24 July 2009

Defence Force inquiry into fatal battle has led to lighter armour

Today the Australian Defence Force released an unclassified version of a report into the death of Corporal Matthew Hopkins, Royal Australian Army. Hopkins, a member of Australia's Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force, was killed earlier this year during operational service in Afghanistan. The inquiry officer found that Hopkins gunshot wound was fatal and that no medical intervention would have saved his life. It also held that heavy body armour did not contribute to Hopkins' death.

At the time of the battle when Hopkins was killed, Aussie troops armour weighed 10.8 kilograms (23.8 pounds). The inquiry report depicts a highly intense and chaotic battle. Hopkins and five other Aussie diggers were patrolling on foot near Kakarak (12 kilometers or 7.45 miles north of Tarin Kowt) in the Oruzgan Province when they encountered a strong group of insurgents. Hopkins and another soldier discovered the enemy first and fired upon them. Four separate groups of insurgents then fired back with automatic guns and rockets.

Hopkins and the other soldier ran into a walled compound and began covering other members of their patrol who were caught in the open. Hopkins was then shot in the head. After Hopkins was shot an Aussie medic ran more than 50 metres (54.6 yards) under fire to get to Hopkins. American troops sent in a helicopter to evacuate him which landed under fire. Hopkins stopped breathing on the battlefield and was revived. However, he stopped breathing again, and could not be revived.

Members of Hopkins unit said the combined weight of his and their armour made it difficult to lift and carry him whilst under fire. Troops are now issued with armour weighing 7.4 kilograms (16.3 pounds). The inquiry officer had made the recommendation that a formal Commission of Inquiry was not warranted. That recommendation has since been accepted by Chief Air Marshal Angus Houston, Chief of the ADF. Minister of Defence John Faulkner has agreed with the report and authorised the release of an unclassified version of the report.

An ADF press release issued today can be found here. The unclassified inquiry officer's report can be found here.

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