations.
The mission in the Solomon Islands will end soon, while the task group in southern Afghanistan is well advanced in handing security responsibility to Afghan forces, a prelude to the withdrawal of most Australian forces.
The East Timor mission began around dawn on September 20, 1999, when an RAAF C-130 transport aircraft touched down at Dili's airport and offloaded a team of special forces.
Within 48 hours, two entire Australian infantry battalions stood guard over the devastated city, still smouldering amid the destruction wrought by Indonesian-backed militia groups.
Outraged that East Timorese people had voted overwhelmingly for independence rather than an ongoing association with Indonesia, the militias had embarked on an orgy of murder, rape, looting and burning.
The ensuing military intervention was broadly popular in Australia, especially with the political left which had long championed the East Timorese cause, and who had annoyed a succession of Australian governments that had placed good relations with Jakarta ahead of lowly East Timor.
At the peak, Australian troops accounted for 6500 of the total force of 9000 from more than 20 nations that was posted to East Timor.
The worst fear of Australia's commander General Peter Cosgrove was that a minor encounter, such as an exchange of shots between keyed-up diggers and resentful Indonesians at a checkpoint, could escalate into major conflict.
It never happened, but there were many incidents that threatened to turn into crises.
Indonesian troops steadily withdrew and the militias melted away. Militia incursions from West Timor over ensuing months produced some firefights, which Australian troops invariably won.
Understandably, relations with Jakarta nosedived.
But they did not hit rock-bottom - and now they are stronger than ever, aided by mature diplomacy on both sides and generous Australian assistance following the disastrous Asian tsunami of December 2004.
East Timor became an independent nation on May 20, 2002, albeit one of the world's poorest.
With military deployments into Afghanistan and then Iraq, Australian attentions turned away from East Timor.
With a renewed UN mandate set to come into effect on May 20, 2006, Australia envisaged a military presence of just 100 soldiers in the new nation state.
But East Timor did not make it to that date before violence erupted, with an army mutiny leading to widespread civil disorder across Dili.
At the request of the East Timor government, Australia sent the troops back - the numbers rapidly swelling from single figures to around 2000.
As the tension eased, Australian troop numbers were reduced to fewer than 800. Then in February 2008, assassination attempts directed at President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao sparked a fresh crisis, and troops were boosted to around 900.
As Afghanistan operations intensified, the East Timor mission returned to a low-key presence, with reservists deployed in place of regular units and soldiers even conducting patrols on bicycles rather than in armoured vehicles.
Recognising the improved security situation and East Timor's increasing ability to manage its own affairs, Australia has again reduced the troop presence. The number has remained at around 400 for the last couple of years.
The UN mission mandate expired in February.
Australia and East Timor have held various talks on the future of the Australian presence.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith indicated in March that troops would stay for presidential and parliamentary elections. Both were conducted successfully.
Earlier this month, New Zealand withdrew its 80 soldiers, ending a mission only slightly shorter than Australia's.
East Timor has cost Australia a vast amount of money but mercifully few lives.
Lance Corporal Russell Eisenhuth died of respiratory illness in Dili in January 2000. Corporal Stuart Jones died in August 2000 when a rifle accidentally discharged as he and fellow soldiers travelled in an armoured vehicle near the border with West Timor.
In November 2007, Private Ashley Baker died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Craftsman Beau Pridue died in a vehicle accident in September 2011.
New Zealand experienced one combat casualty, when Private Leonard Manning, 24, was shot dead in a militia ambush in July 2000. Three more New Zealand servicemen died in accidents and one took his own life.
This certainly isn't the end of Australian involvement in East Timor.
Twenty-five civilian and uniformed defence personnel will remain to assist the nation's military and Secretariat of Defence under the long-running Defence Cooperation Program.
"Current areas of focus include infrastructure support, strengthening engineering and nation-building capabilities, finance and governance training, continuing our English language program and furthering maritime security assistance," a defence spokesman said.
Similarly, 33 Australian Federal Police officers will stay in East Timor under a continuing program to train local police.
Australia also provides a large amount of development aid, totalling $127 million in 2012/13.
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