As Australian troops come home from Afghanistan at the end of this year, they should be able to see stories of their efforts in more than a decade of conflict told in a major new exhibition at the Australian War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson admitted they could stage superlative exhibitions years after the return.

But he wants this Afghanistan exhibition sooner rather than later so those who have served in Afghanistan knew their story was being told.

Dr Nelson visited Afghanistan last year as Australia's ambassador to NATO.

He said a digger thanked him for looking after the "family jewels" in his new job as war memorial director.

"He said `look, when I take my son to the memorial I can show him what his great-grandfather did, I can show him what his grandfather did but I can't show him what I'm doing'," Dr Nelson told reporters.

There are now some 1550 Australian defence personnel in Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces are steadily taking responsibility for national security, with Australian troops preparing to withdraw.

Dr Nelson wants to stage the new Afghanistan exhibition before the end of the year, telling the stories through the voices and eyes of servicemen and women as they explain their work in Afghanistan.

He said the exhibition would explain why Australia went to Afghanistan in 2001 and why the mission ran for another 12 years.

"It is extraordinarily important that Australians understand what these men and women have been doing for us.

"And it's also important that the men and women who have served and continue to serve know that their story is being told now, that it is being told today and they understand that Australians have some insight into what they have all done."