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Sky News On The Hour 9am -

View in ParlView



31 MAY 2011

Subjects: Afghanistan

PM: Thank you.

I stood here a week ago to speak to the nation about the tragic loss of Brett Wood. I stand here
just a week later at another heart breaking time for our nation.

We have had news overnight that we have lost two very brave young men in Afghanistan: one
25-year-old, one 27-year-old - very young men.

They were lost in separate incidents. The 25-year-old young man was lost in an incident where he
was shot by an Afghan National Army soldier.

In the second incident, a Chinook helicopter has got into difficulties and we have lost a
27-year-old Australian Army officer.

The families who have lost these young men are in the depths of mourning today. They've asked us to
respect their privacy at this incredibly difficult time, and in those circumstances they've asked
us at this stage not to release the names of the two young men involved.

However, whilst we absolutely respect their need for privacy, we can at this time convey to them
our heartfelt condolences. The nation will be thinking of these two families today. They will be
thinking of them with warmth. They will be sending their sincerest best wishes at this incredibly
difficult time for these two families and for our nation.

I, as Prime Minister, on behalf of the Australian nation and standing here in the Australian
Parliament, on behalf of this parliament, send our sincere condolences to these two families in the
depths of their loss.

In relation to these two incidents, the first occurred yesterday evening at a patrol base in the
Chorah Valley. A member of the mentoring taskforce was undertaking guard duty in a security tower.
He was shot by an Afghan National Army soldier, who was also manning the same security guard tower.

Despite receiving extensive and timely medical assistance, the Australian soldier subsequently

A security operation was launched at the patrol base to apprehend the Afghan National Army soldier,
but he escaped and he has not been detained to this point.

Now, the circumstances of this incident are still very unclear, but it is very shocking and I think
many Australian will find it very disturbing, but I can say to Australians is we will be
investigating this incident, and as the Chief of our Defence Force has made clear and the Minister
for Defence has made clear, when we are in a position to provide further information to people
about what has happened here then we most certainly will do so, and we will be making very
determined efforts, working with others in Uruzgan Province, to apprehend the perpetrator of this

Now, I understand that there will be many questions asked, but I do want to say the following about
the work that we are doing training the Afghan National Army. We have a strong, professional
relationship with the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army. We have trained and mentored
hundreds and hundreds of 4th Brigade soldiers. We partner with them in patrols throughout Uruzgan
Province, and they are becoming a more capable and professional force.

This work is vital to our mission in Afghanistan. Indeed, we cannot succeed in that mission without
doing this training. We are working towards the goal of Afghan Forces being able to take over
security leadership of Uruzgan Province and to provide security for their own people.

So, the relationship between our soldiers and the soldiers in the Afghan National Army is one of
the longest-running in Afghanistan, and this is the first incident of this nature we have faced.
The Commander of the 4th Brigade, General Khan, has expressed his shock and his outrage at the
attack, and the 4th Brigade, the Uruzgan Provincial Authorities and of course we are determined to
do everything we can to apprehend the perpetrator and we will be working to understand the full
details of what has happened here, and we will be conveying those full details to the Australian
community when we can.

In the second incident, an Australian Army officer was killed when a helicopter undertaking a
resupply mission crashed. Once again, we don't know the full circumstances as to what caused the
helicopter crash. The 27-year-old officer was a qualified pilot. He was not the pilot of the
helicopter at the time. He'd served in East Timor and he'd been part of Operation flood Assist in
Queensland when helicopters were so relied on to assist Queensland communities at such a difficult

Five other ADF personnel were wounded in this incident. Their condition is satisfactory.

Once again, when we are in a position to provide further information to Australians about what has
happened with this helicopter crash, then we will certainly do so.

I understand this is an incredibly hard day for our nation. It follows hard on the heels of a very
difficult when we heard the news about Brett Wood. I understand that Australians will be feeling
the burden of this today. They will be feeling the sadness that goes with the loss of these two
brave young men, and they will be thinking about the burden being borne by the families involved.

We've stuck together on difficult days. I'm sure we will stick together on this very difficult day,
and whilst we feel the weight of this, our determination to see the mission through in Afghanistan
must continue. I am determined that we see the mission through, and we will keep working to do that
in Afghanistan.

We should also keep in our thoughts the fellow members of the Australian Defence Force who will be
bearing the burden of this news as well. For many of them, this is another very tough day, and our
thoughts are with them.

I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the trust between Australian soldiers and the Afghan National Army,
members that they are mentoring in the Chorah Valley at these patrol bases is often fragile. How do
you think this betrayal will affect that level of trust?

PM: First and foremost we do need to remember that our soldiers are there working alongside,
patrolling with and training members of the Afghan National Army, and we've done that in very large
numbers, literally trained hundreds, indeed thousands, of members of the Afghan National Army, and
this is the first incident of this nature.

Of course, it's shocking and it's disturbing and we want to understand exactly what's happened
here, and that's why we it will be very fully investigated and we will be very clear with everyone,
I think every Australian will want to understand what's happened here, but the thing really is to
investigate and to get to the bottom of this so we can fully understand these circumstances.

General Khan has, on behalf of the Afghan National Army, expressed his shock and outrage at this,
too. We do need to continue the training mission. We can't acquit our mission in Afghanistan
without training the Afghan National Army.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, were there any witnesses to the shooting, (inaudible) investigate it?

PM: I'm not in a position to add to the details you've had from the Chief of the Defence Force and
the Minister for Defence and I'm certainly not going to speculate on what the details could be.

As you've heard from the Chief of the Defence Force, this happened when the Afghan National Army
soldier and the Australian soldier who tragically lost his life were together on guard duty. A full
investigation will be implemented to get to the bottom of what's happened here and our ADF is a
very professional organisation and they bringing their best expertise and resources to bear in the

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned, Prime Minister, about what impact this might have on public
confidence in its support for the efforts in Afghanistan, when soldiers from the country we're
there to liberate and protect start killing our soldiers?

PM: Look, I understand many Australians will hear this news today. They'll be shocked and it will
be causing them to ask questions. They will be disturbed by it. I very much understand that and I
think we've all got a really shared want to get to the bottom of this and to understand it, but I
will be asking people at this really difficult time to think about the full breadth of what we're
doing in Afghanistan.

We have trained thousands of Afghan National Army soldiers. We've worked alongside them. Our
soldiers have worked alongside them. I personally, when I've been in Afghanistan, have heard our
soldiers compliment members of the Afghan National Army on their professionalism and their
determination in the work that they've done alongside our soldiers, so all of that has been

Then, of course, we've got this really troubling incident and we've got to get to the bottom of it.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what's the message that we've conveyed to the commanders of the Afghan
National Army?

PM: The message that the General has conveyed to us, General Khan, is that he's shocked and that
he's outraged, too.

JOURNALIST: Is there a concern about the recruitment for the ANA, that perhaps there needs to be
greater scrutiny of the people that are being recruited to perhaps prevent any Taliban members

PM: Firstly, I don't want to make any assumptions about this incident. I don't think that would be
responsible for me to do so and I don't have any more facts available at my disposal than what the
Minister for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force had when they spoke to you a short time
earlier today, so I don't want to jump to any conclusions about this incident. It's got to be fully
investigated, but as the Chief of the Defence Force said to you today, obviously there's checking
and processes that are gone through by Defence in Afghanistan as they work on the training and
working with persons in the Afghan National Army.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the 25-year-old was shot about four times, I think, by the ANA soldier.
What have you been told about incidents leading up to that, indeed, whether the Australian soldier
shot back or whether the 25-year-old was shot?

PM: Look-

JOURNALIST: -Sorry, whether the ANA soldier was shot?

PM: The information I have available to me is that our soldier was wounded and subsequently died.
The Chief of the Defence Force I think indicated to you that there were three wounds. As far as I
understand it the Afghan soldier involved in this incident then fled and was fired at by another
Afghan soldier, but I understand from information available to me that he was wounded in that
incident, and of course all steps possible are being taken to now apprehend that Afghan National
Army soldier, the perpetrator of this incident, which has led to the tragic death of a 25-year-old
Australian soldier.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said that Australia would be asking questions today. What are the
compelling answers that you have for them for staying the course?

PM: Well, the same answer I gave you last week is the same answer I would give today - in the
hardest of circumstances, we need to be determined to stay the course in Afghanistan.

We're in Afghanistan because we don't want it to be a safe haven for terrorists. It has been in the
past, and if we left a security vacuum in Afghanistan it would be filled by terrorist groups from
around the world. We've seen that happen in the past. We would see it happen again.

In order to ensure that Afghanistan doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists, we need to see the
mission through. We face a determined insurgency. We face a major training mission, and we've been
acquitting that training mission.

The end point here is for Afghans themselves to provide security in their own nation, and of course
we are not there alone. We are there under a United Nations mandate, under a UN mandate, working
alongside other nations to bring security to Afghanistan so it isn't a safe haven for terrorists,
and our nation has had to absorb shocking news in the past of the violence that terrorists trained
in Afghanistan have wrought against the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said that the ANA does conduct checks. Will you be asking it to
increase or improve its vetting in the light of this incident?

PM: Well, I actually didn't say that. My words to you, reflecting the words of the Chief of the
Defence Force is that we, Australia, have our processes as we work with the people that we train.
I'm not going to speculate what this incident may or may not mean in relation to those processes. I
think that's getting ahead of ourselves. We need to understand what's happened here.

JOURNALIST: Does Afghanistan have the death penalty for murder, Prime Minister? Would you support
it in this case, if it's proven this soldier was killed-

PM: -My understanding is that Afghanistan does have the death penalty, but let's deal with this a
step at a time here. First and foremost, we are obviously seeking to apprehend the perpetrator
here, and if it's (inaudible) being made to do that, and obviously we want to see that done.

Second, we want to understand what has happened in this incident, and in addition to those things
today we want to solemnly stand shoulder to shoulder with some families who are just absorbing the
worst possible news a family could get.

We'll make this the last one. Thanks, Brendan.

JOURNALIST: There have been incidents, a number of them, in the past, involving Coalition-

PM: -Yes, that's true.

JOURNALIST: They fall into two broad categories: sometimes they're planned attacks, infiltration by
Taliban or other insurgents; or sometimes it might simply be a brain snap by an angry soldier. Have
you been given any indication which category this could fall into?

PM: Brendan, you're right. There have been some incidents of this kind of nature involving other
Coalition partners in Afghanistan. This is the first incident that we have seen of this nature.

I can't tell you, the Chief of the Defence Force couldn't tell you, the Minister for Defence
couldn't tell you, on the information available to us now what category of incident this is, and
consequently what implications it may have.

It's not responsible for me to speculate and I'm not intending to do so. What's the right thing to
do is to have the incident investigated, and we will be transparent with people about the outcome
of those investigations.

I think everyone will want to understand what this means for us, but as we go through those
processes, as I just indicated to Mark, first and foremost on our minds today is the circumstances
of these two families: 25-year-old, 27-year-old, very young men, a lot of grief.

Thank you.