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Vice Chief of the Defence Force speech [and] Report into the death of Sgt Brett Till
DEFENCE SPEECH TRANSCRIPT
VICE CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE FORCE SPEECH RELEASE OF INQUIRY OFFICER'S REPORT INTO THE DEATH OF SGT BRETT TILL 16 SEP 2010
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am here this morning to release the findings of the Inquiry Officer's report into Sergeant Brett Till's death in Afghanistan on March 19, 2009.
The Chief of the Defence Force conducts inquiries into all combat deaths on operations. An Inquiry Officer is appointed to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident so that an informed decision may be taken about the action required to avoid a recurrence. Releasing this report is part of that process.
Before I discuss the Inquiry Officer's findings I would like to say Defence acknowledges the delay in releasing this report. The Inquiry Officer identified some matters which required further examination and Defence has undertaken a number of reviews in the 18 months since Sergeant Till's death. I understand the anxiety this delay must have caused Sergeant Till's family and friends but it was essential that the issues identified by the Inquiry Officer were examined in critical detail to safeguard other Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians and our counter IED capability.
Sergeant Till was a highly respected soldier and a very capable EOD Technician from the Incident Response Regiment based at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney. He spent eight years in the Royal Australian Engineers and was a fully qualified EOD Technician. Having successfully completed both the Special Operations Task Group and the IED specific Mission Rehearsal Exercises, Sergeant Till was certified for deployment. In addition to these qualifications, Sergeant Till's colleagues expressed a high degree of confidence in his abilities.
In the days leading up to the incident, Sergeant Till was part of an EOD Team which had successfully completed multiple IED clearances and ground searches. On 18 and 19 March 2009, Sergeant Till was leading an EOD Team as part of a route clearance operation. The Team was operating in open ground, in a narrow valley, surrounded by rugged, mountainous terrain. Intelligence confirmed there was a heightened threat of IEDs for this mission. Sergeant Till's team was part of a large Force Element and Sergeant Till was backed up by another highly qualified and experienced EOD Technician.
At approximately 0645 hours on the 19th, a member of Sergeant Till's team located an IED. The searchers gave a hand-over brief to Sergeant Till, providing information on the location of the IED components including the pressure plate and the main charge. Sergeant Till conducted a brief investigation of the IED. While Sergeant Till was at the IED location, the Officer Commanding the Force Element was informed of the situation and directed that the
IED be destroyed. Sergeant Till indicated this was his intent and proceeded to deal with the IED, setting an initial charge before returning to cover behind his Protected Mobility Vehicle. The charge exploded and Sergeant Till waited before moving forward to inspect the results.
Having assessed the results, he went back to his vehicle, retrieved some equipment and returned to the IED. Sergeant Till was kneeling next to the main charge when it detonated, killing him instantly.
The Inquiry Officer found that there was insufficient evidence to determine what initiated the detonation. However we do know there are numerous ways to trigger an IED including remote control and anti-handling devices, inadvertent circuit completion, a timer or victim operated trigger.
At the time of the incident, Sergeant Till was wearing his combat body armour and helmet, and not the current in-service EOD suit. An EOD robot was not used during this operation. The rationale for not using an EOD suit or robot has been redacted from the report to preserve techniques, training and procedures, however, the Inquiry Officer determined that these equipment choices were soundly based and reasonable given operational circumstances.
The Inquiry Officer examined pre-operation planning and preparation for the mission along with command and control of the operation and found no weaknesses. Members of the Force Element had varying opportunities to rest during the mission, but the Inquiry Officer could not determine how much rest Sergeant Till had over the 18th and 19th of March. In the absence of clear evidence, the Inquiry Officer cannot rule out fatigue as a contributing factor to the incident however, all military personnel are trained to operate under stressful, tiring and demanding conditions for extended periods.
As I mentioned earlier, the Inquiry Officer raised some matters that required further examination. In particular, the Inquiry Officer's report identified that the manning and composition of EOD Teams may have been a weakness. In response, the Chief of Army commissioned the Explosive Hazards Review Board to undertake a detailed examination of EOD manning and doctrine with particular attention to the preparation and employment of EOD Teams for the Mentoring Task Force (MTF) and SOTG, including training standards and certification.
The Review Board confirmed that the MTF and the SOTG normally conduct different types of missions in different operating environments. The MTF in undertaking the training and partnering of the Afghan National Army operates in the same, relatively defined area in order to provide an overt and persistent presence that reassures the local population and provides security. Conversely, the SOTG operates in a variety of areas in order to conduct missions that usually require high levels of agility and stealth.
The Review Board found that a single, common EOD Team construct would not accommodate the different mission profiles of the MTF and SOTG. Instead, the Review Board determined that the differences in EOD Team composition and training were consistent with Army doctrine. Further, the emphasis SOTG placed on additional training in order to meet its particular operational requirements is regarded as a strength. The Review Board concluded that preserving the tactical flexibility to vary EOD Team composition within the scope of approved doctrine remained essential to mission success. In short, the Review Board determined that the SOTG Team construct was, at the time of Sergeant Till's death, and is currently; appropriate, robust and consistent with doctrine.
As part of this investigation, the Inquiry Officer looked at the techniques and procedures Sergeant Till employed in dealing with the IED. The Inquiry Officer's report states that Sergeant Till began the process to destroy the IED in accordance with the Officer Commanding the Force Element's direction. However, after the first controlled detonation, Sergeant Till appears to have adapted his approach to this task. The Inquiry Officer interpreted Sergeant Till's change of approach to be a change of intent - that is that it appeared Sergeant Till was no longer trying to destroy the IED. However, upon review, there are a number of valid techniques Sergeant Till could have adopted to destroy the IED when he reassessed the situation after the initial explosion. There is no clear evidence to suggest Sergeant Till did not intend to destroy the IED.
Improvised Explosive Devices are not built to specific standards; they are unpredictable and frequently unstable. Dealing with an IED involves a number of steps and each step is dependant on the outcome of the previous one. Consequently, the EOD Technician must continually reassess the situation as it unfolds and adjust his approach accordingly in order to deal with the IED.
The EOD Technician has the most complete understanding of the conditions and hazards at the IED site. So the EOD Technician is the person best placed to decide the most suitable course of action for dealing with the IED. Unfortunately, in Sergeant Till's case there is insufficient evidence for the Inquiry Officer to determine why Sergeant Till adapted his original approach or what detonated the IED. This does not imply Sergeant Till acted contrary to his orders. At all times Sergeant Till applied techniques which were consistent with accepted Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. And I emphasise that the Inquiry Officer found no evidence of any personnel failing in the performance of their duties.
The Inquiry Officer made two recommendations:
â¢ Firstly that the EOD Team structure used by the MTF be applied to the SOTG. As I explained earlier, a specialist review board examined this recommendation in detail and determined that the current SOTG structure is appropriate, robust and consistent with Army doctrine. Chief of Army has endorsed the Review Board's findings.
â¢ Secondly, the Inquiry Officer recommended that the circumstances associated with the death of Sergeant Till do not warrant the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry.
The Chief of the Defence Force and the former Minister for Defence have accepted this recommendation.
On behalf of the Australian Defence Force and the wider Defence Community, I offer our deepest condolences to Sergeant Till's family and friends. Sergeant Brett Till was a highly respected Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. His mates remember him as a selfless bloke who made a difference. Brett's team held him in the highest regard as a professional and dedicated soldier who was killed protecting his mates. An unclassified version of the Inquiry Officer's report will be available on the Defence website following this media conference.
Sections of the report have been redacted to protect tactics, techniques and procedures and to preserve operational security.
I understand many of you may have questions related to the way our soldiers deal with IEDs however, I'm sure you understand I cannot divulge classified information which could be used to compromise the safety of our personnel. That said, I will now take your questions.