Chief of Defence Force General David Hurley and Minister for Defence Stephen Smith
DAVID HURLEY: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, it’s with deep regret that I’m here tonight to inform you that an Australian soldier serving with the Mentoring Task Force Three (MTF-3) has been killed in action in Afghanistan.
The soldier was conducting a mentored patrol with elements of the Afghan National Army and other coalition forces in the Khas Uruzgan region, 85 kilometres north-east of Tarin Kot when what is believed to have been an improvised explosive device detonated at approximately 0230 hours local Afghan time, or eight o’clock this morning Australian Eastern time.
The soldier was seriously wounded and received immediate first aid from his patrol mates before an aero medical team transferred him to the Role 2 medical facility in Tarin Kot where he received further medical treatment. Unfortunately the soldier died from his wounds shortly after arrival.
The solder was a respected member of the Townsville based second battalion the Royal Australian Regiment. Although this was his first deployment to Afghanistan he had previously served in East Timor in 2009. He deployed to Afghanistan with MTF-3 in June.
We have completed the notification of the soldier’s next of kin within the last hour. They have asked that we do not release any personal details at this time and I ask that you respect their privacy.
The soldier’s colleagues describe him as a man who excelled at any task he was assigned and a soldier who was proud to serve his country.
An ISAF soldier was also seriously wounded in the same incident. He is receiving medical treatment and is in a stable condition. No other Australian or Afghan soldiers were wounded.
Our investigation process has already begun and I will not be in a position to answer many of your questions until the investigation processes have been completed.
In the coming days, the members of MTF-3 will prepare to send their mate home to his family and friends and we know that this will be a tough job. But I am confident that the men and women of MTF-3 will honour their mate’s memory and continue their mission. And at this time our thoughts also turn to the families of the 28 soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan.
On behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I offer the soldier’s family and friends our deepest sympathy. They face difficult times ahead, but we will take care of them. They will not face these difficult days alone.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much General Hurley, can I join with the Chief of the Defence Force to offer condolences to the family, the friends and the mates of this deceased brave Australian soldier.
As General Hurley has indicated, the family has asked that no personal details of our fallen soldier be provided, they will be provided in due course in accordance with the family’s wishes.
This is, of course, the twenty-ninth fatality that we have suffered in Afghanistan. The eighth this year coming a month or so after the death of Todd Langley. This will be a terrible blow to an Australian family tonight. It will also be a terrible reminder to 28 other Australia families and the thoughts of the entire nation will be with those families tonight.
So far as our mission in Afghanistan is concerned, I again make the point that we believe we are on track to achieve our mission in Afghanistan. We are on track to transition to Afghan-led responsibility for security arrangements in Uruzgan by 2014.
This of course does not make it any easier for a family, Australian families, or for the nation to bear the burden of another fatality.
We believe that what we are doing in Afghanistan is in our national security interests, and also in the international community’s interests, helping to stare down, as it does, international terrorism.
So this will be a tough night for 2RAR, a tough night for Army, and a tough night for our nation.
Before the Chief of the Defence Force and I respond to your questions, can I just take this opportunity of putting on record Australia’s condolences to New Zealand for the loss of a soldier in Afghanistan over the weekend. Corporal Douglas Grant, who has been named today by New Zealand authorities, lost his life in defence of the British Council in Kabul.
On Saturday I took the opportunity of expressing my condolences to New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, as the Prime Minister did by telephone to New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key. His death will be felt very much by our ANZAC partner New Zealand, and I know that the contribution that New Zealand made in responding to the attack is very much appreciated by the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom’s Special Adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Sedwill is in Canberra today. I met with him today and he expressed the United Kingdom’s great regard for New Zealand’s effort over the weekend and also relayed condolences to New Zealand for the death of their fallen soldier.
General Hurley and I are able to response to your questions.
JOURNALIST: General, can you give us details of a rank or an age of the soldier?
DAVID HURLEY: At the moment please just appreciate the family would like all those personal details kept private, thank you.
JOURNALIST: So it was a patrol that was in the early hours of the morning. Just how common is it – these night time patrols, are they a fairly common occurrence?
DAVID HURLEY: Yes, we patrol pretty much 24 hours around the clock and it’s not uncommon at all for us to do a patrol at night.
JOURNALIST: Was the patrol part of any particular operation or mission, or was it just a routine patrol?
DAVID HURLEY: They were operating from the patrol base located in the region, Khas Uruzgan, conducting a reconnaissance patrol when the incident occurred.
JOURNALIST: What was the name of the patrol base?
DAVID HURLEY: Anaconda.
JOURNALIST: And were you able to say whether he was married or single or…
DAVID HURLEY: None of those personal details for release at the moment thanks.
STEPHEN SMITH: We’ve been asked by the family to not provide any details at this point in time, they’ll be released in due course in accordance with the family’s wishes but we’re not proposing to detail that. As you would expect this is a very tough time for the family and they need a short period of time to come to terms with the immediate bad news that they have received, the terrible news they’ve received this afternoon and this evening.
JOURNALIST: So it was a dismounted patrol and the other person wounded was an Afghan soldier, is that correct?
DAVID HURLEY: Dismounted patrol, and all we can say at the moment the other person was a coalition member, and it’s really up to the nation to go through their processes to inform.
JOURNALIST: Normally you tell us about wounded Afghans, so we can assume that it wasn’t an Afghan.
DAVID HURLEY: It was not an Afghan, it was a coalition soldier, ISAF.
JOURNALIST: And that person, how seriously wounded are they.
DAVID HURLEY: At the moment all we’re aware of is they’re seriously wounded, but in a stable condition. He is in the Role 2 facility in Tarin Kot and he’ll possibly be relocated to the Kandahar Role 3 Hospital.
JOURNALIST: And did the incident involve any other contact with insurgents or was it just the –
DAVID HURLEY: No, just the improvised explosive device is all we’re aware of at this present time.
JOURNALIST: And you don’t know anything about the explosion? How the device was triggered or anything like that?
DAVID HURLEY: No at this stage all we’re aware of – we believe it was IED, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
All right, any others? Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask the Minister, I mean, this is 29 th death in Afghanistan. Each death makes it more difficult for you to convince the nation of the need to be there, what do you say to those people who say 29 is enough, we should leave?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well every death that occurs in Afghanistan, the death of any and every Australian in Afghanistan is a terrible tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the family concerned, so tonight we’ll have a grieving Australian family. It’s also a terrible reminder to 28 other families of the loss that they have suffered. But my response is as I indicated in my earlier remarks. We believe we’re on track to complete our mission in Afghanistan which is to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility by 2014.
We’ve been in Afghanistan for a considerable period of time and we’ve been in Afghanistan under United Nations mandate, not just with our alliance partner, the United States, but also with an International Security Assistance Force, and we very strongly believe that what we’re doing is not just in our own national security interests, but also in the international community’s interests. And we are part of an international community effort to make sure that Afghanistan, in particular the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area does not again become a breeding ground for international terrorism.
It’s a tragedy for our nation tonight, but equally it’s a tragedy for our nation whenever we are on the receiving end of terrorist atrocities whether they occur in South-East Asia, or in Europe, or in the United States and we have been on the receiving end of those as well. It’s a tough night for Australia, it’s a tough night for army, it’s a tough night for 2RAR. This, I think, will be their first fatality in Afghanistan and a terrible night for the family, but what we’re doing, we very strongly believe, is in our national interest and we will continue to complete our mission, together with our international partners in Uruzgan and Afghanistan.
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