The West

Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith was among a group of Australian and Afghan soldiers who became entangled in a fierce gun battle at a village in northern Kandahar last June.

The intense battle, lasting 13 hours from sunrise to sunset, erupted shortly after the SAS, Australian Commandos and Afghan National Army soldiers disembarked from their helicopters.

The firefight was during a big NATO offensive against Taliban insurgents in the district of Shah Wali Kot.

The coalition forces' objective was to disrupt a key insurgent stronghold from which the Taliban had been launching attacks against Afghan communities and coalition forces.

The Defence Department issued a media release about the battle last year but it made no mention of the heroics of Cpl Roberts-Smith

Over 4½ hours, the department said, Taliban insurgents poured heavy fire on the coalition soldiers from their concealed fighting positions.

At one point in the battle, Cpl Roberts-Smith and a small group of his SAS comrades became pinned down on the outskirts of a village, under heavy fire from Taliban machinegunners.

The 202cm-tall corporal, showing complete disregard for his own wellbeing, rushed the Taliban position and shot dead several insurgents at close range.

It was an act described by his colleagues as the most conspicuous act of bravery imaginable by an Australian soldier.

In all, dozens of insurgents were killed.

The coalition forces suffered just two casualties - an Australian was shot in the arm and an Afghani was wounded in the side.

Cpl Roberts-Smith was not one of them.

A huge cache of Taliban weapons was seized after the offensive.

They included assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, heavy machineguns and radio handsets.

"Through the Shah Wali Kot offensive, the combined coalition force has severely disrupted an important insurgent stronghold," Maj-Gen. John Cantwell, the commander of Australian forces in the Middle East, said at the time.

He said the operation had deprived insurgents of a staging area from which to launch offensives into the Australian-patrolled Oruzgan province, disrupting a key supply route and improving security for local people.

The West Australian

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