Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
Today I am releasing the findings of an inquiry into the death of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney who died on 24 August 2010 in Afghanistan.
Lance Corporal MacKinney died during an intense fire fight with Taliban insurgents near the village of Derapet.
Lance Corporal MacKinney was an experienced and skilled infantry soldier from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR). He was on his fourth operational deployment and second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
He was highly respected as a soldier by all members of his unit, and he was a devoted family man.
As you know, the Chief of the Defence Force conducts inquiries into all Australian Defence Force deaths on operations.
The former Chief of the Defence Force appointed an Inquiry Officer to examine the circumstances surrounding the death of Lance Corporal MacKinney.
He also directed the Inquiry Officer to consider the content of an email from a 6 RAR soldier which raised the individual’s concerns about support provided to soldiers involved in the engagement during which Lance Corporal MacKinney was killed.
Under expanded Terms of Reference, the Inquiry Officer was also required to reach findings as to whether the content of the email raised any deficiencies that would warrant action by Defence.
On the 24 August 2010, an element of Mentoring Task Force 1 (MTF 1) was participating in a partnered patrol with the Afghan National Army (ANA).
Their mission was to clear the village of Derapet in the Tangi Valley and set the conditions for future liaison with key village leaders.
The partnered patrol consisted of 20 Australian and 20 Afghan National soldiers. The patrol was supported by a highly sophisticated, robust and responsive back up force. This included a 15 person Australian reinforcing patrol, Australian Light Armoured Vehicles or ASLAVs, a Coalition mortar crew and infantry reinforcements. In addition, Coalition artillery and combat aircraft were also available to support the patrol.
During the pre-dawn darkness of 24 August, the patrol moved to the approaches of DERAPET village. At the same time, two ASLAVs established overwatch positions to support the patrol.
The patrol moved methodically through the village area. As the lead element moved just beyond the far end of the village, and the limit of the planned clearance mission, they were engaged by insurgents from multiple positions.
The lead element quickly took cover in a nearby aqueduct system and returned fire. The second element moved to higher ground and adopted a supporting position.
The overwatch ASLAVs suppressed enemy positions using their 25mm chain guns.
Concurrently, the reinforcing patrol that included Lance Corporal MacKinney, moved forward to reinforce the established support position located on the high ground.
Two Coalition AH 64 Apache attack helicopters came on station and supported the fight, conducting multiple strafing runs with their 30mm cannons.
The Australian and Afghan National soldiers fought side by side during the sustained battle of approximately two and a half hours which resulted in significant insurgent casualties.
From the time the patrol entered the village and throughout this battle, the patrol commander constantly assessed the changing operational situation and adjusted his plan accordingly. By late morning the commander assessed that there would be no additional tactical benefit in pushing further forward. Therefore the patrol commander made a considered judgement to disengage on his terms.
I will now turn to the specific incident involving Lance Corporal MacKinney. As I mentioned earlier, Lance Corporal MacKinney was part of the reinforcing patrol that moved forward to support the partnered element on high ground.
Approximately 30 minutes into the battle, Lance Corporal MacKinney was shot by a single round from an insurgent weapon. The round struck his upper left arm and continued into his upper body.
Soldiers close by provided Lance Corporal MacKinney with immediate first aid and continued to give him CPR until an Aero Medical helicopter arrived.
The Aero Medical Evacuation (or AME) occurred under enemy fire. The AME team, the soldiers preparing the landing zone and the patrol members who provided first aid displayed tremendous courage.
Lance Corporal MacKinney was aeromedically evacuated to the Multinational Base Tarin Kot less than 50 minutes after he was shot.
Shortly after arrival at the Tarin Kot medical facility, the Regimental Medical Officer officially declared Lance Corporal MacKinney deceased.
The Inquiry Officer found that Lance Corporal MacKinney was killed instantly. Despite the best efforts of all, no amount of medical assistance could have revived him.
Lance Corporal MacKinney was wearing his issued combat helmet and issued body armour system with plates fitted both front and rear at the time of his death. There is no evidence of any failure in his protective equipment.
I should emphasise that body armour must balance the level of protection with the individual’s ability to operate effectively. This means that body armour equipment can never provide an absolute guarantee of protection.
There were no other Australian or Afghan soldiers wounded or killed during the battle.
The Inquiry Officer made a number of findings regarding Lance Corporal MacKinney’s death.
The Inquiry Officer found the patrol into DERAPET was duly authorised and was well planned.
An offensive fire support plan for the mission provided the patrol with a number of robust options. This included coalition 120mm mortars, artillery support in the form of an 155mm gun with precision guided munitions, fire support from ASLAVs and close air support from Apache attack helicopters, if required.
The Inquiry Officer found no weakness in the offensive fire support plan.
With regard to pre-operational intelligence:
Based on intelligence reporting, the Patrol commander assessed that the likely insurgent resistance may be up to 25 in the village. In the worst case scenario, it was assessed that up to 100 insurgents could oppose the mission.
It is important to note that the mission was structured and supported to respond to this range of potential scenarios, including the one they faced.
The Inquiry Officer found that there was no weakness in the intelligence reporting process.
As I mentioned earlier, the Inquiry Officer’s terms of reference were expanded to consider issues raised by a 6th Battalion soldier who fought at Derapet.
The soldier raised concerns in a private email about support provided to the patrol on 24 August: specifically access to fire support, post-activity intelligence and ammunition. These were examined in detail by the Inquiry Officer.
The email claimed that access to mortars in support of the patrol would have prevented Lance Corporal MacKinney’s death.
The Inquiry Officer determined there was no failure to make mortar support available to the patrol. Coalition 120mm mortars were on site and an integral part of the fire support plan.
The Inquiry Officer found that the mortars were, in fact, ready for action but were not called on to fire.
It is important to note that both the Patrol Commander and the Joint Terminal Air Controller-qualified Forward Observer, whose specialist task is to coordinate joint fires, decided not to engage the enemy with mortars. In the Forward Observer’s professional opinion this was not an appropriate weapon system for the circumstances.
The Forward Observer determined that the Apache attack helicopters, in conjunction with direct fire support from the ASLAVs, were the best weapon system for this situation.
In addition, a subsequent review of his actions and decisions was conducted by a senior Joint Fires Officer in Afghanistan.
This expert review validated the Forward Observer’s use of the ASLAVs and Apaches attack helicopters as the preferred offensive fire support for these circumstances.
The expert review also confirmed that the use of mortars in this situation would have likely caused casualties to both our own troops and civilians within the area.
Additionally, it should be noted that the Inquiry Officer found that the use of mortars during the contact would not have prevented the death of Lance Corporal MacKinney.
The soldier’s email also questioned the accuracy of post activity intelligence reporting, related to the contact at Derapet on 24 August.
The Inquiry Officer reviewed the intelligence reports and found there was no substance to this claim.
The Inquiry Officer concluded that the soldier had been confused with post contact intelligence reporting of another contact on a different day.
The report for 24 August gave an accurate account of the events and details for that day.
In addition, the soldier’s email questioned availability of ammunition for the patrol.
In terms of ammunition, no member expended his total ammunition supply during the contact.
While some types of ammunition were exhausted, all members retained an appropriate level of ammunition for their personal weapon, and there were appropriate measures in place for re-supply for a contact of that scale.
I should also highlight that when interviewed as part of the inquiry, the soldier described his email as a form of “venting” as part of a grieving process for the loss of his close mate.
Understandably, at the time the soldier wrote the email, he was grieving and searching for something to blame for the death of his friend.
The email was a release of pressure from a very emotional situation and did not represent a genuine complaint but was a simple expression of grief.
No action has been taken against the soldier who raised the issues.
In relation to the specific incident involving Lance Corporal MacKinney, the inquiry found there was no evidence of any substantial weakness or deficiency that contributed to his death.
However, separate to the incident in which Lance Corporal MacKinney was killed, the Inquiry Officer identified three procedural fire support coordination issues between Australian and coalition forces.
The Inquiry Officer found these issues had no bearing on Lance Corporal MacKinney’s death.
The issues were reviewed immediately after the events of 24 August and have since been addressed.
In conclusion, the contact at Derapet was intense. Patrol members displayed extraordinary bravery and dedication to duty.
Indeed, four Army members were recognised for their actions that day in the recent Australia Day honours list. Two members received Medals for Gallantry, one was awarded a Commendation for Gallantry and one received a Distinguished Service Medal. All well deserved.
Moreover, the action at Derapet on 24 August paved the way for subsequent partnered ANA presence within the Tangi valley. This has included the construction of a mentored ANA patrol base and a multitude of village engagement activities in this region.
The Inquiry Officer found no issues that would benefit from further consideration by a Commission of Inquiry and recommended that a Commission of Inquiry should not be appointed into the death of Lance Corporal MacKinney.
The Chief of the Defence Force and the Minister for Defence agreed with this recommendation.
Lance Corporal MacKinney was a dedicated soldier and a loving father. I extend my deepest sympathies to Jared’s wife, Becky and their children, his family and friends.
We have briefed his family on the findings of this inquiry and provided them with a redacted copy of the report.
This report provides the family with the facts surrounding his death but it is also a painful reminder of the incident in which they lost a dearly loved husband and father.
I would reinforce that the family has specifically indicated they do not wish to do any media interviews following the release of this report. They have requested that their privacy be respected.
A redacted copy of the Inquiry Officer’s report is available on the Defence website. The report is redacted in order to protect our tactics, techniques and procedures, and the privacy of individuals.
Before I take your questions, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on actions that we have taken to improve the inquiry process.
As I’ve outlined before, it takes time to conduct a thorough inquiry and establish facts surrounding a combat death. These inquiries can be very complex and involve liaison with multiple nations’ armed forces. However, rest assured, if we identify issues during an inquiry that require quick attention, we take action promptly. Operational circumstances drive our actions.
Since October we have reviewed the whole process of Combat Death Inquiries from end to end and identified causes of unnecessary delay. We are now working to eliminate those causes.
We had already identified the need in August to restructure the Commission of Inquiry Directorate based on a full functional review. This has now occurred and the Directorate’s operating procedures have been modified accordingly.
We have established a regular Inquiry Watch Group model that has all stakeholders coordinate efforts to progress these Inquiries and to reduce delays.
We are tracking the progress of our still open Inquiries to further improve the process and reduce unnecessary time taken to resolution.
I also want to reinforce the close engagement we foster with the families of our fallen as we conduct these very important inquiries.
We are reviewing our procedural and legal constraints to see if (and how) we can release information faster to the families.
In addition to the significant level of support to and engagement with families at the unit and Army Headquarters levels, families are kept updated on the progress of inquiries and are briefed on the inquiry outcomes. Any public release of an Inquiry’s Officer’s report is considered after consultation with family members, affected persons and the Minister for Defence.
These changes, in part, will see the finalisation of a number of Inquiry Officer Reports in coming months, and a reduction in overall time to finalise these matters.
I’ll now take your questions.
QUESTION: You said that the lead elements of the patrol entered the village at pre-dawn darkness and were engaged by insurgents from multiple positions. Would it be true then to say that the insurgents were actually waiting for the patrol and this was an ambush?
MARK BINSKIN: It wasn't an ambush, Mark. Having spoken to the commanding officer about this detail on the engagement, there's no doubt as the patrol entered the village the atmospheric started to change and the patrol commander did a very good job assessing the situation there and as they were coming towards the end of the village he was already deploying his force because he had the feeling that there was going to be an engagement. So I wouldn't say it was ambush, I actually say that they engaged on their own terms.
QUESTION: Is the soldier's email in the report?
MARK BINSKIN: The soldier's email's not in the report.
QUESTION: And will it be released publicly at all?
MARK BINSKIN: I'll have to chase that up. I haven't actually thought about that, that part. I thought it was actually out in the open, already. I'll chase that for you when we're finished here.
QUESTION: Do you perhaps, do you and does Defence regret perhaps the publicity about this incident subsequent to this both thinking about the effect it had on defence but also perhaps the effect it had or the emotional trauma it might have caused for the family?
MARK BINSKIN: We do. I think the media reporting that made this emotive was probably not warranted and in this sort of case we should wait till we get the facts of the situation so that we can actually talk about what occurred without the speculation that goes on around it because I think that speculation does hurt the families, yes.
QUESTION: On the other matter when you talk about the improvement to the inquiries, to reduction in delays, I mean, what in terms of actual times, I mean, what do you think the difference is going to mean?
MARK BINSKIN: The aim is to bring the inquiries down to as short a time frame as we can but you don't want to set a limit on it because different inquiries have the different levels of complexity, different levels of interaction with the other nations that are part of the coalition.
But we've got the process in place to be able to get that down to the shortest time possible but still, importantly, get the facts of the situation out.
Now, while we get to the point where we finalise the report, as we discover issues throughout that process, the important part is we act on that straight away and look to improve and that's really what the report's trying to do.
The other part of the report, the aim of the report is to be able to give the families closure on what actually happened as well.
QUESTION: Do you want a high water mark, though? Do you want to - does Defence want to have a point where regardless of the complexity, say, all the way to something like a Kovko incident, no more than six months?
MARK BINSKIN: I don't want to put an exact time on it like that but our aim is to get it reduced to as - I guess the shortest period possible to get the facts that we need to improve on what we do.
QUESTION: Can I ask why it is the investigation takes so long?
MARK BINSKIN: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Can I ask why it is the investigation takes so long?
MARK BINSKIN: Again, the complexity of the situation, trying to go through and get all the information then the expanded inquiry into the allegations in the email, what was raised in the email. It took that long.
Now, there's no doubt it took longer than it should have and that's why we're trying to bring the whole process such that we can get this down to as short a period as possibly, noting that we've got to get the facts right and that's the real important part. We can't afford to rush it and miss important facts that maybe put our future forces in danger.
QUESTION: You also mentioned that separate to the issues that resulted in the death, the inquiry officer identified three procedural - fire support, I think, fire support.
MARK BINSKIN: Fire support.
QUESTION: Are you able to - obviously we haven't - I presume there'll be some mention of that in the…
MARK BINSKIN: Yes, it's in the report. There were three areas that were there. There was an air space coordination issue earlier on and that was more at the higher level, at the CTU level, back at Tarin Kot.
There is a procedural coordination issue with fast jet support that came in early on. And procedural coordination with the 155 Howitzer.
Now, none of these were material to the death of Lance Corporal MacKinney but they're areas that we needed to improve on and action has been taken to improve that.
QUESTION: Significant issues, would you call them?
MARK BINSKIN: No, I wouldn't call them significant issues. Just untidy issues that needed to be resolved and you'll see that in the report when you read it.
QUESTION: Of the fire support, the elements that were used then were the ASLAVs and the Apaches and not the 155s and not the fast jets.
MARK BINSKIN: Not the fast jets. I'll start with the fast jets because I had a close look at that.
Even if the procedural issue had been sorted out, it wasn't an appropriate battle that the fast jets could have engaged simply because it was difficult early on to identify exactly where the insurgents were - were engaging from and plus it was close - close-in fighting so the collateral damage of the village that was around and the civilians there but also potential for our own forces was so high I wouldn't have used fast jets on that.
The 155 was held off because, again, precision weapons need exact targeting in there.
The patrol commander and the joint terminal attack controller had made a decision not to use it early on. There was a round fired towards the end of the engagement against what had been pinpointed as an insurgent position.
QUESTION: How close did our troops come to the insurgents?
MARK BINSKIN: I've heard to within 10 metres at times but the majority of the force I think was about 80 to 100 metres apart and then sort of out from there but there is no doubt that the awards given to the two soldiers who were in the aqueduct were well deserved.
QUESTION: On another matter, if you don't mind, overnight we've seen reporting out of [indistinct] about a leaked NATO report regarding the Taliban, suggesting that particularly that any reduction in Taliban or insurgent activity is to do with them trying to hasten NATO's exit and winning hearts and minds also that they are - perhaps it comes as no surprise but particularly involved with ISI. What's the ADF view?
MARK BINSKIN: We don't want to comment on intelligence reports and I understand it's a classified NATO document but, as I understand it, it's not an intelligence report per se, it's an information report and it comes from a number of interviews, interrogation of probably some of the baddest of the Taliban insurgents and there was selective quoting out of that.
But other than that, I don't want to comment on it.
QUESTION: But just simply the idea if we don't comment on this intelligence which is now public…
MARK BINSKIN: Again, it's not intelligence. I just need to…
QUESTION: Sorry, but the information in this report, but just the simple information that is now public and that I don't think anyone would disagree with, that we're not winning the war against the Taliban, the Taliban are going quiet to see ISAF leave so they can take over again.
Doesn't this fly completely in the face of the reports that we get from Defence, from the Minister, from our ISAF colleagues?
MARK BINSKIN: Again, I don't want to go into too much detail but I think, if you're in Afghanistan I don't think you'd be saying the Taliban's going quiet.
But we're here to talk about Lance Corporal MacKinney and I'd like to keep it to that, please.
QUESTION: Are Australian forces still patrolling into Derapet?
MARK BINSKIN: In my statement I talked about this was the precursor to a large level of engagement in that area. The answer's yes. We did patrol for a while. We're not at the moment because the ANA has it secure.
Since this engagement there were a number of patrols that were partnered and then the ANA has taken over security of the area.
There's been a lot of local activities that have grown out of it. I understand, which is a good indicative sign, that a market has now opened up in the area in early January. That gives you an idea of the security that the locals feel, out of it. So it was - it did achieve its aim of being the precursor and setting the conditions to be able to do that key leadership engagement and then move in to secure the area.
QUESTION: The soldier who sent the email, you said that he sent it like when he was grieving and it was a way of venting and you also mentioned there were no repercussions for that. Did he ever, at any point, withdraw, like, the email or does he still stand by what he wrote?
MARK BINSKIN: I think he - and you'll see it in the report, when you read it, his view to the Inquiry Officer was it was a point where he was grieving - and Jared MacKinney was a very close friend of his and it was a private email and a vent in a grieving sense and he never intended that it would go any further than that.
QUESTION: Was there any investigation into how the email became public?
MARK BINSKIN: No, I think you all know how it was made public and I won't go into that but, again, we're handling it for what it was. It was a soldier grieving after an intense firefight that he was a part of and we can understand his feelings.
QUESTION: Has he made any reaction to this report? Is he aware of the findings?
MARK BINSKIN: Anyone that may be mentioned in the report is aware of the findings. I'm not aware of any reaction that he may have.
Defence Media Operations: 02 6127 1999