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Australia reaffirms commitment to Afghanistan

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1 Australia reaffirms commitment to Afghanistan on Sun May 29, 2011 4:47 pm

SYDNEY (AFP) – Prime Minister Julia Gillard insisted Tuesday that Australia would see its mission through in Afghanistan despite another of its soldiers being killed and five more wounded.

Decorated commando Sergeant Brett Wood, 32, lost his life when an improvised explosive device detonated on Monday, taking the overall number of Australian deaths in the conflict to 24.

A second soldier suffered life-threatening wounds in the blast and a third was seriously hurt, Defence Force chief Angus Houston said.

In a separate incident, three Australians were wounded in a gunfight with insurgents.

"He was a magnificent soldier," Houston said of Wood, who was serving his third deployment to Afghanistan.

"He was also a decorated warrior," he added, citing the sergeant's Medal for Gallantry awarded in 2006 after leading a commando team in extremely hazardous circumstances in Afghanistan's Chora Valley.

Wood was again recognised in 2007 for his service as the emergency action commander in a tactical assault group.

"Every loss in Afghanistan hurts us as a nation," said Gillard, adding that there would be some that "despair and wonder" why Australia remained in Afghanistan.

"I think the best thing I can say to people is to reiterate the words of Ben Roberts-Smith, our most recent VC (Victoria Cross) winner," she said.

"He said to me and he said to the nation, 'We are making a difference in Afghanistan'.

"And we are making a difference in Afghanistan. Progress is being made."

She added that the process for Australia's withdrawal of its 1,550 forces in the country remained unchanged.

"We will be there seeing the mission through," she said.

"There is no point pulling out only to go back in."

Specific details of Wood's death were not provided with operations ongoing, although the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said on Monday a roadside bomb killed four foreign soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

A total of 188 international troops have died in the country so far this year, according to a tally kept by the independent website icasualties.org. That compares with 711 for last year.

Troop commanders have warned of another hard period ahead after the Taliban announced the start of their spring offensive at the end of last month.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said insurgents were threatened by the coalition's gains, and warned of a spike in roadside and suicide bombings.

"In addition to efforts to recover space and ground, the Taliban have also determined that these high-profile, effective propaganda attacks are also a piece of weaponry in their armoury," he said.

"We are steeling ourselves for that danger as we have steeled ourselves for, in effect, the more immediate danger on the ground as the summer fighting season starts in earnest."

There are around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan, 90,000 of them from the United States.

Limited foreign troop withdrawals from a handful of safer areas of Afghanistan are due to start in July, allowing Afghan forces to take over control of security.

International combat troops are due to complete their pull out in 2014.

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