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Sunday, 26 July 2009
Death inquiry reveals Afghan troop failings

This is the Melbourne paper The Age on the circumstances surrounding the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan.
AN OFFICIAL inquiry into the combat death of an Australian soldier reveals serious failings by the Afghan troops he was mentoring, highlighting the massive task facing foreign forces in building the capacity of the Afghan army.
The inquiry report shows Afghan troops played only a limited role when a joint Australian-Afghan patrol came under intense Taliban fire — even though the Afghans are likely to have formed the bulk of the patrol.
And it shows that Australian soldiers — who were meant to support the Afghans supposedly leading the patrol — had to take charge amid a fierce and chaotic battle. The heavily censored army report found medical intervention would not have saved Corporal Mathew Hopkins after he was shot in the head on March 16 this year.
Corporal Hopkins, 21, was the ninth Australian, and the first member of an operational mentoring and liaison team, to die in Afghanistan.
The teams are helping to train the Afghan National Army so it can take charge of security and allow foreign troops to leave — a task Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston last week said could take up to five years.
Corporal Hopkins was in a small group of Australians who set out with a larger force of Afghans from an outpost called Forward Patrol Base Buman in Oruzgan province on March 16.
They were patrolling near the village of Kakarak when they came under intense fire from three directions.
While their names are censored in the official report, the Australians were led by Lieutenant Jake Kleinman, 25, while the senior Afghan officer was Captain Abdul Qadir Habibullah, a 54-year-old veteran of decades of Afghan wars.
When The Sunday Age visited Buman two weeks before Corporal Hopkins was killed, the friction between the Australians and Captain Habibullah was obvious.
In public comments, the Australians referred to "cultural challenges" in mentoring Afghan troops. But in private some were scathing, particularly towards the Afghan commander, who they complained was obstructive, lazy, reluctant to fight and unwilling to conduct the detailed planning that is normal for Australian troops.
After Corporal Hopkins was fatally wounded, and with the patrol under fire, a helicopter made a risky landing to evacuate him. At this time, the Australians "re-organised the ANA elements into patrol formation" to get back to base.
The report reveals Afghan soldiers played little part in the actual battle. It two young Australians — not the Afghan commander who outranked them and was twice their age— took control on March 16.
The efforts of the two "were significant in maintaining cohesion throughout a prolonged, chaotic and confusing contact and in the subsequent orderly withdrawal of the combined patrol".

Posted on 07/26/2009 6:05 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
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