Australian soldier killed while battling insurgents in Afghanistan
An Australian Special Forces soldier has been killed by small arms fire while fighting insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the Chief of the Defence Force has confirmed.
Another Special Forces soldier was seriously wounded and a Royal Australian Air Force airman was also hurt in the exchange of fire yesterday.
The Chief of the Defence Force, David Hurley, says Australian forces were conducting a partnered operation with Afghan personnel to disrupt an insurgent network.
"This network is known to have direct influences on insurgent activity in Uruzgan province," he said.
General Hurley says members of the patrol provided immediate first aid to casualties, who were then flown to Tarin Kot.
The seriously wounded soldier had surgery and has been transferred to the Role 3 medical facility at Kandahar, while the airman is recovering at Tarin Kot.
General Hurley says the families of those involved in the incident have been informed.
He described the man who was killed as a decorated soldier from the Sydney-based 2nd Commando Regiment.
He was on his fifth tour of Afghanistan and had previously served in Iraq and East Timor.
"In combat and as a team commander, he was the man to watch, and never happier than when the situation demanded decisive action and courage," General Hurley said.
He added the man's family has asked that his name not be released this morning.
This latest incident takes the number of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 40.
General Hurley says his thoughts and prayers are with the wounded personnel and their families.
"In the coming days we will make arrangements to bring our fallen soldier home to his family and friends," he said.
"As with each of these incidents, I will also appoint an inquiry officer to fully examine the circumstances surrounding this event."
PM pays tribute to 'very brave man'
Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered condolences to the families of the soldiers involved.
"On behalf of the nation, I offer our condolences to the family and friends of the commando who has been lost," she said.
"He was an elite soldier and a very brave man.
"We are thinking of his family and friends today and we respect their wishes for privacy at this time.
"The nations thoughts are with the family of the soldier who has been seriously wounded.
"We wish for him a speedy recovery, our thoughts are with him as he recovers and our thoughts too are with the airman who has sustained more minor wounds."
News of the latest death came just as a memorial was opened for the 39 Australians previously killed in the Afghan conflict.
Ms Gillard said every loss in Afghanistan hits the nation hard.
"Not only will the nation be hit hard today, but for many, this will be a very painful reminder that the risk is not over, the danger isn't gone," she said.
"Our last loss was in October last year and I think many have probably lulled themselves into a false sense of security that we would see no more losses in Afghanistan.
"This news reminds us that our mission is ongoing, that the danger is ongoing.
"We have got work to do and our ADF personnel are over there doing important work for the nation but work that has real risks."
Australia 'will see its mission through'
Ms Gillard promised Australian forces would see the mission through.
"We went to Afghanistan for the right reasons," she said.
"We went there because Afghanistan had provided a safe haven for the training of terrorists and that terrorist training was implicated in the loss of Australian lives, including in Bali.
"We are clear about our mission. We are clear about its end point.
"The bulk of our forces will come home at the end of this year but we have got more work to do in Afghanistan and so we will see that mission through."
Defence Minister Stephen Smith says Afghanistan continues to be a difficult and dangerous place.
"I can well recall when the Chief of the Defence Force and I were in Afghanistan most recently in early June, he and I both made the point to our troops that whilst the risk had changed they needed to be ever vigilant because their presence there continued to carry with it grave risks," he said.
Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the soldier's death is a reminder of the service and sacrifice of the Defence Force.
He says their work in Afghanistan is about making the world a safer place so it never again becomes a base for international terror.
Mr Abbott expressed the Coalition's condolences to the soldier's family, friends and comrades.