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ADF: Regarding The Death Of Private Luke Worsley

Press Conference By Cdf Acm Angus Houston Regarding The Death Of Private Luke Worsley

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is with deep sorrow that I inform you of the death of an Australian soldier serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Private Luke Worsley 26 years of age from Sydney was killed in action at about seven-thirty Canberra time this morning. He was participating in a planned and deliberate attack by our forces against Taliban leaders and bomb makers in a Oruzgan province.

This is a tragic day for the Australian Defence Force and most especially for Private Worsley's family and friends. I extend my deepest sympathy to them on behalf of the all people in the Defence organisation. Private Worsley's immediate next-of-kin have been informed and we are doing everything we can to support them at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are also with the other members of this soldier's company and the wider Special Operations community. The action in which Private Worsley died, only concluded in the last few hours and was characterised by heavy close quarter fighting.

It was part of our commitment to take the fight directly to the Taliban who seek to deny the people of Afghanistan a brighter future. Given the recent nature of this operation I'm unable to release specific details as this could jeopardise the safety of those who remain in the field. What I can tell you is that no other Australian troops were killed or wounded in this protracted engagement during which our soldiers acquitted themselves magnificently. This mission specifically targeted bomb makers who manufacture improvised explosive devices or IEDs. IEDs are weapons that don't discriminate and they are as much a danger to innocent Afghan civilians as they are to military forces.

We will continue to go after the bomb makers. During this engagement the Taliban sustained heavy casualties, including a number killed and a substantial number detained. If further progress is to be made against the Taliban, these types of operations remain essential. Despite the tragic death of Private Worsley, the job of helping the people of Afghanistan continues. Australian forces remain committed to this important work in conjunction with our Coalition partners and the government of Afghanistan, work that is vital to establishing the conditions for progress and development.

This was Private Worsley's second tour of duty to Afghanistan. He also served in East Timor in 2003 with the First Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He qualified as a commando in 2004 and was part of the Fourth Battalion tour of Afghanistan for which 4RAR was awarded a unit citation for gallantry.

A biography of Private Worsley will be made available to you but let me say he was a greatly respected soldier and will be dearly missed. He was one of our finest. I am told his dedication and enthusiasm for soldiering was an inspiration to all those around him. Before taking your questions, let me reiterate on behalf of all the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, our deepest sympathy goes out to the family and the friends of our fallen comrade. Though no words can alleviate their pain at this terrible time I hope the knowledge that they are in the thoughts and prayers of so many Australians will be of comfort to them as they deal with their loss.

I'm now ready to take your questions?

QUESTION: When did this operation begin? In [indistinct as microphone rattles] a few hours ago, and where - was it a long way from Tarin Kowt? Was it - how far was it from Tarin Kowt?

ANGUS HOUSTON: It's - it took place to the east of Tarin Kowt, and essentially probably around 10 kilometres from Tarin Kowt, and this particular action took place early this morning Canberra time, and we lost Private Worsley at about seven-thirty this morning. The action continued for several hours thereafter.

QUESTION: Were there other Coalition troops involved with the Australians? How many Australians were involved?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No, they weren't. This was an action by one of the companies from 4RAR.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

ANGUS HOUSTON: Look, I'm not going to go into specific numbers, but a substantial number.

QUESTION: Can you explain exactly how he died? Was he shot or was he...

ANGUS HOUSTON: He was shot but I'm not prepared to go into further detail than that.

QUESTION: Was it the case that the fire from the Taliban's group was attacked - was heaviest, the return fire was heavier than expected?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No look, we're taking - we are taking the fight to the Taliban. We're going after these bomb makers. We're going after their leadership. We will not rest from that task. And any time you take the fight to the enemy, any time you conduct offensive operations, from time to time you will take casualties, and I've said that before and no doubt I'll say it again.

QUESTION: Was there - could you tell us about Private Wor... about his family? Anything you're allowed to give us on that?

ANGUS HOUSTON: All I can say is that he had a very supportive family and I think it's very important at this time that we leave them in private so that they can grieve in an appropriate way and in private. But we have informed them, and I think we'll just let them grieve in private.

QUESTION: Was he married or did he have children

ANGUS HOUSTON: He was not married.

QUESTION: You said a number of Taliban were detained. Can you tell us how many?

ANGUS HOUSTON: A substantial number.

QUESTION: What will happen to them? Who [indistinct]?

ANGUS HOUSTON: We have a very robust detainee policy. What we will do in line with the ISAF policy is hand the detainees over to the Dutch.

We have assurances that they will be treated in accordance with our undertakings under international law and the Dutch will then deal with them in an appropriate way.

QUESTION: Would you say that Private Worsley's tour of Afghanistan was due to come to an end?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Look, I could - he was about half way through his tour.

QUESTION: You say you were targeting bomb makers. Were the soldiers targeting a place where you suspected these bombs were being made?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Yeah, we know, our mission is there to disrupt Taliban operations. Our mission is to go into the sanctuaries and take out the Taliban leadership, disrupt their operations, dislocate their ability to conduct operations against us.

A very important facet of that is to go after the bomb makers. These are the people who make the improvised explosive devices. These devices are totally indiscriminate in the way they are used and I think if you look at the record, you'll find probably more Afghan nationals, innocent Afghan civilians, are being killed by these devices than Coalition forces.

QUESTION: So this is the third Australian death within two months. How do you class the conditions in southern Afghanistan now?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Look, the threat there is very high. It is a very dangerous place. We are conducting offensive operations. We are doing heavy lifting and there is absolutely no doubt the risks associated with that are high. Consequently we have had three casualties.

QUESTION: The threat seems to have gotten a lot more serious and a lot more deadly to Australian troops very quickly. Is that the case and, if so, why?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No, I don't believe so. I think this is more a function of the mode of operation. It's because we are taking the fight to the Taliban.

In this particular circumstance, we were conducting a deliberate assault against Taliban forces. And of course, in the course of this fight, we clearly accounted for a lot of them, a lot more of them, and in the process we lost one of our own.

QUESTION: Were Australian troops surprised by the strength of the Taliban force that they encountered?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No, I wouldn't say that, I wouldn't say that. Essentially, there is always the prospect when you go after the Taliban that you might be confronted by some Taliban who will fight fiercely.

But again, this - the outcome of this fight was very good from our point of view in that we killed a lot of them, we came out on top, we have a large number of detainees. Regrettably, we lost Private Worsley in the process.

QUESTION: Were any Afghan civilians killed?

ANGUS HOUSTON: We were going into a Taliban, a known Taliban compound.

QUESTION: So were any civilians killed?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No. Well, we went against the Taliban and if what you are saying, were any other people casualties as a consequence of this, I don't believe so.

QUESTION: Was it a civilian area?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, the nature of the fight there is we go into these compounds on the basis of our intelligence, other intelligence. And we knew this to be a compound where the Taliban were conducting activities against us.

QUESTION: When you say compound, are you referring to a village? Was it a village?

ANGUS HOUSTON: I'm talking about - what we're talking about is a compound that you will find... a compound is basically a cluster of buildings. You might characterise it as a village, but it's the way the population live in the valleys of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Civilian dwellings amongst them?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well you know, the Taliban live in and amongst the people. That's the way they operate.

QUESTION: Were they mud brick buildings? And at the conclusion, were searches conducted and were any IEDs or bomb making equipment or explosives...

ANGUS HOUSTON: I'm not prepared to go into any detail about what we found and so on. That's something that we'll need to have a look at.

But most of the buildings there are made of the sort of materials you referred to and in this particular set of circumstances we cleared several buildings in the action that took place.

QUESTION: Are there any plans to alter operations or tactics given it is the third death?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No, not at all. I'm very, very happy with the way our special forces conduct themselves. As I've said to you previously, we are operating in a very high threat environment. It's a very dangerous environment and unfortunately from time to time we will take casualties.

Thank you, thank you very much.


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