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Exposed on high ground, with Taliban machinegun bullets spitting puffs of dust as they pierced the ground at his feet, Cpl Daniel Keighran thought hard to find a way to explain to the Afghan soldier where he wanted him to target his rocket-propelled grenade.

Cpl Keighran had spotted a group of insurgents pushing through a watery ditch among the marijuana fields below and needed the Afghan taking cover alongside him to bring his heavy weapon to bear.

He fired several tracer rounds at the target but it didn't twig with the soldier what the Australian wanted.

Ignoring the bullets snapping around his head, Cpl Keighran began snatching up small rocks and stones and patiently built a little map of the area in front where the Taliban where hiding. He jabbed with his finger where he needed the Afghan to fire the rocket-propelled grenade.

The Afghan soldier suddenly understood. He shouldered the rocket and let fly. It missed.

He reloaded, aimed the weapon and fired again. The rocket was on target, detonating among the Taliban with a thump.

The soldier looked at Cpl Keighran with a satisfied grin.

"RPG good," the Afghan hooted with glee.

Derapet is a small village in the far west of Oruzgan province in southern Afghanistan.

It is little different from any other village in the region - a cluster of mud huts and compounds bordered by green farmland crossed with creeks and muddy aqueducts, surrounded by high dusty mountains.

On August 24, 2010 a group of 20 Australians was tasked with patrolling through Derapet with a team of 20 Afghan National Army soldiers.

Until that point the area had been under the control of Dutch forces, but with the Netherlands withdrawing from Afghanistan, Australia was to assume responsibility.

The Dutch had taken a largely hands-off approach to policing the area, but the Australians felt more aggressive tactics were called for. The Diggers wanted to encourage the ANA to establish themselves among the local population, but in order to do that the Afghans needed to start carrying out regular patrols.

In the early light of dawn a team of bomb detection experts led by Sapper Joel Toms began to clear an escarpment overlooking Derapet for a small support group of light armoured vehicles and Bushmaster gun trucks.

The plan was that the LAVs and Bushmasters armed with their 25mm cannon and .50 calibre machineguns would provide cover as the Australians and Afghans patrolled on foot into the village.

The feature had been nicknamed IED hill by the Dutch, so the Australians wanted to make sure the area was free of booby traps. But as the explosive detection team went about their work, Spr Toms looked down into Derapet and saw something that made him pause.

Many women and children were moving out of the village, away from the approaching Australians. It was a sure sign the Taliban were around and preparing for a fight.

"We were used to judging atmospherics but this was something we hadn't really seen before," Spr Toms said.

"It was rows of people - 20, 30 people - just conga lines moving straight out." As the sapper radioed what he was seeing, he and his team began taking sporadic fire. The Australians sent a few rounds back and the shooting trailed off.

Down below, Mentoring Team Delta was beginning its slow patrol through Derapet.

Sgt Sean Lanigan, who was at the head of the formation, said the atmosphere was eerie. Few civilians could be seen.

As the patrol reached the end of the village, Sgt Lanigan saw two children, standing quietly watching the soldiers.

He was on edge. He suspected they were "dickers" - spotters for Taliban concealed in fields opposite or huts on the other side of the river. There was a blast of heavy machinegun and AK-47 fire at close range from marijuana fields on the edge of the village.

Instead of falling back, Sgt Lanigan and another soldier, Pte Paul Langer, ran forward into the criss-cross of sunken farming aqueducts, heaping fire on the insurgents in an effort to pin them down and quickly win the fire fight.

"When you are up the front, your job is to return fire and regain the initiative, so we he hooked in," Sgt Lanigan says.

"Things got pretty intense pretty quickly."

It was at this moment Cpl Keighran took a snap decision that would change the course of his life.

Cpl Keighran, who had been a few metres behind Sgt Lanigan, decided he needed to get to high ground so he could direct the explosive automatic cannon rounds of the LAVs on to the Taliban and support Sgt Lanigan, fighting for his life at close range in the fields below.

Together with machinegunner Pte Shaun Parker, Cpl Keighran turned and ran about 80m back up a hill overlooking the village and farmland. Cpl Lukas Woolley, who was in cover in the village, saw Cpl Keighran break cover.

"I just saw Dan pelt up the hill and he just rallied the boys and he was straight up there," he says.

"You look back on it now and that was pretty crazy."

Cpl Woolly gathered an ANA heavy weapons team carrying PKM machineguns and RPGs and began pushing, driving them up the ridge line to spread out and put heavy fire back down into the marijuana fields.

It was only then Cpl Keighran realised the trouble he was in.

From a cluster of mud huts and positions further along the valley, dozens of enemy guns opened up, ignoring the Australians in the village and concentrating their fire on the men on the hill.

"It's like breaking the sound barrier next to your ear," Cpl Keighran said.

"The closer it gets, the crisper it sounds. So you know if you can hear it clearly, it's bloody close."

Ignoring the gunfire, Cpl Keighran ran back and forward across the exposed hill to steady the Afghan troops and redirect their fire to better effect.

"Every time I am moving I am attracting more fire," Cpl Keighran said. "But I wanted to make sure those boys knew what they were doing. And they were."

Half an hour into the battle, Cpl Keighran threw a smoke marker to show his position to avoid being hit by the LAV covering fire. "That was probably the stupidest thing I did all day, because anyone in that valley who didn't know where we were, did after that," he said.

With the small group of Australians and Afghans established on the hill above, the soldiers below in the field and the village suddenly realised most of the enemy fire was no longer coming at them, but was pouring over their heads and peppering the ground around Cpl Keighran and his team.

With the fire from across the valley intensifying, Cpl Keighran ran back down the hill to find an Australian soldier specialised in calling in airstrikes - a joint terminal attack controller.

He found the JTAC and the pair ran and crawled back up the hill to call in an attack on the enemy from Dutch Apache helicopters.

With the JTAC in position, Cpl Keighran stood up and ran more than 50m along the ridge so the Taliban would fire their guns, exposing their positions for an airstrike.

He did it three times.

"The second time was pushing it, the third time I am lucky to say the least," he said. "We just needed to engage targets farther out. The boys were copping rounds, I was copping rounds, we needed to neutralise them."

Below a reserve patrol codenamed 43 Charlie had pushed into the village to join the fight. Among the reinforcements was 28-year-old Lance-Cpl Jared MacKinney.

Lance-Cpl MacKinney - Crash to his friends - was struck by a single round as he attempted to move a MAG 58 machinegun up a hill.

His mates immediately dragged him back to cover and began first aid while another soldier made a radio call for a medical evacuation helicopter.

The Diggers did not know it at the time, but their friend was already dead. Though hit in the arm, the bullet ricocheted into his chest cavity, killing him instantly.

With a group of soldiers in the village gathering to clear a landing zone for the incoming US Black Hawk, Cpl Keighran again stood and exposed himself to enemy fire to try to draw heat off the team wrestling with his mate's body. Waiting with the lifeless body of his friend in a small courtyard, Cpl Woolly watched as the Black Hawk made two passes on the landing zone, aborting each time because of the storm of Taliban fire.

On the third run the helicopter came in as low and fast as possible, the American pilots throwing the machine on the ground with a thump.

"Thank you. You rock," Cpl Woolly thought as he gave a thumbs-up to the pilots.

In 40 seconds Crash was loaded on to the helicopter and the aircraft lifted back into the sky and hammered back down the valley.

With the casualty evacuation out of the way, the airspace was clear for the Apache gunships to come in and spray the enemy.

As the helicopters made their runs, the battle wound down and Cpl Keighran and his team were able to pull off the ridge line, link up with the rest of the patrol and slowly withdraw back out of the valley. Over coming days, using feeds from drone aircraft and sources on the ground, the Australians were to estimate they had killed between 30 and 95 Taliban during the three-hour battle.

The collection of honours makes the battle of Derapet one of the most decorated actions since the battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.

Now retired as a full-time soldier but still in the Army Reserve, Cpl Keighran has been living in Kalgoorlie for a year. He works in an underground gold mine as a "nipper" - drilling bolts into the mine shaft walls. He is being schooled as a blaster.

"I am now training to blow up things underground," he says with a broad smile.

He misses being deployed with the army, but not the mundane daily work of drills and paperwork. He feels no pressure to go back full time.

Would he go to Afghanistan again? "Yeah I would. Definitely."