A Perth-based soldier has been killed during an operation with Afghan security forces in Oruzgan province.
This morning from Darwin, Defence Force Chief David Hurley said the 40-year-old Special Air Service soldier died yesterday morning (Afghan time) after being shot in the chest.
The Digger was shot during an engagement with insurgents while on a partnered mission with Afghan security forces targeting an insurgent commander, General Hurley said.
First aid was provided until he was evacuated to a medical facility at Tarin Kowt.
“Sadly, despite the best efforts of all, attempts to resuscitate the soldier were unsuccessful,” he said.
The man’s family was informed overnight. They have asked that his name not be released.
General Hurley said he was greatly respected by his colleagues.
The soldier, who has not yet been named, enlisted in 1990 and joined the SASR in 1995.
It was his seventh tour of duty in Afghanistan, a situation Gen Hurley said was “probably unusual”.
But he said he was confident there were proper management processes in place to ensure soldiers were not being asked to do too much.
“It's an issue we need to keep a sharp eye on,” he said.
The man was the only casualty and was wearing his normal combat body armour at the time of the incident, Gen Hurley said.
Gen Hurley declined to give any further personal details, including where the man was originally from and whether or not he was married.
“Family still needs to contact wider family so we'll let them go through that process and then we'll release those details when we're ready,” he said.
The operation is ongoing.
A defence force dog was also killed in the operation.
The SAS soldier is the first Australian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year, but the 33rd to die in the conflict since 2002.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith also addressed the media from Darwin's Larrakeyah Barracks a short time ago.
Mr Smith said the loss would be very deeply felt within the special forces community and in Perth where the SASR holds an iconic status.
His death is the first for Australia since Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin were shot dead by a man in an Afghan army uniform during morning parade on October 29 last year.
“Indeed, our first in some seven or eight months and over such a period of time, though one constantly says that one has to steel oneself for more fatalities, you can lull yourself into a false sense of security,” Mr Smith said.
“So this tragic loss will reverberate through the Australian community today.”
It was a terrible day for the soldier's family, the SAS and the Australian Army and defence force, Mr Smith said.
The Prime Minister said the soldier's death was a “dreadful blow” to the nation.
“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,” Ms Gillard said.
“On behalf of the Australian nation I extend all of our condolences to his family as they mourn his loss.
“The defence family will be there to support them, the Australian nation will be there to support them, but we know they will face so many difficult days ahead.”
Ms Gillard said the news may leave many asking why Australian forces were still in Afghanistan.
“This tragic incident is part of what we are doing in Afghanistan because that mission is so important to our Australian nation,” she said.
“We went there to make sure that Afghanistan would not continue to be a safe haven for terrorists. We will continue our mission in Afghanistan even as we grieve his loss.”
Earlier, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said: “My thoughts are with the family and with the mates of the lost soldier."
“We reflect that he is doing a job that produces a stable Afghanistan where girls can go to school and families can live without violence and where there aren’t bases for terrorists to strike the rest of the world.”Troops are entering "the fighting season" in Afghanistan, traditionally the time when the Taliban emerge from the mountains during the summer.
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