Gillard compares Australia’s Afghanistan tragedies to Long Tan
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Australia has taken a physical blow following the deaths of five soldiers in two separate incidents in Afghanistan.
PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard says Australia has taken a physical blow following the deaths of five soldiers in two separate incidents in Afghanistan.
She says it’s been the single worst day in Afghanistan for Australian troops.
“I believe this is the most losses in combat since the days of the Vietnam war and the battle on Long Tan,” she told reporters in the Cook Island.
“This is news so truly shocking that it’s going to feel for many Australians like a physical blow.”
Five soldiers were killed and two wounded in two incidents in Afghanistan.
Three died when an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform opened fire with an automatic weapon from close range.
Two other soldiers were wounded in the same incident inside a patrol base 20km north of Tarin Kowt.
Two special forces soldiers were killed, and an ISAF crew member wounded, in a separate incident while travelling in a helicopter that crashed in Helmand province.
“This is news so saddening that many are going to feel the immense weight of it,” Ms Gillard said.
She said it was hard to imagine what the families of the dead would be feeling and offered her condolences.
Australia’s thoughts were also with the Australian Defence Force family, including those now “hunting down” the Afghan responsible for shooting dead three Australians, she said.
But Australia’s resolve would not waver.
“This is a war with a purpose and a war with an end,” Ms Gillard said.
Ms Gillard said the mission in Afghanistan had not been a fruitless exercise.
Australia had entered the final transition process.
“We know that that process will be 12 to 18 months long and we know that at the end of that the bulk of our forces will be able to return home,” she said.
“Our strategy is well defined, our strategy is constant.
“And we cannot allow even the most grievous of losses to change our strategy.”
She said the loss of lives should not dictate how Australia engaged in the war and completed its mission.
“In my view that wouldn’t be appropriately honouring the men we have lost, in my view it would be letting our nation down,” she said.
“We are there for a purpose and we will see that purpose through.”
Referring to past terrorist attacks, Ms Gillard said: “We went to Afghanistan because we knew that in Afghanistan had been trained people who came and took Australian lives.”
Ms Gillard will return to Australia on Thursday evening and parliamentary secretary Richard Marles would take over Australia’s representation at the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands.
“This is an important meeting for Australia but in the wake of this news I’ve made the judgment call that it is appropriate for me to return,” she said.
“That means I can be in Canberra tomorrow to receive the most extensive briefings about each of these incidents.”
Asked whether she was now contemplating a change in the Afghanistan withdrawal timetable she said: “No, I’m not.”
Ms Gillard said the attacks made it difficult to maintain trust between Australian soldiers and the Afghans they trained.
“They are corrosive of trust, that is a real difficulty for our soldiers in the field,” she said.
But the troops knew their mission was to train Afghan National Army personnel so locals could provide security for their own nation.
“They know that mission does come with risks,” Ms Gillard said.
“That we take the best steps we can to deal with those risks based on the best advice that we get from the ADF.” – AAP
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