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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6087

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (2:01 PM) —by leave—Yesterday afternoon I advised the House of the accident involving a coalition helicopter in southern Afghanistan in the early hours of Monday morning. I informed the House that, tragically, three Australian commandos from the Special Operations Task Group were killed in that crash. Seven were wounded. The United States has confirmed one of their personnel was killed and three other soldiers were wounded. In addition, a civilian interpreter who was travelling with the Australian element was wounded. All seven injured soldiers are in the Kandahar military facility. The Australian Defence Force continues to ensure that they receive the best possible medical attention. I am advised that the most recent assessment of the seven wounded soldiers is that two are in a very serious condition. One of those soldiers has sustained a very serious head injury. Both these soldiers are in intensive care. The five other soldiers are now listed as being in a satisfactory condition. Six of the seven soldiers have undergone surgery.

The medical authorities have not yet made any decision as to when any of the injured soldiers will be moved to the NATO medical facility in Germany. Any move will only be taken when the condition of the soldiers allows. The names of the fallen soldiers have not yet been released. As the House would be aware, there are protocols in the Department of Defence which apply in these circumstances. The department will only release the names of the soldiers when they have approval from all the families involved. This is a terrible time for them and we need to respect their privacy. With regard to the wounded soldiers, they are Special Forces and, as a result, they have protected identity status. This means their names cannot be released.

The cause of the incident is yet to be determined. It would be inappropriate to speculate until the investigation into the incident has been completed. I am advised that this incident was not caused by insurgent action. I am also advised that casualties occurred when the aircraft crashed heavily to the ground. Defence is making arrangements for the repatriation of the three fallen soldiers later this week. Today, let me reiterate that the thoughts and the prayers of all Australians are with the families, friends and colleagues of those involved in this incident. These are hard days—very hard days—but I wish to reaffirm to the House the government’s commitment that we will complete this mission in Afghanistan. Fundamental national interests are at stake, national interests which go to the security of us all and the security of our friends and allies. We therefore will stay the course and complete the mission which we have embarked upon in Afghanistan.