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Afghani children killed by Australian diggers -

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Afghani children killed by Australian diggers

The World Today - Friday, 13 February , 2009 12:35:00

Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Australian Defence Force may end up paying compensation to the families of
the five Afghani children killed by Australian soldiers in southern Afghanistan yesterday.

The soldiers were in Oruzgan province. They say they were fired on by Taliban insurgents. The
casualties occurred when the soldiers returned fire. An investigation has begun.

The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon spoke to Alexandra Kirk.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Of course I find the whole incident very, very distressing and of course
profoundly regrettable but I know that our troops always operate within their rules of engagement
and in conformity with international law. And I've got no reason to doubt they were doing just that
on this occasion.

We are operating in a very complex environment. Counter-insurgency campaigns have been within
communities and the reality is, not to suggest that it was necessarily the case on this occasion,
the reality is that the Taliban and other insurgents are known to deliberately use civilians as
human shields.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you believe that's the case this time around?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I don't know whether that's the case. There will of course be an investigation.
Defence has rightly expressed its regret. I express regret on behalf of the Government. But again I
know our people well and I know that they always act with great care and within their rules of
engagement.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you expect Australia to offer compensation to these families?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Compensation is often appropriate in these cases. We won't know how appropriate in
this particular occasion till we've had an investigation.

I also today am thinking about our own people who are out there doing important and very dangerous
work in difficult circumstances and they naturally I would have thought would be affected by this
incident.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think that these deaths and woundings were in any way avoidable?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: We are working in a very complex counter-insurgency environment, raiding
compounds. Our people were under heavy fire. It would be easy I think for your listeners to imagine
those circumstances.

I can only say that I have an overwhelming confidence that our people always act cautiously,
responsibly, completely in conformity with their rules of engagement and completely in keeping with
their obligations under international law.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: There has been a recognition that there is a need to win the hearts and minds of
the local Afghan population. Will this set that battle back?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Winning the hearts and minds of the population is of course an important part of
the formula for better success in Afghanistan and of course, instances like this don't help us in
this cause. But often they are unavoidable when you are operating in complex environments, under
heavy fire, within communities and often against an enemy who don't have the same regard for human
life as do we.

Compensation might be appropriate in order to ensure that we make better progress in our
relationship with the communities and not go backwards in those relationships.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Have you offered your personal apology?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I've not had the opportunity to offer them a personal apology. I don't know
to whom I would make that apology until we have a clearer picture of the incident. But of course I
would have no reluctance in offering a personal apology to anyone who's been affected.

And again my thoughts are also with our own soldiers who of course have themselves gone through
what is a very, very bad and tragic experience.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon speaking to Alexandra Kirk.