Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Australians in Afghanistan Suffer 'Single Worst Day'

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Australians in Afghanistan Suffer 'Single Worst Day'

Article excerpt

After reporting just one mlitary fatality in Afghanistan this year, Australia said five had died within hours of one another, three killed by an Afghan soldier.

Five Australian soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan within hours of one another, three at the hands of a turncoat Afghan soldier, making it the single worst period in a decade of fighting here for one of the United States' staunchest allies.

Two Australian soldiers died when their UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed Thursday morning in Baghran, a district of Helmand Province, NATO officials said. They said they did not know the cause of the crash, which injured other troops as well.

Three other Australian soldiers were killed Wednesday night when an Afghan soldier turned his gun on them in Uruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan, the latest in a rash of attacks on coalition forces that have left 45 dead this year at the hands of the Afghan security forces or other Afghan insiders working closely with them.

The attack happened at a fuel depot when a member of the Afghan National Army shot the Australians and then fled the base, said Lt. Col. Hagen Messer, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Kabul. The international force command said that the motive in the shooting was unclear and that it was investigating.

With 1,550 troops in Afghanistan -- most of them in Uruzgan -- Australia's military presence is the largest from a non-NATO nation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting here. The only other Australian military fatality in Afghanistan this year was in July. Last year, 11 Australian troops were killed here, according to data from Icasualties.org, which tracks military fatalities.

The five new deaths stunned Australia. Prime Minister Julia Gillard called it "the most awful news" for the country. "This is a very big toll," Ms. Gillard said during a visit to the Cook Islands, where she said she would cut her trip short to return to Canberra. "This is our single worst day in Afghanistan."

She said such insider attacks were "corrosive of trust" and difficult to deal with.

Earlier this year, Ms. Gillard announced that Australia would withdraw its troops by the end of 2013 -- one year ahead of schedule -- citing what she said were security improvements in Afghanistan while also acknowledging the unpopularity of the war. …

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