Five Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan
FIVE AUSTRALIAN soldiers have died in southern Afghanistan over the last 24 hours, a toll which Australia’s prime minister described as the country’s worst combat losses in nearly half a century.
Three soldiers were shot dead in southern Uruzgan province by an Afghan army soldier who turned his gun on them as they were relaxing at their base late on Wednesday evening. Two others died in a helicopter crash in neighbouring Helmand province early yesterday morning.
“I believe this is the most losses in combat since the days of the Vietnam war and the battle on Long Tan,” said prime minister Julia Gillard. In that 1966 battle, 18 Australians were killed.
“This is news so truly shocking that it’s going to feel for many Australians like a physical blow,” she added.
The Afghan soldier who turned on his Australian comrades-in-arms shot them at close range with an automatic weapon, killing three and wounding two, said Air Marshal Mark Binskin, vice-chief of the Australian defence force.
Troops on the scene returned fire, but the shooter managed to scale a fence and escape from the base, Air Marshal Binskin added. Australian and Afghan soldiers were hunting for him.
It was the latest in a growing number of insider attacks by Afghan police and soldiers on the foreign troops training them or fighting beside them; 45 people have been killed this year to date compared to 35 in 2011.
Afghan and Nato commanders are struggling to find ways to prevent the attacks, which are undermining the training mission at the heart of the international vision for long-term support of Afghanistan. – (Guardian service)