Vice Chief of the Defence Force – public release of Inquiry Officer’s Report into the death of Private Nathan Bewes
26 October 2011
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Today I am releasing the Inquiry Officer's report into the death of Private Nathan Bewes.
Private Bewes was serving with Mentoring Task Force - One in Afghanistan when he was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device on (Friday) 09 July 2010.
Private Nathan Bewes was a very popular member of his Platoon and was well-known throughout the Task Force.
He was a highly courageous soldier who would often volunteer for difficult tasks and those who had the privilege of serving with him still feel his loss.
Despite his age, Private Bewes was an experienced soldier. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan and had also served in East Timor.
On the evening of 9 July 2010, Private Bewes was part of a short-notice foot patrol conducting operations in the vicinity of Combat Out Post MASHAL in the North Baluchi Valley in Uruzgan Province.
The patrol had detained a person of interest and was returning to Combat Out Post MASHAL when Private Bewes crossed a raised track that ran parallel to an aqueduct. At this point an IED detonated, killing Private Bewes instantly.
Private Bewes was wearing the approved in-service combat helmet and body-armour at the time of the incident but, unfortunately, owing to his position in relation to the blast, the protective effects of the equipment were negated.
Another soldier from the same patrol suffered minor wounds as a result of the blast. This soldier has since returned to full duty.
I have described this as a short-notice patrol, by which I mean it was planned and executed in a time sensitive manner. The Officer Commanding ordered the patrol in order to better understand the unusually aggressive insurgent contact against an Afghan National Army patrol in the same area earlier that day.
The Inquiry Report refers to three specific issues raised by some soldiers during the planning for the patrol and criticisms raised from the perspective of some patrol members. These were:
the conduct of an Australian-only patrol, that is, it was not accompanied by an Afghan partnered force;
the combat support available to the patrol; and
the decision to proceed with the patrol after these issues had been raised.
Let me put the Inquiry Officer’s comments into some context.
Firstly, the MTF mission guidelines, approved by CJTF633, allow for occasions when Afghan Forces may not be directly involved in an operation.
I understand that there will be interest in knowing more about the circumstances where the ANA is not involved in an MTF patrol. However, I will not be providing further information on this. To do so would disclose classified details about the ADF and ANA operating profile. You will note that this information has been redacted from the report.
In this instance, ANA soldiers operating at Combat Out Post MASHAL had already completed a patrol that morning.
The Inquiry Officer found that undertaking an Australian-only patrol was appropriate. It was planned, authorised and conducted in accordance with the mission guidelines.
Secondly, all patrols undertaken by ANA and coalition forces have appropriate support on-call if required.
The Inquiry Officer identified that it was unlikely those involved in this incident were aware of the specific combat support arrangements which had been developed by their higher headquarters in case the patrol required additional support.
Although these support mechanisms are readily available, they are not necessarily conveyed to all patrol members each time a mission is undertaken. However, MTF members are generally aware of the support available and the effect of these capabilities.
As to the third point, commanders in combat are expected to make complex decisions under difficult and dangerous circumstances. Once a command decision is made, all members of the team then work together professionally to achieve the desired outcomes.
It is not uncommon for a range of views to be expressed as planning options are considered. The ability to engage in such discussions is an intrinsic part of a healthy and robust command relationship.
In this case, after considering all of the factors relevant to the mission the Officer Commanding made the decision to proceed with the patrol.
The Inquiry Officer examined this decision in detail and concluded the patrol was appropriately planned, authorised and conducted.
In a true testament to his dedication to duty, once the Commander made the decision, Private Bewes, showed no hesitation in participating in the patrol.
As you would all be aware, the ADF continually reviews the force protection measures for our deployed personnel. We strive to ensure our deployed personnel have the best equipment and training available.
After examining MTF- One’s training, the Inquiry Officer identified some limitations that were evident at that time.
This reference arose from the rapid introduction of new equipment into theatre, where, even with limited training, having the better equipment in place provides soldiers with an increased level of protection.
In relation to this better equipment, the Inquiry Officer found the soldiers from MTF One had received the best training available at the time. Importantly, the particular training referred to by the Inquiry Officer did not contribute to Private Bewes’ death.
Defence’s current training on this equipment is now mature and addresses all the issues identified in the report.
I would also like to address two additional aspects of the report that were raised by the Inquiry Officer but are also not directly related to Private Bewes' death.
First, the report states that , and I quote, "at the time of the incident, two key command positions were being manned by junior members due to scheduled absences".
It adds, "Both members had limited command experience and were operating in an isolated environment without additional control measures in place".
To give you some understanding of these statements, both men were capable officers who were selected as Second-In-Command of their units. The members were not inexperienced officers as the term "junior" suggests.
Army selects its Second-In-Command appointments in the knowledge that they have the required training and ability to step into the relevant command position if required.
Any 2IC would normally step up and take command during scheduled leave but we acknowledge it is not ideal for two key commanders to take leave concurrently.
Although the Inquiry Officer made no suggestion that these arrangements had an adverse impact on the decision to proceed with this patrol, he did identify a potential vulnerability and recommended that temporary command arrangements be carefully considered.
Secondly, the report states that the patrol was appropriately authorised, however, the Inquiry Officer found one soldier who accompanied the patrol was not authorised to be on that patrol.
This statement does not question the ability of this particular individual who was otherwise authorised to conduct specified tasks at Combat Out Post MASHAL.
In fact the soldier in question is highly experienced and qualified. His presence had no direct relevance to the death of Private Bewes.
Rather, the Inquiry Officer correctly identifies that this individual was not appropriately authorised to participate in patrols.
Defence has taken action to prevent a similar occurrence and more robust control measures are now in place to reduce the likelihood of this happening again.
HQ Joint Task Force 633 has released a Standing Instruction, which clarifies command and control arrangements and guidance for participation in patrols in the Middle East.
There are four recommendations resulting from the Inquiry Officer's report.
The first relates to temporary command positions and I have already addressed this.
The second recommendation in the report relates to our tactics, techniques and procedures and it has been redacted for operational security reasons.
The third recommendation is that Defence review the authorisation process for members participating in patrols. As I have stated, a Standing Instruction from JTF633 has addressed this issue.
The Chief of the Defence Force has agreed to these three recommendations and these are being actioned.
Finally, the fourth recommendation advised that a Commission of Inquiry was not warranted as it was unlikely to reveal any further relevant material, information or evidence related to this incident.
The Minister for Defence has agreed to CDF’s recommendation that a Commission of Inquiry into the death of Private Bewes is not required.
In conclusion, Nathan Bewes was a remarkable soldier. He is sorely missed by his mates, the Army and the Australian Defence Force.
He will be remembered for his courage and sacrifice and for the simple fact that day after day he went out on patrol with a smile on his face.
I extend my deepest sympathies to Nathan’s family, his partner and his friends for the loss of a much loved son, brother, partner and mate. I apologise for the delay in releasing this report.
Nathan’s family have been briefed on the report and have specifically requested that the media respect their privacy and make no contact with them. I ask that you all respect this request.
A copy of the redacted Inquiry Officer’s report is available on the Defence website. The report is redacted in order to protect our tactics, techniques and procedures in dealing with the lethal threat of IEDs.
I’ll now take your questions.
QUESTION: Sir, this is the second of these reports that we've come to the release of in less than a month, and on both occasions defence is apologising for the fact it's taken close on 16 months for the inquiries to be finalised. In the first instance it was a relatively complex matter involving another government. I'm just wondering what the reasons were for the period this has taken to resolve?
MARK BINSKIN: David, as I said last time, all inquiry officer reports conducted are into very complex situations - this one is no different. And what we want to do when we do the investigation in complex situations like this is make sure we get the facts right. Because only through getting the facts right do we make sure that we get the correct lessons out of it, and we can improve into the future.
QUESTION: Am I correct in assuming that it was actually Private Bewes who raised the reservations about participating in this patrol before they actually went out on the patrol?
MARK BINSKIN: No. I have no doubt Private Bewes was in the discussion prior to the commander taking into account all the factors before he made the decision on the course of action. But no, your initial assumption's incorrect.
QUESTION: The equipment that there's a reference to, that there was some - well some discussion about the operation of it, is that mine detection equipment or electronic equipment to find IEDs or something like that?
MARK BINSKIN: No, and I don't want to - for security reasons, I don't want to talk about equipment, tactics, techniques or procedures because they will - they do affect operations - I don't want to go into that area.
QUESTION: So in relation to Max's question, so Private Bewes didn't express any concerns before they went out on the patrol. But did any of the soldiers at the outpost?
MARK BINSKIN: As I said, I don't know about Private Bewes specifically, but I know some of soldiers had some concerns, as I addressed right up front in the report release. But again, in the Air Force, the Navy and the Army, robust discussion is an intrinsic part of a command decision.
So I would understand that that discussion was taken into account. in the planning for the operation, and the officer commanding made a decision based on all the factors to conduct the mission, and then the mission was professionally conducted.
At the end of the day, the inquiry officer found that there was no issues with the planning, authorisation or the conduct of the mission.
QUESTION: Can you give us some details of the actual device that killed him? Was it - it was obviously an IED. Do we know how long it had been there - how it was detonated? Was it initiated by Private Bewes [indistinct] or anything like that?
MARK BINSKIN: I can confirm it was an IED, Max. But I can't go into the actual details of it again for operational
QUESTION: Did the patrol or any other of our forces discover what was behind the more aggressive approach of the insurgents in the area towards the Afghan patrol earlier in the day?
MARK BINSKIN: The - this patrol was conducted to do that, and they did detain a person of interest to get the information. And they were on the way back with him when the IED went off. But I don't want to go into the rest of the details.
QUESTION: Were they on foot or in a vehicle?
MARK BINSKIN: They were on foot.
QUESTION: And was it a section strength patrol? Platoon strength?
MARK BINSKIN: Platoon strength as I understand it.
QUESTION: So about 30 soldiers then?
MARK BINSKIN: I have to get the exact number for you.
That's it. Thank you, gentlemen.
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