Vice Chief of the Defence Force - release of Inquiry Officer's report into the death of Trooper Jason Brown
7 February 2011
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This morning I will release the findings of the Inquiry Officer's Report into the Death of Trooper Jason Thomas Brown who was killed in action in Afghanistan on August 13, 2010.
The Chief of the Defence Force conducts an inquiry into all combat deaths on operations. An Inquiry Officer is appointed to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident so that an informed decision may be taken about the action required to minimise risk of a reoccurrence. Releasing this report is part of the inquiry process.
Trooper Brown was selected for the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment in 2007. A highly regarded and experienced soldier with more than 10 years service, Trooper Brown was on his first deployment to Afghanistan having previously deployed three times on operations in East Timor with 1st and 4th Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment.
Between July and August 2010, the Australian Special Operations Task Group provided support to an operation led by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). On August 13 the Special Operations Task Group was conducting a disruption operation in a village in the northern Kandahar region with members of the Afghan Provincial Response Company and ISAF. The patrol had cleared the area and was moving alongside a river, seeking a crossing point as they moved towards the planned extraction zone. The patrol had just passed a particularly dense thicket of vegetation along the riverbank when they came under heavy fire from a belt-fed weapon from approximately 5-10 metres away. Trooper Brown was hit by numerous rounds in the first seconds of the battle.
All patrol members immediately returned fire and sought cover. One soldier went forward under fire to retrieve Trooper Brown. Members of the patrol thought that he had also been hit and killed until he returned fire from beside Trooper Brown.
A second soldier went forward to help move Trooper Brown to relative safety, while members of the patrol covered their withdrawal.
Trooper Brown showed no vital signs and his patrol mates began providing trauma aid and resuscitation.
At this point, a second patrol arrived from the north and began laying down fire, which allowed a fourth soldier to extract himself from an exposed position. A second patrol medic also arrived and took over CPR.
During this time, an aero-medical helicopter was launched on the first reports of a casualty. When the subsequent request for aero-medical evacuation was received, the landing zone had been secured. Two medics and other members of the patrol continued to attempt resuscitation until the helicopter arrived at the incident site, approximately 50 minutes from the time of contact.
Sadly, despite his mates' best efforts and the rapid aero-medical evacuation, Trooper Brown was declared dead on arrival at Kandahar Airfield.
Trooper Brown's body was subsequently transferred to the Role 2 Hospital at Tarin Kot where X-rays showed the cause of death was tension pneumothorax and multiple gunshot wounds. Tension pneumothorax is commonly caused by gunshot wounds and is not related to the provision of CPR or resuscitation.
At the time of the incident, Trooper Brown was wearing the latest certified and approved ballistic helmet and body armour with front and back plates. Unfortunately Trooper Brown sustained fatal wounds around his body armour. The Inquiry Officer is satisfied that Trooper Brown's dress and equipment were suitable to the task he was undertaking, providing a good balance of protection and mobility. There is evidence that Trooper Brown's chest plate deflected at least one bullet.
The Defence Materiel Organisation will conduct a detailed analysis of Trooper Brown's body armour on its return from the West Australian coroner.
The disruption operation was conducted primarily in and around a green belt, south of the village. At the time of the incident, this consisted of orchards, vineyards and cultivated fields, intersected by irrigation ditches and surrounded by mud walls overgrown with foliage.
Members of the patrol described the vegetation as the thickest they had encountered in Afghanistan. The orchards were in full bloom with dense undergrowth and the thicket from where insurgents initiated contact was described as 'impenetrable'. In some fields along the river, visibility was reduced to less than 20 metres.
Despite the unusually dense undergrowth, the Special Operations Task Group is very experienced in operating in difficult environments and the patrol adapted its plan on the ground to exploit this natural cover while clearing the village. The Inquiry Officer's report states that environmental conditions did not contribute adversely to the outcome of the incident in any way.
The Inquiry Officer found no evidence of any person failing in the performance of his or her duties. The mission was well planned and well executed. The patrol had worked together since early 2010 completing mission-specific training and rehearsal exercises prior to deployment.
In addition, the patrol had conducted numerous missions similar to this one, in training and on operations.
This was the first time the Special Operations Task Group had conducted an operation in this area, however all members of the patrol were comprehensively briefed on available intelligence and environmental conditions.
All members of the patrol expected contact with insurgents during the mission.
The Inquiry Officer stated that the calm and methodical manner in which all actions were carried out during the incident demonstrated the quality of planning and training.
The patrol commander quickly took control of the contact and reacted as he was trained while the troop commander maintained command and control throughout the incident. As a result, the contact, aero-medical evacuation and reposturing following the incident were conducted in an extremely professional manner under difficult combat conditions and I commend the members of this patrol for their actions under insurgent fire.
These soldiers showed true courage to pull together and perform to the level they did in a dangerous situation.
The Inquiry Officer found that Trooper Brown was killed by multiple gunshot wounds as a direct result of insurgent action. The Inquiry Officer recommended that the circumstances associated with Trooper Brown's death do not warrant the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry. The Minister for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force have accepted this recommendation.
Trooper Brown's parents have also been briefed on the findings of the Inquiry Officer's report.
Trooper Jason Brown was a fiercely loyal soldier who was immensely proud to serve our country as a member of the Special Air Service Regiment. Those who served with him describe him as a man who was always prepared to give that little bit extra for his job and for his mates. I offer my deepest condolences to Trooper Brown's family on behalf of the Australian Defence Force and the Defence Community.
An unclassified version of the Inquiry Officer's report will be available on the Defence website following this media conference. Sections of the report have been redacted to protect tactics, techniques and procedures and to preserve operational security.
I will now take your questions.
QUESTION: So in this particular case nothing ? there's really nothing that really could have been done in the circumstances, it was just one of those things essentially?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Completed the job, moving to an extraction point, very thick terrain, vegetation, ran into some insurgents, fire fight ensued and unfortunately Trooper Brown was killed in it, yes.
QUESTION: General, could you shed more light on disruption operations, typically what size do they take, how many soldiers are involved and what are you targeting?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: I'll comment on the intent of them, I won't go into the detail of the size of patrols and so forth, obviously that would be information we don't want to release but they're basically designed to disrupt the command of control lines of communication, supply, opportunities for safe havens for the insurgents in that particular area.
QUESTION: How many insurgents engaged the task group in gunfire?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: We only know fire, from the reporting, came from at least one position, we don't know the number of people involved.
QUESTION: Were there any enemy casualties?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: There was one report by one trooper that he had seen one person go down, but beyond that, we don't know and we don't count it in that sense.
QUESTION: General, was there any form of air back up that was called during this engagement? Were they calling in attack helicopters or the like?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Yes, the inquiry officer stated that, during the contact, they did call in attack helicopters. That would have been both to support the actual firefight and to ensure that the extraction zone was clear.
QUESTION: And they arrived on the scene and fulfilled that role as well?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: Yes, they were employed. The inquiry officer doesn't make any specific comment beyond to say that they were called and employed.
QUESTION: General, in an overall sense, many of the deaths that Australia has experienced have been SAS soldiers. Is the SAS starting to feel the pinch of that, personnel wise?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: I don't believe so. I mean the SAS are quite, as you know, it's a reasonable-size unit and the Special Forces community is quite large in the number of units we have there, and they're tailored in size for the specific jobs that we're doing so we believe we can maintain that.
QUESTION: In general terms could you describe the importance or the significance of these operations in north Kandahar?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL HURLEY: These operations are conducted in concert with the plan that's in place for Regional Command South, Regional Command South?West. So, Operation Hamkari you would have seen going on last year and the subsequent ones into Kandahar region, so these are done in concert with that to deny safe havens, particularly to the insurgents operating in those areas. So they're very important in terms of denying freedom of manoeuvre to the insurgents and as they respond to those operations.
Gentlemen, if there's no other questions, thank you very much.