Soldier Killed in Action, soldier Wounded in Action on 2 February
3 February 2011
SPEAKER: Lieutenant General David Hurley, Acting Chief of Defence Force
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for attending. As the Acting Chief of the Defence Force it's with deep and sincere regret that I must inform you that an Australian soldier serving with Mentoring Task Force 2 has been killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan. A second soldier was seriously wounded in the incident. The next of kin of both soldiers have been informed. Both men are members of the Darwin-based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment and were conducting a dismounted partnered security control patrol with the Afghan National Army in Deh Rawud, Uruzgan province.
Immediately after the blast Australian and Afghan soldiers moved quickly to secure the site and provide first aid to their comrades. At the time weather conditions in Uruzgan were extremely poor ? rain, low cloud and large dust storms significantly reduced visibility. This created some initial difficulty launching the aero?medical evacuation helicopter but the US aircrew persevered in the dangerous conditions to get the aircraft off the ground within a few minutes. The air crew's actions meant the wounded Australians reached the medical facility at Tarin Kot within an hour.
The soldier who sustained serious wounds is now in a satisfactory condition at the Tarin Kot hospital and receiving ongoing medical treatment. His family have been informed. They have asked that the soldier's name not be released at this time. The deceased soldier's family was notified of his death overnight and has given approval for his name to be released.
Corporal Richard Edward Atkinson was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. The 22?year?old had previously deployed on Operation Padang Assist, a humanitarian assistance mission in Indonesia. He was engaged to be married.
I have spoken to the Chief of the Defence Force and advised him of Corporal Atkinson's death. On behalf of Air Chief Marshal Houston and the Defence community I extend our deepest sympathy to Corporal Atkinson's family, his friends and comrades. The entire ADF and Defence community is deeply saddened by the death of this fine young Australian soldier. Corporal Atkinson's family is in our thoughts and prayers and we give them our full support, particularly as they grieve at this time.
In the past few weeks Australian soldiers have been working with their Afghan partners from a new patrol base in the Tangi Valley. They have successfully discovered several insurgent caches including large amounts of explosives. Despite these small but significant successes, we must not forget that our soldiers are undertaking a difficult and dangerous mission.
We must also acknowledge the soldiers of the Mentoring Task Force in Afghanistan, they've lost one of their mates and I want them to know that they are in our thoughts as they look after each other and continue their important work. Their bond will be strengthened by the loss of Corporal Atkinson. So too will their resolve to carry on this important mission. Army will take great care of this soldier's family and support them through this difficult time and beyond.
Today I would ask all Australians to pause to honour this soldier's life. His bravery should not be forgotten and his sacrifice brings great honour to him, the Australian Defence Force, our Army and most especially his family. Corporal Atkinson's mates face some difficult days ahead as they prepare to send him home to his family. I'll now take your questions.
QUESTION: General, our understanding was they were on foot, were they looking for IEDs at the time that this explosion took place?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: The full details of the nature of the patrol and of what they were doing will come out in an inquiry and we will release the results of that as we normally do. They would be looking out for IEDs, we normally encounter them on patrol, they may not necessarily have been specifically looking for them as part of the mission on that day but they're obstacles to conducting operations.
QUESTION: This actually occurred in the Tangi Valley, is it?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: That's correct.
QUESTION: And that's a particular hot spot, that's where we lost a soldier only a few months ago.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Yes, we have had previous contact there last year. The establishment of a new patrol base has required us to work through our contacts, and grow our contacts with local community to expand our influence in that region.
QUESTION: Is it a particular hot spot?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: It's a difficult area for us, yes.
QUESTION: General, what does this say about the Taliban's ability to gather intelligence on the activities of Australians and their Afghan colleagues working in that area?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Throughout the operations we've had in Afghanistan for a number of years - they're astute, they watch, we need to be alert to that, we are, but you can't mitigate against all risks.
QUESTION: Are you able to say if this device was set off remotely or did the soldiers set it off?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Look, at the moment we don't have that detail and, as I say, once we've done the inquiry we'll come and inform the people, the nature of the device and what occurred.
QUESTION: There's a report of some civilians being killed in the explosion is that the same –
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Not included in any of the reports that we have.
QUESTION: General, I might have misheard you but I thought I heard you say that the wounded Australians were taken to Tarin Kot. At the point of arriving in Tarin Kot were both soldiers alive?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Corporal Atkinson was declared dead on arrival at the Tarin Kot facility but immediately after the incident he had no vital signs at the time before the AME helicopter arrived.
QUESTION: Were there other soldiers wounded?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: One other.
QUESTION: Sorry, so the total number of wounded just one?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: One killed in action, Corporal Atkinson, one wounded.
QUESTION: But no others?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: No others.
QUESTION: This IED was it a booby-trapped artillery around at all, is there any details about the device?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: No details at the present time. Again that will be part and parcel of the inquiry we do.
QUESTION: Can you explain why you were setting up this patrol base in the Tangi Valley in terms of the overall mission there, why were you pressing in and increasing your stake?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Across Uruzgan over the last number of years we've expended ISAF's influence in various regions, so you know we've been operating right up north to Gazab, Chora, out to the east to the Mirabad Valley. Similarly in the western area Deh Rawud as we continue to expand our influence, Tangi Valley is one area we need to get into.
QUESTION: You might have explained this, what time of day?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: It was about 9:30 in the morning their time.
QUESTION: That's yesterday morning?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Yesterday morning.
QUESTION: And they were operating out of this new base?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: What is the name of the base, can you tell us?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: QARIB, I'll get the exact spelling if you but QARIB.
QUESTION: One other question, is there any further detail on the wounding from last week, the accidental –
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: The soldier who was wounded in last week's incident is still in the Landstuhl medical facility in Germany. His condition is described as satisfactory and we'll now await for medical advice as to when he can be brought home.
QUESTION: There's no further detail on what caused that and specifically is there any suggestion that there was a partnered ANA soldier?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: That operation is still ongoing. I won't comment on the composition, what they're about at the present time, and again, as is our normal practice we'll bring those details out in an inquiry.
QUESTION: This is the first soldier lost by MTF-2?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Correct.
QUESTION: And, I'm sorry, I might have missed it but did you say where Corporal Atkinson came from?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: He's living in Darwin from the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment.
QUESTION: Do you know if that was his home town, whether he comes from some other part of Australia originally, whether his family is from somewhere else?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Western Australia.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL KEN GILLESPIE, CHIEF OF ARMY: Some of the family are in Western Australian and some of the family are in the southern States.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Primary contact was Western Australia. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Media contact: Defence Media Operations: 02 6127 1999 or 0408 498 664