June 29, 2012
Air Marshal Mark Binskin Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax
The killing of an Australian soldier by an Afghan soldier last year has been described as ‘‘a cowardly act of murder’’ by the defence force.
Lance Corporal Andrew Jones was shot dead at a patrol base in May 2011.
‘‘He was murdered by a rogue member of the ANA (Afghan National Army),’’ defence force vice-chief Air Marshal Mark Binskin told reporters in Canberra today.
He was announcing the defence force had completed official inquiries into the deaths of Lance Corporal Jones and two other Australian soldiers in separate incidents in Afghanistan last year.
Sergeant Brett Wood, 32, was killed by a roadside bomb in May; Sergeant Todd Langley, 35, died from a gun shot wound to the head during a battle in southern Afghanistan in July.
Air Marshal Mark Binskin, in outlining the details of the death of Lance Corporal Jones, said he wanted to speak frankly: ‘‘His killing was a cowardly act of murder.’’
While there were no witnesses to the shooting, the defence force inquiry officer concluded on all available evidence, that Lance Corporal Jones was deliberately shot by Afghan soldier Shafidullah Guhlamon.
He said the deaths of the three soldiers, in separate incidents, continued to be felt deeply by their colleagues.
The reports into the deaths of the two sergeants will not be released publicly because of privacy and operational issues.
Sergeant Wood, a member of the special forces task force, and two of his fellow commandoes were wounded when an improvised explosive devices laid by insurgents detonated.
Air Marshal Mark Binskin said Sergeant Wood was a distinguished and highly-experienced soldier who had been deployed to Afghanistan on three occasions and was awarded the medal for gallantry and leadership.
He also was awarded a distinguished service medal after his death.A report into the circumstances of Sergeant Wood’s death found there was no need for a further inquiry.
Sergeant Langley was ‘‘an exceptionally experienced soldier’’ who was on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan. He also had been on deployments to East Timor.
He was killed instantly on July 4 last year, while co-ordinating support for a fellow soldier who was wounded. A commission into his death was not warranted, Air Marshal Binskin said.
Lance Corporal Jones was shot while visiting the patrol base latrines about 8.10am on May 30.
He was given first-aid at the scene before being airlifted to the Tarin Kowt base, 50 minutes after being shot.
There, surgeons operated on him for a number of hours but were unable to revive him.
Air Marshal Binskin said it was important to note Lance Corporal Jones got along well with the ANA members he worked closely with at the patrol base.
There was no indication the man who shot him knew him or sought him out.
The inquiry found at the time Lance Corporal Jones was shot, he was unarmed. His wounds were outside the coverage of standard body armour worn by soldiers.
Air Marshal Binskin said the ADF continued to do everything possible to minimise the risk to its soldiers.
‘‘But ultimately Afghanistan is a highly complex and dangerous operating environment, and any element of risk will always exist,’’ he said.
There was no indication of any provocation that led to the lance corporal’s death.
‘‘But we will never know what his (Shafidullah) intent was or what he was thinking that led to this unfortunately,’’ Air Marshal Binskin.
While there has been no combat death so far in 2012, Afghanistan remained a ‘‘complex and dangerous’’ environment.
‘‘It is a dangerous place and Australians are in harm’s way every day,’’ Air Marshal Binskin said.
‘‘But their courage and professionalism is what I think is getting us through at the moment.’’
Air Marshal Binskin said the ANA willingly participated in a joint to pursue Shafidullah.
It also worked with Australian forces for a protracted patrol period. This activity went some way to rebuild the perished relationship and trust between the two forces. Shafidullah was found shot dead two weeks after the incident.
The inquiry officer’s report found a commission of inquiry into the death of Lance Corporal Jones was not warranted.
Since his death, there had been two other incidents involving ANA personal, resulting in the death of three ADF members, and the wounding of 10 others.
Those incidents involved ‘‘very different circumstances’’, Air Marshal Binskin said.He believed the ANA had responded appropriately to Lance Corporal Jones’s death.
While the deaths of Lance Corporal Jones and other ADF members were difficult to accept, Australia’s commitment to its mission in Afghanistan remained unchanged, Air Marshal Binskin said.
‘‘That task is to build the capacity of the Afghan security forces so that they can take responsibility for the future stability of their nation.’’