TRANSCRIPT: Death of Australian soldier in Afghanistan
TRANSCRIPTION: E & OE - PROOF ONLY
DATE: 3 July 2012
GENERAL HURLEY: Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I'm deeply saddened to inform you that an Australian soldier serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan was killed during an operating on the Chorah Valley region of Uruzgan Province yesterday morning, local Afghan time.
The soldier was shot in the chest during an engagement with insurgents while on a partnered mission with the Afghan National Security Forces to target an insurgent commander. The patrols advanced first aider provided immediate assistance and continued attempts to resuscitate the wounded soldier until he was evacuated by helicopter to the Role 2 Medical Facility in Tarin Kot.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of all, attempts to resuscitate the soldier were unsuccessful.
A team from the soldiers' unit informed his family overnight and they will continue to support them through this difficult period and for as long as they need.
The soldier's family have asked that at this time his name not be released and I ask you to respect their wishes. We will release personal details at an appropriate time.
In the meantime, I can provide you with some information about his service. The 40 year old Special Forces soldier was a member of the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment. His colleagues describe him as a highly professional operator who earned great respect within the special operations community over many years of service.
The Special Forces soldier enlisted in the Army in 1990 and joined the Special Air Service Regiment in 1995, deploying on six operations during a career spanning more than 20 years. He was on his seventh tour of duty in Afghanistan.
On behalf of the Army and the Defence community I extend my deepest sympathy to this soldier's family, his comrades and his mates.
I know that these words cannot ease the overwhelming grief they feel today, but I hope they can find comfort in the knowledge that this soldier served his country with pride and with distinction. There are tough days ahead but we will ensure that they do not face them alone.
Every combat death is deeply felt by all members across Defence. Despite this, our men and women remain committed to our mission in Afghanistan.
This man was a soldier's soldier and I know that the members of the Special Operations Task Group will ensure his service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.
PM: Our nation, once again, has to absorb the news of a loss in Afghanistan. We have lost another brave Australian soldier. This is a dreadful blow for our nation and I know Australians today will stop, will pause, will reflect and will mark with respect the loss of this brave soldier and will honour his service and his sacrifice.
While this is a blow for all of us, it will be felt most deeply by this soldier's family and friends. For his family, they have had news overnight that is the most shocking and distressing news that a family could ever receive. My condolences go to them.
On behalf of the Australian nation, I extend all of our condolences to his family as they mourn his loss.
This is an incredibly difficult time for them. The Defence family will be there to support them; the Australian nation will be there to support them. But we know that they will face so many difficult days ahead.
For many Australians, when they hear this news, they will ask themselves again ‘why are we in Afghanistan? Why do we continue to fight there? Why do we continue to see these losses in Afghanistan?’
To Australians, I want to say this: this is a tragic and incredibly difficult day. We are all absorbing tragic news. But this tragic incident is part of what we are doing in Afghanistan because that mission is so important to our Australian nation.
We went there to make sure that Afghanistan would not continue to be a safe haven for terrorists. That continues to be our mission, which has a defined purpose and a defined timeline. So, we will continue our mission in Afghanistan, even as we grieve this loss.
I'll have the Minister for Defence make some statements now.
MINISTER SMITH: Thank you, Prime Minister.
This is a terrible blow to our nation and a terrible blow to an Australian family. This will also be very deeply felt by the Special Air Services Regiment in Swanbourne, and this will reverberate through the local Swanbourne and Perth community.
Coming from Perth, as I do, I very much appreciate the iconic status in which the SAS is held, so this will be very deeply felt throughout the Swanbourne and the Perth community.
Can I join with Chief of the Defence Force and the Prime Minister in expressing condolences to the family of this lost soldier. And this will be a terrible moment and a terrible day for them.
This is, of course, our 33rd fatality in Afghanistan and our first for this year.
Indeed, our first in some seven or eight months. And over such a period of time, although one constantly says that one has to steel oneself for more fatalities, you can lull yourself into a false sense of security. So, this tragic loss will reverberate through the Australian community today.
33 lost members of the Australian Defence Force personnel. This will be the 16th from our Special Operations Task Group from the SAS and also from our commandos and incident response group.
So, a terrible day, a terrible blow for a family, a terrible blow for the Defence Force, for Army, for the SAS, and a terrible blow for the family and our condolences and our thoughts are with them.
PM: We'll take questions but in line with usual arrangements, we'll only take questions on this incident or on the mission in Afghanistan.
JOURNALIST: May I ask General Hurley?
JOURNALIST: General, are there any other details you can give us about the timing, the location of the incident, what province they were in, and was the soldier wearing body armour?
GENERAL HURLEY: Okay. Within Uruzgan Province, Chorah Valley, early morning insertion into an operation by helicopter. That's as much as I can say at the moment. The operation is still ongoing and, yes, he was wearing his normal combat body armour and equipment.
JOURNALIST: And he was shot in the chest?
GENERAL HURLEY: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Did the bullet penetrate the body armour?
GENERAL HURLEY: I don't know any of the details of that at the moment, Brendan.
JOURNALIST: And sorry, when did it happen?
GENERAL HURLEY: Yesterday morning local time in Afghanistan.
JOURNALIST: And was it the same operation in which the dog was killed in-
GENERAL HURLEY: It's a part of a series of missions within that operation, yes.
JOURNALIST: Right. And is there still comprehensive action in the Chorah Valley?
GENERAL HURLEY: This was after a particular person. So that would have been an intelligence-led operation for that particular person.
JOURNALIST: You're not able to tell us, General, what the outcome of that operation was?
GENERAL HURLEY: No, they're still continuing, so we'll leave that until they've finished the operation.
JOURNALIST: And can you tell us anything, Sir, about where he was originally from? He's obviously based in Western Australia at the moment. Is he from Western Australia originally? Where is his family based?
GENERAL HURLEY: We'll just leave those details for the moment, if you don't mind. Family still needs to contact wider family, so we'll let them go through that process and then we'll release those details when they're ready.
JOURNALIST: Can you say whether or not he was married at all General Hurley?
GENERAL HURLEY: No, I don't want to give any other details at the moment, thanks.
JOURNALIST: General, the Chorah Valley is generally been one of the safer areas of Afghanistan. Is there an issue there in terms of it sliding back towards the insurgency or-
GENERAL HURLEY: I don't believe so. I think this was a specific piece of intelligence they responded to.
JOURNALIST: You said it was a helicopter operation. Does that mean that he was in a helicopter or-
GENERAL HURLEY: No, no, they were delivered by and inserted by helicopter.
JOURNALIST: And somebody shot him on the ground?
GENERAL HURLEY: During that insertion process, yes.
JOURNALIST: Just one person or was there an ambush?
GENERAL HURLEY: No detail at the moment.
JOURNALIST: You said he was on his seventh operation of Afghanistan. How much time had he spent there in total and how does that compare? Is he one of the people who spent probably the most time in Afghanistan out of the Australian soldiers?
GENERAL HURLEY: I don't have the aggregate time he spent to hand at the present time. I've spoken to the Chief of Army about that this morning though. His seventh tour, which is probably unusual in terms of the number of tours people have undertaken.
But reminding, I did, about this time last year when I took over as the Chief of the Defence Force, I raised my concerns about frequency of tours, had that examined.
I'm confident that the management processes are in place, in terms of the psychological management of members of the SAS, they're really individually managed by the commanding officer and all of them are volunteers to go back to serve in Afghanistan. But it's an issue we need to keep a sharp eye on.
JOURNALIST: Seven rotations. Are we asking too much of our Special Forces in Afghanistan?
GENERAL HURLEY: Again, they are volunteers for this, really hand managed within the unit and we very carefully assess whether or not they're fit for service on each occasion.
JOURNALIST: So, you're confident that he was fit for service?
GENERAL HURLEY: Yes.
JOURNALIST: General, can I just go back to the actual incident itself? Did Australian soldiers return fire? Was there air support called in or anything like that?
GENERAL HURLEY: No details of the contact for the moment; simply that it occurred during the insertion for the operation.
JOURNALIST: So it’s just the one shot from-
GENERAL HURLEY: Don’t know any of that detail at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Are we able to say whether the person they were going after was captured?
GENERAL HURLEY: Not yet, the operation is still ongoing.
JOURNALIST: Were any other soldiers injured?
GENERAL HURLEY: No, he was the only casualty.
PM: Thank you very much.
GENERAL HURLEY: Thank you very much.