Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin – Press Conference – Death of 5 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan
30 August 2012
TRANSCRIPT: Death of 5 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan
TRANSCRIPTION: E & OE – PROOF ONLY
DATE: 30 August 2012
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
It's my sad and solemn duty to inform you that five Australian soldiers have been killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. Two soldiers have also been wounded in these incidents.
The first incident occurred inside Patrol Base Wahid, approximately 20 kilometres north of Tarin Kot in the Baluchi Valley.
In the first incident three Australian soldiers from the 3RAR Task Group were shot and killed when an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform opened fire with an automatic weapon from close range. Their comrades made every effort to revive the three soldiers but unfortunately their wounds proved fatal.
Two other Australian soldiers were also wounded in the shooting. One soldier sustained serious gunshot wounds and has been evacuated to the Multinational Base Tarin Kot for further treatment. He remains in a satisfactory condition.
The second wounded soldier suffered minor wounds in the shooting and, following first aid at the site, remains at the patrol base.
Australian soldiers returned fire but the perpetrator fled from the patrol base and operations are under way to detain the individual.
We have now notified the families of all the soldiers involved and Defence personnel continue to provide assistance.
At this time we are focused on supporting the soldiers' families and their comrades, and ensuring the wounded soldiers receive the best possible medical treatment.
The soldiers' families have asked that they—that we do not release any personal details at this time. However, I can give you some information about the three soldiers who were killed in the first incident.
All three soldiers were based at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane.
The first soldier was a 40-year-old Lance Corporal posted to the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment Queensland Mounted Infantry. He was on his second tour to Afghanistan and had previously deployed to Iraq.
The second soldier was a 23-year-old Private posted to the 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.
And the third soldier was a 21-year-old Sapper posted to the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment.
Both these young men were on their first operational deployment.
Our primary concern in Afghanistan is the safety and security of our Australian Defence Force members. ADF personnel in Uruzgan were already operating at a level of force protection beyond current ISAF requirements. However, as a result of this incident, all Australian personnel, in cooperation with Afghan Commanders, have adopted enhanced force protection measures, including additional security while an initial investigation into the shooting is under way.
That said, Afghanistan remains a difficult and dangerous environment, and an element of risk will always exist with our forces.
A team from the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service is moving to the site, and an ISAF investigation team is also reviewing the incident.
Regretfully, a second, unrelated incident has occurred earlier this morning local Afghan time. Two Australian Special Forces soldiers were killed when the ISAF helicopter they were travelling in crashed during a partnered mission in Helmand Province. Earlier reporting indicates the aircraft was attempting to land in the mission area when it crashed. There's no indication of enemy action causing that crash. An ISAF aircrewman was also wounded in the crash.
Special Operations Task Group and Afghan National Security Force personnel have secured the site. An air accident investigation will be conducted and the ADF will offer a qualified investigating officer to assist with the investigation.
This operation is ongoing so I cannot disclose the location or provide any further operational information on the mission at this time.
We have spoken to both soldiers' families and, again, they have requested that we do not release any personal details at this time. However, I can tell that one soldier was a 30-year-old Private who had deployed on several operational tours. The second soldier was also a Private. He was 23, and he was on his second tour of Afghanistan.
I have spoken to the Minister for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force who are both returning to Australia from overseas. Minister Smith, General Hurley, and Lieutenant General Morrison, the Chief of the Army, extend their deepest sympathy to the family, friends and comrades of our fallen soldiers, and their thoughts are with the wounded soldiers and their families.
Australia has lost five men today. They were soldiers who were committed to serving our nation. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming grief that their families are experiencing but I want them to know that the Army and the ADF community share their anguish and will continue to support them and care for them.
On behalf of the Defence community I offer my sincere condolences to the soldiers' families and their friends.
It's a terrible day for all of us, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been touched by these incidents.
Individually these are both complex incidents. The fact that they have occurred in such a short period of time creates an extremely complex scenario that has continued to unfold throughout the day. As I'm sure you'll appreciate, our first priority will always be to speak to the families before we release the details of any operational incident.
I've also spoken to the Prime Minister and I understand that she will be making a statement from the Cook Islands shortly, but I'm happy prior to that to take any questions.
QUESTION: Air Marshal, can you give us any more details of what the Australians were doing when this incident occurred. As you mentioned, there have been enhanced security precautions taken by our troops since the earlier incidents. Were our soldiers armed? And can you explain how the rogue Afghan soldier appears to have got away?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: As I understand it—and we're still getting the information in and it will be part of the investigation—it was at the end of the day. The soldiers were in a group relaxing and talking when the incident occurred.
But the perpetrator appears to have escaped across the fence. They've shot at him—actually, he's run. And currently we have Afghan and Australian forces out searching for him.
QUESTION: And what does it mean for the mission, the training mission? It must have hit the soldiers fairly hard. And on Facebook sites and elsewhere there's some very strong language from our soldiers who are completely dismayed by what's happened.
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: Yeah, I think morale at the moment has taken a hit over this understandably. But I don't think it's taken the will for us to fight and work with the Afghan forces in this partnering. And I have to say out of it we remain committed with the Afghan people to supporting the operation that we have in Uruzgan Province at the moment; committed to transitioning security for the Afghan forces and supporting them in their growing ability to plan and conduct operations.
QUESTION: Seven soldiers in the last 12 months have died at the hands of the ANA. If we're not going to pull out any sooner—and you talked about some of the measures that are taking place to better protect them. But is that going to be enough? I mean what else can we do to better protect soldiers?
Because this has happened before; but it's still happening. And it seems to be happening…
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: Well as you know, every time we have an incident and continually we look at the threat and we adapt our force protection measures.
We're at high levels at the moment.
We leave it to the commanders—the tactical commanders on the ground—to instigate the appropriate level that we have set. And - but we continue to adapt.
So we'll take… we'll look at this incident. We'll obviously have a quick investigation into it initially, make sure that any lessons that we can, we can instigate, and we can improve on what we already have.
But we are higher than the normal ISAF standards at the moment.
QUESTION: What are the specific things you are doing? They… they're…
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: For security reasons I don't want to go into the specifics, but it is a very high level of force protection, and there are a number of step measures that the tactical commanders can put in place in [indistinct]…
QUESTION: And just one more. We understand that more than 15 per cent of the deaths of ISAF soldiers have been green on blue, overall. While the overall death toll has reduced, green on blue incidents are rising. What's going wrong?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: Yeah. The insider threat is a threat that does concern us at the moment. And I know regardless of the reason that it may occur the Taliban will claim it for their own, regardless of whether there's a personal grievance, or whether it's a cultural insensitivity issue, a perception there, and it's a tactic that they would claim.
But I've got to say we do remain committed here to partnering with the Afghan forces, and we're not going to let something like this drive a wedge between us - and risk damaging the great progress that we've had with the Afghan forces over the last few years.
I think a number of you have been embedded and have seen…
QUESTION: The Americans have been quite candid about the fact that they now have what's called a guardian angel, you have troops meeting with Afghan soldiers. That means an armed American soldier in the room at all times. Do we have a similar arrangement?
And can you say, at this early stage, whether there's any early indicators as to why this Afghan soldier did what he did?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: On the first one it said we do have a number of measures in place. I will tell you we do run that guardian angel - in this case I don't know. We'll have to see in the investigation where that person may have been relating to the incident. And we do have some details of the perpetrator, and we're currently trying to track him as he has escaped.
But I don't want to go into anymore details on him at the moment.
QUESTION: But no early indications as to why he did what he did?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: No, and like many of these, it's difficult to understand the reasons behind it, but we're hoping that we can apprehend him and get to the bottom of what caused it.
QUESTION: Just on that insider threat, I know you don't know much about this incident, but looking back at a few of the green on blue attacks, does the bigger issue appear to be people joining the national army for the purpose of these attacks, or going rogue perhaps, with being influenced once they get in.
And what's the best way to try to stop that, whatever the case is?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: As you know, the reasoning does vary. We're not at the bottom of what it may have been in this case, but we have been working with the Afghan National Army in their vetting process, and they have been working harder in tightening up the vetting process on people that are joining the Afghan National Security Forces and they'll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Can you tell us the rank of the Afghan soldier or how long he'd served for?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: No. And I don't want to go into any details yet until we do the investigation and get all the facts.
QUESTION: Can you tell us more about the scenario itself? You said they were relaxing. Were they just amongst themselves, did he take them by surprise, or was he talking to them at the time and…
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: No, we don't have—as you'd understand, having these two complex events occur so close at the moment, we don't have the full details. But as I understand it the Australian soldiers were relaxing at the end of the evening.
I'm not sure where the perpetrator was. He's obviously in relatively close proximity, but I'm not sure of what the events where that led up to it.
And that will come out in the investigation.
QUESTION: Can you just give a few more details of the second incident? I realise it's an ongoing operation.
Was it an American helicopter—can you give details of just when, what time, what happened?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: It happened at 2.17 Afghanistan time this morning. So about 7.47 Australian standard time this morning.
It's an insertion… I won't go into the details of the operation—it happened during insertion. It happened on the landing phase, and it appears that the helicopter has landed and rolled over, and that's all I know at the moment. It was an ISAF helicopter.
You'd appreciate that the nation involved would also be going through its notification processes at the moment.
So I don't want to mention the country at this stage.
QUESTION: Does this latest green on blue attack put the mentoring process in jeopardy— is it going to be harder to tell Australian soldiers you should trust your Afghan counterparts?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: I have no doubt there'll be a bit of stress there as we're working with our Afghan partners. You've got to remember, though, the Afghan National Army and the people we're working with take this just as seriously as we do.
And they—you know, I mean, it affects them because of their professional I guess standards that may come into question here.
So they normally want to focus on getting the perpetrator as well and continuing to build that close relationship with the ADF.
So I think that it won't stop the will power that we have with our troops to do this, but obviously they will be a bit wary.
QUESTION: A lot of the bases in that area are shared bases, shared spaces. Is it time to start to think about separate bases for Australian and Afghan forces, or would that undermine what you're trying to achieve in the training?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: Actually, the bases are not as shared now as what they were when I think you may have been embedded, because as a part of this transition—as we have mentored the Afghan National Army into being able to plan and conduct their operations, we're now moving ourselves further back towards Tarin Kot, and we'll continue with that program.
Obviously, out of this we'll assess how we do that in the relationship, as we always do. But no, it won't change the current way that we're working.
QUESTION: At least I think 100 coalition instructors have been killed in a whole series of incidents and more than 40 this year.
Has there been any high level discussion with ISAF over how to deal with it? Or what does a… what implication this has for the transition in Afghanistan?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: I don't believe this will affect the transition as it stands. But we do have close discussions with ISAF. In fact, General Allen has been speaking to General Hurley this afternoon on that. It hasn't made the commitment waver at all. We are still fully committed in this. But ISAF obviously wants to make sure that if we learn anything here that we adapt the procedures right across Afghanistan to be the best that we can do. So we continue to do that.
QUESTION: Firstly, how hopeful are you of catching the perpetrator of the first incident. And secondly, has there been any intelligence about Taliban infiltration that you've been concerned about in the lead up to this incident, or blackmailing of Afghan forces?
AIR MARSHAL BINSKIN: The second answer first—no, we haven't had any intelligence indication. We're hopeful that we can capture the perpetrator. We'll partner with the Afghan National Army as we do this to try and do it. But we'll just have to see how this operation unfolds.
Thank you very much.
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