Chief of the Defence Force – Press Conference
23 June 2013
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is my sad duty this morning to inform you of the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan.
At approximately 3pm yesterday our time, an Australian Special Forces soldier was killed in action by small arms fire during an insurgent engagement in Afghanistan. An Australian Special Forces soldier was seriously wounded as well, and a Royal Australian Air Force airman co-operating with the Joint Terminal Attack Control Team was also wounded during the engagement.
The members of the Australian Special Operations Task Group and the Afghan Provincial Response Company were conducting a partnered operation to disrupt an insurgent network operating in the Khod Valley in southern Afghanistan. This network is known to have direct influences on insurgent activity in Uruzgan Province. Such operations are important to support the Afghan national security forces as they take responsibility for security, and to enable the safe extraction of ISAF forces.
Members of the patrol provided immediate first aid to the casualties who were aero-medically evacuated to the Role 2 medical facility at Multi-National Base Tarin Kot. Sadly, despite their efforts, they could not save one of their mates.
The seriously wounded soldier has undergone surgery and is being transferred to the Role 3 medical facility at Kandahar Airfield for further treatment. The airman sustained a minor wound, and is currently receiving medical treatment in Tarin Kot.
All the members' families have been notified, and Defence is providing them with support and assistance. The family of the soldier who was killed in action has asked that his name not be released this morning. I ask that you respect their wishes and their privacy at this very difficult time.
This man was a decorated soldier from the Sydney Base 2nd Commando Regiment. His mates describe him as one of the most iconic figures in the Regiment. This was his fifth tour of Afghanistan, having previously served in Iraq and Timor-Leste.
In combat, and as a team commander, he was the man to watch, and never happier than when the situation demanded decisive action and courage.
On behalf of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, I extend my deepest sympathies to the soldier's family. We share their loss, and we feel their pain, and we will support them through the difficult days ahead.
My thoughts and prayers are also with our wounded personnel and their families, and I wish them a speedy recovery.
This news will be particularly difficult for the families of all our fallen soldiers, many of whom gathered yesterday at the opening of Australia's first national memorial for Afghanistan in Yungaburra, North Queensland. I know that they will continue to draw comfort and strength from each other this morning.
Each one of our fallen soldiers has made a difference. Their dedication to service, and to our nation, should be a great source of pride. I intend to see their work honoured, and see our mission through to completion.
In the coming days we will make arrangements to bring our fallen soldier home to his family and friends and, as with each of these incidents, I will also appoint an inquiry officer to fully examine the circumstances surrounding this event.
I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Could you just tell us a bit more about this gentleman - family, or a wife, kids, age?
GENERAL DAVID HURLEY: I think in terms of just [indistinct] that in privacy at the moment, we'll just leave that. I'm sure when they're ready we'll be able to provide all that detail.
QUESTION: General Hurley, can you provide some more details on the condition and prognosis of the seriously injured Special Forces soldier?
GENERAL DAVID HURLEY: Yes, he received a gunshot wound, has been operated on, he's self-notified his next of kin. So we expect that he'll recover well.
QUESTION: With the looming draw-down in Afghanistan, is this a reminder, I guess, that it's still very dangerous there?
GENERAL DAVID HURLEY: Yes I hear a lot of language that says, you know, Afghanistan coming to an end. This particular mission still has 18 months to go, until the end of next year and we - as the Prime Minister, Minister and I have said on a number of occasions, we will be there beyond that. So there's still a lot of work to be done.
QUESTION: Whenever there is the death of an Australian soldier it seems to ignite once again calls to reconsider the mission in Afghanistan. What do you say to that?
GENERAL DAVID HURLEY: I think we're beyond the point of reconsidering. We have a task to do, a job to be finished. We've been on that track for nearly three and a half or four year - four year cycle and the objectives are very clear here - transitioning to lead responsibility for the Afghan national security forces. We're in the process of doing that - careful planning for extraction of ISAF forces, and a transition to a new mission in 2015.
And the important messages are here to give confidence to the Afghan people through our actions - our continued support both militarily, development aid, and funding for the ANSF.
QUESTION: General Hurley, the regular forces have handed security to Afghan forces, but has the tempo of what Special Forces are doing, has that changed at all? Has it been reduced, and, I guess, is today's announcement a sign of that?
GENERAL DAVID HURLEY: The tempo has changed in the sense that we're really concentrating on the Provisional Response Company support now, and we've stopped providing support for some of the forces we were before. There's still a very active role for our Special Forces until, at least, the base closes at the end of this year.
QUESTION: Can you say anything more about the joint operation [indistinct]...?
GENERAL DAVID HURLEY: Over the last month or so we've been watching developments, and working alongside the Afghan national security forces, particularly in the western side of Uruzgan province, where there has been some insurgent activity and this operation is supporting a series of activities that have occurred over the last month or so.
Thank you very much.