Vice Chief of the Defence Force - Press conference
29 June 2012
Good morning. Today I’m announcing that Defence has finalised the inquiries into the deaths of three Australian soldiers, who died in separate incidents on operations inAfghanistanin 2011.
The deaths of SGT Brett Wood, SGT Todd Langley and Lance Corporal Andrew Jones continue to be felt deeply by their colleagues and the broader ADF. And our thoughts remain with their families whose loss is beyond words.
As the Minister for Defence stated during his address to Parliament in February, any decision to publicly release an Inquiry Officer Report rightly comes after weighing the wishes of the family members about publication and the clear public interest in the release of the report more widely.
Each Inquiry Report is considered on a case by case basis. Today I will release details and a redacted version of the Inquiry Officer's Report into the death of Lance Corporal Jones.
I will also make a brief statement about the deaths of Sergeants Wood and Langley, but I will not be releasing the Inquiry Officer Reports into their deaths.
SERGEANT BRETT WOOD
Sergeant Brett Wood was a member of a Special Operations Task Group force element conducting clearance operations in southernAfghanistanon 23 May 2011.
He was killed and two of his fellow commandos were wounded when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), laid by insurgents, detonated.
Sergeant Wood was a distinguished and highly experienced soldier. He deployed toAfghanistanon three occasions and was awarded the Medal for Gallantry for leadership in action as a Team Commander. Sergeant Wood was also posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for distinguished leadership in action and the United States Meritorious Service Medal.
The Inquiry Officer appointed to examine the circumstances surrounding Sergeant Wood’s death noted that the initial treatment the patrol medics provided to him was exceptional, especially considering that they were also wounded in the explosion.
In his report, the Inquiry Officer made a number of recommendations which Defence is taking action to implement. However details of the report’s recommendations may compromise operational security or the Privacy Act and therefore cannot be publicly released.
The Inquiry Officer also recommended that a Commission of Inquiry into Sergeant Wood’s death was not warranted.
The Minister has weighed the wishes of the Wood family and any public interest in the release of the Report and has decided not to publicly release the Report into Sergeant Wood’s death.
SERGEANT TODD LANGLEY
Sergeant Todd Langley was an Australian commando who was serving with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) when he was struck by small-arms fire during an engagement with insurgents in southernAfghanistanon 4 July 2011. Sergeant Langley was killed instantly while coordinating support for a fellow soldier who was wounded.
Sergeant Langley was an exceptionally experienced soldier on his fifth deployment toAfghanistan. He had also undertaken two deployments toEast Timor.
The Inquiry Officer appointed to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sergeant Langley commended members of the SOTG for their actions during highly stressful circumstances involving the death of a member of their team and another serious casualty.
The Inquiry Officer made only one recommendation which was that a Commission of Inquiry into his death was not warranted.
The Minister has weighed the wishes of theLangleyfamily and any public interest in the release of the Report and has decided not to publicly release the Report into Sergeant Langley’s death.
LANCE CORPORAL ANDREW JONES
Lance Corporal Andrew Jones died from wounds after he was shot while inside Patrol Base Mashal, approximately 30 kilometres north of Tarin Kot on 30 May 2011.
The Inquiry Officer concluded that LCPL Jones was shot in a so-called 'green on blue' incident by a rogue member of the Afghan National Army – Shafied Ullah who had recently been posted to Patrol Base Mashal.
Considering the specific circumstances of this case and following the ADF’s consultation with the Jones family, the Minister has agreed in the public interest to release this Inquiry Officer Report.
LCPL Jones was a cook attached to the Mentoring Task Force 2 (MTF2) and serving at Patrol Base Mashal. At the time, Mashal was a joint Australian and ANA base.
The patrol base is a small triangular facility, approximately 100 metres by 100 metres, with an observation tower at each point of the triangle. I know that a number of embedded journalists have visited the base in recent years and will remember it.
Around 5.30 am on 30 May 2011, a joint Australian/ANA patrol left the base on a routine task in a nearby village. A number of ADF and ANA members remained at Mashal. That morning, two ANA soldiers, including Shafied Ullah, manned one of the observation towers, referred to as tower 3. One of these two soldiers was observed away from the tower, in another part of the base, just before LCPL Jones was shot.
At 8.19 am, personnel at the Patrol Base heard a short burst of gunfire in the vicinity of tower 3. Australian and Afghan personnel responded to the shooting. On arrival at the tower, they saw one ANA member firing a weapon in an outward direction over the perimeter wall.
An Australian officer saw an Afghan man running away from the base. At that time the man, whom we now know was Shafied Ullah, was about 600 metres from Mashal.
Australian personnel found LCPL Jones had been shot while at a urinal which was located just metres from tower 3. Lance Corporal Jones’ colleagues immediately commenced first aid while calling for an aero medical evacuation. Their efforts kept Lance Corporal Jones alive until the AME team arrived at the patrol base. Lance Corporal Jones was evacuated by helicopter and arrived at the Role 2 medical facility at Multi National Base – Tarin Kot less than 50 minutes after he was shot.
Surgeons at the Tarin Kot medical facility operated on Lance Corporal Jones for a number of hours. Tragically, though, he died at 12.39 pm.
Back at Patrol Base Mashal, the ANA members were visibly upset that one of their troops had killed an ADF member and they willingly participated in joint patrols to locate Shafied Ullah in the local area over a period of several days. These joint patrols contributed to rebuilding trust between Australians and Afghans at Mashal.
The Australian Defence Force Investigative Service attended Patrol Base Mashal. They examined and photographed the scene, collected physical evidence, searched Shafied Ullah’s belongings, and conducted interviews with Australian and ANA personnel.
Three weeks after LCPL Jones was killed, coalition troops located Shafied Ullah at a house in Khost approximately 500 kilometres east of Tarin Kot. Ullah was shot and killed when he threatened coalition forces with a weapon as they attempted to capture him.
I will be frank – the death of LCPL Jones was a cowardly act of murder. This murder was distressing for LCPL Jones’ family, his colleagues and Australians more broadly. It was also a personal and professional affront to the ANA members at Mashal.
The Australian personnel at the base responded in a calm and measured way to coordinate medical support for LCPL Jones and isolate evidence at the scene. I want to take this chance to highly commend their professional response in such a complex situation.
While there were no witnesses to the shooting itself, the Inquiry Officer concluded that on all available evidence Shafied Ullah deliberately shot Lance Corporal Jones.
A number of factors led the inquiry team to this conclusion:
- Shafied Ullah’s weapon was found abandoned at the scene;
- His weapon had discharged a number of rounds and expended cartridges recovered from the scene;
- He fled the scene following the shooting;
- Shafied Ullah was alone in the tower at the time of the shooting, and
- he was aware that a joint patrol was operating away from the base, which reduced the opportunity for Australian forces to respond.
Additionally the ADF has specific intelligence which supports the finding that Shafied Ullah shot and killed Lance Corporal Jones . As you will appreciate, I am not in a position to elaborate on that intelligence material.
We will never know why Shafied Ullah shot LCPL Jones. There was no evidence to indicate that he had prior links to insurgents, was influenced by anyone else, or had made any preparations to commit such a violent act against Australian forces.
It is important to note that Lance Corporal Jones got on well with the ANA members he worked closely with at Patrol Base MASHAL. There is no indication that Shafied Ullah knew LCPL Jones or specifically sought him out.
Immediately following the shooting, Defence took action to review tactical force protection measures. We also took into account lessons learned by our Coalition partners.
The force protection review determined it was highly unlikely that a higher force protection posture would have changed the circumstances in which Lance Corporal Jones was shot.
The review determined that major changes were not warranted.
For obvious reasons, I will not go into the details of force protection measures that were or are implemented. But I should highlight that these measures are continually reviewed to ensure they reflect the known security environment.
The Inquiry Officer made 32 findings. All the findings except one are available in the released version of the Inquiry report. One has been redacted to preserve operational security.
The Inquiry Officer concluded that Shafied Ullah acted alone in deliberately shooting LCPL Jones with a 3-4 round burst. It was determined that LCPL Jones received a number of gunshot wounds which were consistent with him being shot from the direction and elevation of tower 3.
The Inquiry found that at the time Lance Corporal Jones was shot, he was unarmed and was not wearing any personal protective equipment. However his wounds were outside the coverage of standard body armour. And he was in compliance with the force protection measures for the Patrol Base.
The Inquiry found the force protection measures employed at the base at the time of Lance Corporal Jones’ death were consistent with the known threat at the time. There were no prior warnings that identified Shafied Ullah as a specific threat nor was there any prior intelligence or indication within the base to warn of the possible attack against an Australian soldier.
The Inquiry Officer noted that while there was a strong and workable relationship between Australian and Afghan forces at Patrol Base Mashal, there remains a constant but manageable tension at mentoring locations – generally due to cultural issues.
These tensions are mitigated through establishing close personal working relationships, conducting joint patrols and other activities like sport. ADF members who are preparing to deploy toAfghanistanalso receive thorough cultural briefings prior to departingAustralia.
There is a fine balance to be achieved in building trust and confidence between Australian and Afghan troops. The Inquiry Officer noted that measures like carrying weapons and wearing body armour on base might mitigate short term risks to Australian soldiers, but it will not engender trust and the subsequent force protection that trust provides in the long term.
The ADF continues to do everything possible to minimise risk to our people but ultimatelyAfghanistanis a highly complex and dangerous operating environment and an element of risk will always exist.
The Inquiry found no identified weaknesses or deficiencies in Defence systems, policies, equipment practices, procedures and training which may have contributed directly or indirectly to the death of Lance Corporal Jones.
The Inquiry Officer made two recommendations in his report. The Chief of the Defence Force has agreed to both recommendations which are being implemented.
For operational security reasons, details of the first recommendation cannot be publicly released. The second recommendation was that appointing a Commission of Inquiry into the death of Lance Corporal Jones was not warranted.
Since the death of LCPL Jones there have been two other incidents involving ANA personnel which have resulted in the deaths of three ADF members and the wounding of ten.
These incidents were at different locations and in very different circumstances to the incident involving LCPL Jones.
An Inquiry Officer report into these two incidents will be completed shortly. Defence will consider the findings and recommendations of this report when it is completed. The families of these soldiers will be briefed on the outcomes. However, as the report is not yet finalised, it is not appropriate to comment on these incidents.
The LCPL Jones Inquiry Officer report will be uploaded to the Defence website shortly. There have been some redactions – for operational security and privacy reasons.
Lance Corporal Andrew Jones was a popular member of his unit, a dedicated soldier who died tragically while serving his country. He was murdered by a rogue member of the ANA. Again I commend the professional and balanced response by his mates in what was a very traumatic situation – they did all they could in attempting to save LCPL Jones’ life.
I also recognise the strong leadership of the ANA in responding to this shooting. The Commander of the ANA 4th Brigade clearly stated that the ANA would take all measures to support the capture of Shafied Ullah.
This was reflected at the tactical level with ANA members from Patrol Base Mashal willingly participating in joint patrols to try to locate Ullah. The ANA’s response to this incident assisted in rebuilding trust between Australian and Afghan members at Mashal.
An operational death is difficult to accept under any circumstance, but particularly so, when it is caused by someone we are mentoring.
The death of LCPL Jones and the tragic deaths of other ADF members will not change our resolve and commitment to this important mission. That task is to build the capacity of the Afghan security forces, so that they can take responsibility for the future stability of their nation.
I again offer my thoughts and sympathy to the families and colleagues of SGT Wood, SGT Langley and LCPL Jones. The families have requested privacy and we ask that you respect that.
I will now take your questions.
MARK BINSKIN: I will now take questions. David.
QUESTION: Thank you for your presentation. Just one thing to clarify if I could. You appear to be going to some pains to spell out that despite speculation at the time, there was really no opportunity for provocation in this shooting, that it was quite opportunistic and appears to have been quite spontaneous. Would you care to comment on that?
MARK BINSKIN: I'd agree with that. There was no indication of any provocation that led to this, there was no indication that he had deliberately targeted Lance Corporal Jones and planned it, but we will never know what his intent was - what he was thinking that led to this unfortunately.
QUESTION: And if I could ask one more question. Today's sad announcements do throw into relief the fact that we have had the good fortune to go for all of this calendar year without a combat death in Afghanistan. And I just wondered if you could comment on whether some of the lessons learnt from previous inquiries have contributed to the improved safety.
And also it was recently put to me that one of the reasons that we have had this commendable result is because of the effectiveness in suppressing the insurgency, particularly the leadership in Uruzgan.
MARK BINSKIN: There's no doubt that Afghanistan remains a complex and dangerous environment. As with any report that we have done, any investigation we've done over the years, we always roll those lessons into improving our operations - improving our force protection measures.
That would go someway towards, I think, the success that we've had until now. I think it is also indicative of the operations that are currently going on in Afghanistan. But again I will say to you it is a dangerous place. We have Australians in harm’s way every day. But their courage and their professionalism is, I think, what's getting us through over there at the moment with good intelligence, good support, and more importantly, I think what you're seeing is the ANA stepping up to the mark as well.
They've never lacked courage. But now you're seeing far more professionalism and I think leadership, as they're stepping up at the moment in taking over the role of security, especially in Uruzgan, as we go into an adviser role.
QUESTION: Vice Chief, can I ask how long Shafied Ullah had been with the ANA, and is there a report being done into how he was killed in Khost in terms of how that played out, and what can you tell us about how he was actually killed?
MARK BINSKIN: He was in the ANA for four months. He had been at the patrol base for only nine days. I don't know about a report that ISAF may have done into his death during the attempted capture at Khost. I can chase that up for you if you want.
QUESTION: It was an American special forces member that killed him, is that correct?
MARK BINSKIN: It was ISAF. But it was not Australian.
QUESTION: Right. And are you able to tell us, there was some original report that he'd pulled a gun and that he was shot, is that right?
MARK BINSKIN: He did pull out a pistol as I understand during the capture, and the ISAF forces acted in self-defence.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that he wasn't captured alive? I mean he could have filled in a lot of gaps as to why he actually did what he did.
MARK BINSKIN: Yes, I agree. The aim of that mission was to capture him alive so that he could be brought to trial.
QUESTION: You mentioned the issue of trust, in terms of the soldiers and them struggling with this issue, how does this impact them?
MARK BINSKIN: I think it does play a bit on their mind but developing that close personal working relationship with the soldiers that they're mentoring goes a long way to putting that issue behind them.
And you've got to remember, this act was seen as an affront by the ANA soldiers as well, they really took it personally at that patrol base that one of their own would do this, so I think that close personal relationship does go a long way to mitigating that risk.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about the report into the death of Todd Langley. Did any of that report look at the issue as to the time he'd spent in theatre, in terms of how many tours he'd had in Afghanistan and consider that?
MARK BINSKIN: I don't believe it was a factor, but I will have to check that. But again I don't want to talk too much about Sergeant Langley. I want to respect the wishes of his family.
MARK BINSKIN: He had had five operational tours in Afghanistan, you're right.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is that a lot of tours for a commando to have carried out in Afghanistan or is that…
MARK BINSKIN: I mean it is a higher number. Where it sits on an average for someone of his rank and his experience, I'm not too sure.
I will say to you, though, you try and stop them going and they get a bit frustrated.
QUESTION: Thank you [indistinct].
MARK BINSKIN: Thank you for attending today.