Vice Chief of the Defence Force - Release of Inquiry Officer reports
23 November 2012
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
Today I am announcing that Defence has finalised the inquiry into the ‘insider attacks’ of 29 October and 8 November last year. These attacks collectively resulted in the deaths of three Australian soldiers and the wounding of ten Australian soldiers.
We have also finalised an inquiry into a separate incident in Tarin Kot town on 29 October 2011 which resulted in the death of an Afghan civilian. While this incident was unrelated to the insider attacks, because it happened on the same day as the Sorkh Bed attack, I am releasing it today for completeness.
As the Minister for Defence has previously stated, any decision to publicly release an Inquiry Officer Report comes after weighing the wishes of the family members about publication, and the public interest in the release of the report.
After due consideration, the Minister agreed to release the report into the deaths of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin and the insider attack at Patrol Base Nasir just over a week later. The families of these soldiers are aware of the decision to release this information.
In accordance with our normal process, the reports being released today have been redacted to maintain operational security and to avoid disclosing classified intelligence material.
Patrol Base Sorkh Bed – 29 Oct 2011
First to the incident at Patrol Base Sorkh Bed on 29 October 2011:
Three experienced members of the Australian Army were murdered at Sorkh Bed.
26 year old Captain Bryce Duffy was a highly regarded young artillery officer who had volunteered for his second tour in Afghanistan at short notice, after a fellow officer was wounded in action.
22 year old Corporal Ashley Birt was an excellent geospatial engineer who took pride in his work and had previously served on operations in the Solomon Islands.
Lance Corporal Luke Gavin was aged 29. He was a highly respected member of 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. He had previously deployed three times to East Timor.
Patrol Base Sorkh Bed is approximately 40 kilometres south of Tarin Kot. It is a relatively large Kandak-sized patrol base with separate accommodation areas and a parade ground outside the Kandak headquarters. In October last year, Australian soldiers were located at the Patrol Base, mentoring Afghan National Army members.
The Australian mentors and Afghan soldiers conducted a routine morning parade as they prepared for that day’s duties. The morning parade ended about 8.20 am. The Australian soldiers and their ISAF interpreters remained at the parade ground to finalise the day’s schedule. The Australians’ dress and force posture were appropriate for the anticipated threat level, however, some of the Australians were wearing body armour due to an activity planned to occur after the parade.
An Afghan soldier, later identified as Sergeant Darwesh, emerged from near a group of ANA personnel on the parade ground and ran to within 10-15 metres of the Australians. He fired several bursts of automatic gunfire directly at the ADF group. Ten ADF members and three ISAF interpreters were shot.
Several Australian soldiers, including some who were wounded, returned fire in self-defence, killing Darwesh.
The Australian soldiers responded swiftly and professionally. Those with less serious wounds applied first aid to themselves and then supported their mates.
I would like to commend the actions of the junior leaders and their soldiers for the manner in which they reacted under extreme circumstances.
The wounded soldiers were airlifted according to medical priority to the Role Two hospital at Tarin Kot. Despite the best care possible, Tragically Captain Duffy and Corporal Birt were pronounced dead on arrival at Tarin Kot.
Within one hour of the shooting, Lance Corporal Gavin was in surgery at the Role 2 hospital. Specialist medical staff operated on Lance Corporal Gavin for several hours but sadly he died of his wounds.
Clearly, the situation at Patrol Base Sorkh Bed was very tense immediately following the shooting. To their credit, the Australian personnel at the base responded in a calm and measured way and increased force protection measures were quickly implemented.
We will never know exactly what motivated Darwesh to turn a weapon on the Australians who had been mentoring him. The Inquiry Officer concluded that Darwesh seized an opportunity to deliberately target ADF members, but found no evidence that Darwesh was connected to insurgents.
However, the Inquiry Officer identified some evidence to suggest that other ANA members were aware of Darwesh’s intent before the shooting. There has since been a further and very thorough examination of this aspect of the incident, including all available intelligence.
This examination has found that there is no evidence that anyone actively supported Darwesh.
Incident at Patrol Base Nasir on 8 November 2011
To the incident at Patrol Base Nasir:
On 8 November 2011, Australian soldiers were located at Patrol Base Nasir, approximately 40 kilometres east of Tarin Kot to mentor ANA personnel. The base is smaller than the typical patrol bases you may be familiar with – approximately 40 metres by 30 metres; with an overwatch position located on a hill, approximately 300 metres from the patrol base.
Patrol Base Nasir was in the final stages of security transition, and was primarily an Afghan facility. ANA soldiers had the lead on security, and this included manning the watch towers and the overwatch position.
That evening, like any other day, the soldiers were settling into their normal night routine within the surrounds of the ADF accommodation area. Some of the ADF members were cooking dinner at a BBQ next to the Australian accommodation area and two ADF and two Afghan soldiers were watching a movie together.
The soldiers were not wearing body armour. Their dress and force posture, including the level of weapon readiness, was consistent with orders and directives for a routine activity inside the ADF accommodation area of the ANA-secured compound.
At approximately 5.20 pm, a member of the ANA at the overwatch position opened fire on the patrol base below. The shooter, later identified as Mohammad Rozi, initially used a .50 calibre machine gun, and when it malfunctioned, he then began firing with an automatic weapon.
Three Australian and two Afghan soldiers were shot and wounded in the incident.
Australian soldiers returned fire and Rozi then stopped shooting. As he ran away, he was initially pursued by other Afghan soldiers but he escaped in a stolen ANA vehicle.
Again, the situation at Patrol Base Nasir was very confusing and, to their credit, the Australian personnel responded in a calm and balanced way.
The Australians applied first aid to themselves and then assisted wounded Afghans. Within 45 minutes of the shooting, the five wounded personnel had been airlifted to Tarin Kot for medical treatment.
Enhanced security measures were immediately implemented at Patrol Base Nasir and an operation was launched to apprehend Rozi.
The stolen vehicle was found burning in Charmeston village about 3 kilometres from the Patrol Base. However Rozi evaded capture and is still at large and Afghan National Security Forces continue to cooperate closely with Australian and ISAF personnel in an attempt to locate him.
Without an opportunity to question Rozi, it’s unclear exactly why he opened fire. The Inquiry Officer determined that Rozi’s actions were aimed primarily at ADF personnel. He could have targeted other ANA soldiers who were at the rear of his overwatch position, or in the Base, but chose not to.
The Inquiry Officer also concluded that Rozi is likely to have gained support in the local region after the shooting, aiding in his escape.
The findings – Insider attacks
The Inquiry Officer made 19 findings into these two insider attack incidents.
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 found that in both cases, ADF personnel had adopted appropriate dress and force protection measures.
The report found that ADF members responded to the rogue Afghan soldiers in self defence, and their response was quick, accurate and proportional to the threat.
The Inquiry commended the leadership and actions of soldiers in providing quick first aid which saved lives and reduced the severity of wounds. The report also found that ADF members at Tarin Kot provided important support to their wounded mates by donating blood.
The Inquiry Officer also concluded that Defence intelligence agencies had provided appropriate assessments of the ‘insider threat’ to ADF commanders following the first death of an ADF member in an insider attack – that being Lance Corporal Andrew Jones in May 2011 -and prior to the Sorkh Bed incident.
While ISAF and ANA personnel have unfortunately suffered a number of insider attacks, no two of these events have been the same. The Inquiry Officer who examined the Sorkh Bed and Nasir incidents highlighted the difficulty for Defence to frame the nature of the ‘insider threat’, which is a complex and constantly evolving issue.
The threat of, and response to, insider attacks has been a critical issue for the ADF even before it directly impacted our personnel. As you know, at the tactical level our people, in conjunction with their ISAF colleagues have been continually monitoring the relationship with Afghan personnel. They have implemented a range of procedures to enhance force protection, reduce overall risk and sustain the relationship that is so important in the ADF’s Afghan campaign. These tactical responses drew heavily from lessons learned across the Afghan area of operations by our own forces and our ISAF partners.
Equally, this issue has occupied much of our time here in Canberra. I can assure you that each and every insider attack, or threat of such an attack, is closely assessed by the ADF senior leadership. This is a priority for us, and has been since the insider threat issue arose in Afghanistan. Our focus has been on ensuring that the tactical commanders have all the support they require.
As a part of his findings, the Inquiry Officer observed that there appeared to be limited formal action at the strategic and operational level regarding information sharing on insider attacks following the incident at Patrol Base Mirwais in May 2011. However, as someone who sits in the CDF’s command group each morning I can assure you that insider threats and insider attacks, when they occur, are the subject of significant focus.
Each Inquiry report is designed to assist Defence in further improving its policies and processes. We acknowledge the Inquiry Officer’s findings. His remarks regarding formal lesson learned groups at various levels of command have been incorporated into the broad-ranging Defence review of the Insider Threat issue. For example Defence has established a regular Emerging Threat working group to monitor trends and coordinate our response to this and other threats.
The Inquiry Officer also found that there was some conflicting information regarding how long wounded ADF personnel would remain in Germany for medical treatment. This caused changes to family travel plans under the Australian Dangerously Ill (AUSDIL) policy that gives support to families of seriously ill ADF members. I would like to personally apologise to the families for any additional stress this may have caused.
The Inquiry Officer made four recommendations in his report. The Chief of the Defence Force agreed to action three of the recommendations. The intent of the fourth recommendation had already been actioned separately.
For operational security reasons, details of the first recommendation cannot be publicly released.
The second recommendation was that Army should enhance Care of Battle Casualty training in all Corps training.
The third recommendation was that Defence provide additional training on the AUSDIL policy. Actions have already been taken that meet this recommendation’s intent.
The Inquiry Officer’s fourth recommendation was that the ADF should examine the potential effectiveness of a Defence mobile blood bank and pathology capability to support operations. Joint Health Command is implementing this recommendation.
Following each incident at Sorkh Bed and Nasir, the ADF moved quickly to enhance security through a number of different measures. Headquarters Joint Operations Command coordinated a comprehensive review that included force design, base security, individual force protection, heightened cultural awareness and counter-intelligence.
The Mentoring Task Force completed a review of force protection requirements of all ANA bases where ADF members were based. For obvious reasons I will not go into detail on force protection measures.
Additionally, following these two incidents, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation were directed to undertake the first Australian study into cultural compatibility between ADF personnel and their Afghan National Security Force colleagues. The study identified some cultural aspects that may contribute to grievances and could motivate Afghan personnel to commit acts of murder.
The initial study found that the three insider attacks on ADF personnel in 2011 were unrelated and most likely the result of long-standing personal grievances against the Coalition rather than the individual soldiers targeted.
The study’s recommendations have been used to enhance pre-deployment training and preparation for ADF personnel deploying to Afghanistan. DSTO is continuing the study to monitor trends and alert commanders to any new findings.
An unclassified executive summary of the DSTO report will be available on the Defence website shortly.
Civilian casualty incident
I have covered both insider incidents. Finally, I would like to announce the release of the separate inquiry that occurred into an incident in Tarin Kot town on 29 October 2011 which resulted in the death of an Afghan civilian. While this occurred the same day as the incident at Sorkh Bed, it is unrelated to the insider attacks.
The incident occurred as Australian soldiers were providing security for a meeting in Tarin Kot town. The soldiers had received a specific threat warning regarding a motorcycle-borne attack. When a motorcyclist failed to heed to a number of visual and verbal warnings to stop and appeared to accelerate toward the security cordon, he was shot by several Australian soldiers who assessed their lives were at risk.
The man’s death was very unfortunate and extremely regrettable but the soldiers were forced to make a rapid decision to respond to what they saw as an escalating threat.
The Inquiry Officer found that the soldiers applied every element of their training and acted lawfully and appropriately under Australian Rules of Engagement.
A redacted version of this report that includes recommendations will also be available on the Defence website.
The Inquiry Officer reports are undertaken to determine what lessons Defence can learn, and importantly to provide information to the families of those who have died.
However, for the families of CAPT Duffy, CPL Birt, LCPL Gavin and the ISAF interpreter murdered at Sorkh Bed and for the family of the Afghan civilian who died in Tarin Kot town, the reports do not change the fact that they have lost a son, a brother, or a father.
Operational deaths are always very difficult to accept under any circumstances.
One of Defence’s highest priorities is deepening our understanding of insider threats and ways to mitigate the risk. As the Inquiry Officer noted, it is a threat that is very complex and constantly evolving. At the strategic, operational and tactical level we continue to very closely monitor threat levels and trends.
We draw on information from Australian, Coalition and Afghan sources. And, when appropriate, we adjust force protection measures accordingly.
But as we were sadly reminded in August this year when three ADF members died following another insider attack, the threat remains.
The deaths of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin and the tragic deaths and woundings 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 Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin. Their families have requested privacy at this time and I ask the media to respect this.
I will now take your questions.
QUESTION: You mentioned that in the first incident that it appeared that a number of ANA members may have actually been aware that something was about to happen. Has any action been taken against them?
MARK BINSKIN: No, because we couldn't prove it. There is indication in some of the evidence that others may have been aware but - and one of the close colleagues of Darwesh went AWOL about two or three days before, so we were never able to talk to him and find out whether people really did have an idea or not.
A subsequent intelligence review showed there was no evidence that anyone colluded with him but we could never be quite sure about whether someone may have known or suspected.
QUESTION: Any idea how many of his fellow soldiers might have known?
MARK BINSKIN: No, no.
QUESTION: Why they didn't pass the information on?
MARK BINSKIN: No. As I said, the likely person that may have known actually went AWOL about two or three days before the attack.
QUESTION: Darwesh shaved his body and was wearing white during the attack. Is there anything in that at all?
MARK BINSKIN: There was a lot of speculation around it. What I can say is no one knows the reason why he may have done it.
QUESTION: How experienced a soldier was Darwesh?
MARK BINSKIN: He was a sergeant so he had a level of experience. He had been at Sorkh Bed and with 6 Kandak, I think since the April time frame so he'd been there a fair while.
QUESTION: The sergeant who fired on our people and ran off, he's subsequently appeared in insurgent videos, hasn't he?
MARK BINSKIN: Yes, Max, you're correct. That's Rozi. That was the Nasir incident and we continue to pursue him and I want to make this totally clear here.
We will continue to pursue Sergeant Hekmatullah and Rozi. They are murderers and attempted murderers and we will make every effort to apprehend them, and bring them to justice and there is no place on this planet that they should feel safe.
QUESTION: Any idea where they might be? Are they…
MARK BINSKIN: They're not in our area of operation at the moment but we continue to work to find them.
QUESTION: What can you tell us, Air Marshal, about Rozi's involvement with the insurgency prior to that attack?
MARK BINSKIN: Again, no indications and evidence of anything prior, but there is evidence that local sympathisers supported him in his escape.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea why the person on the motorcycle in the subsequent incident, actually didn't stop?
MARK BINSKIN: No, we don't and, to put it in context, it wasn't in the release there, but it is in the report. You'll see it. It's quite complex. The warning had come through to the soldiers. They had set up a checkpoint to protect a meeting. This motorcycle came out of side street only 60 metres away and started to accelerate towards them. Now, they did everything with their signals that they could but he continued to come at them and with the threat warning that they had received almost immediately before that they were very concerned for their own safety. Within rules of engagement and approved escalation, they shot.
Now after that they searched the bike and applied first aid to the Afghan civilian but unfortunately he died.
QUESTION: Any explosives, anything at all?
MARK BINSKIN: No.
QUESTION: Either on him or the bike?
MARK BINSKIN: No.
QUESTION: What sort of person was he? Was he a young person, older person?
MARK BINSKIN: I don't have those exact details.
QUESTION: Air Marshal, is there any chance - you've been very comprehensive today. Is there any chance of in future we could get maybe 15 minutes to look over the reports before we actually have a press conference like this?
MARK BINSKIN: The reports are pretty complex. We'd prefer it if we can give you the context then give you the report. Then we're quite happy to take questions after that when you have had a chance to go through it.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify something, Air Marshal? You were saying that the inquiry officer concluded about the - I think he was talking about the formal process regarding insider attacks. Were you respectfully disagreeing with one of the points that he had made?
MARK BINSKIN: I was putting one of the points he had into context. His view was that there was no formal mechanism in place at the operational and strategic level.
Formal, no, but there had been a lot of consultation and discussion and reviews in place. What we've done now is formalised that a little bit more, but the disagreement would be that there was a focus at the operational and strategic level. I don't think he was aware of that nor I am aware that he actually asked as a part of his review.
QUESTION: Does the fact that our personnel have pulled back from most of the patrol bases now, or all of the patrol bases now, is that intended in part to lessen the likelihood of more insider attacks?
MARK BINSKIN: No.
QUESTION: Did that play a part in the decision?
MARK BINSKIN: No, not at all. That was a part of pre-planned handover - we've had this in place for a while - from mentoring Afghan forces back to advising, coming back from the kandaks or the patrol bases, back to advising at the operational level, the brigade level, and then helping build logistics and combat support.
QUESTION: Following on from that. Is a consequence of our drawback into Tarin Kot now mean the prospect of another insider attack is far less likely?
MARK BINSKIN: We still do dangerous things in Afghanistan. We still - SOTG operates outside the wire quite regularly. We still will do visits out there when required.
The majority of what we do will be back at Tarin Kot and back at Kandahar but there are still dangerous areas there. I wouldn't say that it would necessarily reduce the threat but we are more aware of the risks now and we have far better force protection in place, as we've learnt from this and we've enhanced what we do.
QUESTION: Under what circumstances will our troops now leave Tarin Kot? Will they patrol on some sort of semi-regular basis or only when they're needed or called in by Afghans?
MARK BINSKIN: No, there'll be no regular patrolling. It would only be if there was, as a part of a Brigade activity - the Brigade headquarters looking at some activity out there that they may go as an advisor but there's no structured plan to be back out there in the patrol bases.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the impact an insider attack has on the morale of the Australian troops, the trust that they sort of have, the damage it does to trust and things like that?
MARK BINSKIN: There's no doubt that it does have an impact on morale. It has an impact on morale on Afghan forces as well. Remember, they've taken more losses in insider attacks than the coalition has so it's not just aimed at the coalition, it is an issue across the board.
If you're interested in having a second-hand look at morale, in the last week or so, I think was Colin Cosier did an online piece after being at Patrol Base Mirwais. It showed the force protection but it also showed how the partnering was working with the Afghan forces and it also showed the close relationship there as well and they openly discussed the trust issue and the morale issue so I'd put you onto that. I think those that have been embedded have had a first-hand chance to see this and talk to our soldiers about it.
It makes them wary, I'd be honest with you with that, but it doesn't stop their resolve to help the Afghan national forces build their capability and be able to take responsibility for the security of their country.
QUESTION: A number of soldiers, a significant number of our soldiers have been badly wounded. What's their prognosis? Are they back on duty?
MARK BINSKIN: The soldiers that were wounded in Nasir, in fact both these incidents, as I understand it - because I asked the question this morning to get the latest update - most of them are back on duty. I think there's one still doing rehabilitation but I can check those figures for you.
QUESTION: Cultural training, the predeployment cultural training that you mentioned, that will be reported and published today, has that made a demonstrable difference to the risk of insider attacks, do you think?
MARK BINSKIN: I think it's one of the mitigation strategies because while we've done it before and we've - I mean, I did it before I went to the Middle East back in 2003-2004. We've learnt over the years and we've enhanced it and improved it. I have no doubt that it gives our people a better understanding of the cultural issues between us and Afghanistan and they're not just between our army and their army. That's sort of nation to nation.
So there's no doubt that it helps us mitigate the risk and have a better understanding.
One more, Max.
QUESTION: On the DSTO study, what particular issues did it point out as likely to aggravate tensions. Any particular traits of the Australian character that would annoy Afghans?
MARK BINSKIN: Yes, it’s in the executive summary. So if you have a read of the executive summary and then after that if you want to come back and ask some more questions I'm quite happy to answer that for you.
Thank you very much.