22 March 2012

ADF finalises inquiries into Afghanistan combat deaths

The Australian Defence Force has finalised a series of inquiries into the deaths of five Australian soldiers who were killed on operations in Afghanistan.

Army Sappers Jacob Moerland and Darren Smith, from Mentoring Task Force One, died on 7 June 2010 as a result of wounds they sustained when an improvised explosive device, or IED, detonated. Sapper Smith’s Explosive Detection Dog, Herbie was also killed in the incident.

Privates Tomas Dale and Grant Kirby, also from Mentoring Task Force One, were killed on 20 August 2010 by an improvised explosive device while they were conducting an overwatch task in the Baluchi Valley.

Corporal Richard Atkinson, serving with Mentoring Task Force Two, was killed by an improvised explosive device on 2 February 2011.

A separate senior Inquiry Officer was appointed to examine each of the three incidents. Inquiries into combat deaths are conducted primarily to determine what operational and tactical lessons can be learnt. They also provide information for the soldiers’ families.

As foreshadowed by the Minister for Defence in his update to Parliament on Afghanistan on 9 February, any decision to release publicly an Inquiry Officer Report rightly comes after weighing the wishes of the family members about publication and the public interest in the release of the report wider than family members and affected persons.

In the past, Inquiry Officer Reports have been released publicly as a matter of course. As the Minister stated on 9 February, the focus needs to be on the timely provision of the Report to the family of the deceased.

The Minister has asked Defence to ascertain the wishes of the family regarding the public release of Reports. The families of Sappers Jacob Moerland and Darren Smith, Privates Tomas Dale and Grant Kirby, and Corporal Richard Atkinson have been briefed on the outcomes of the respective Inquiry Officer Reports and their views on publication of the Reports have been presented to the Minister for Defence.

The Minister has weighed the wishes of the families and the public interest in the release of the Reports and agreed with the recommendation of the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) not to release the three Inquiry Officer Reports.

All three Inquiry Officer Reports recommended that the appointment of Commissions of Inquiry into these combat deaths was not warranted. That recommendation has been accepted by the Minister for Defence and CDF.

CDF directed Defence’s Counter IED Task Force to undertake a separate collective review of the Inquiry materials to ensure that organisational, training and equipment issues, force preparation and tactics, techniques and procedures had not contributed to these combat deaths.

The Counter IED Task Force review found that there were no systemic issues specific to these incidents. The Counter IED Task Force continues to examine the ever-changing IED threat and provides specialist advice on further measures to enhance our force protection against these indiscriminate devices.

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