ADF: On Death Of Australian Soldier Sean McCarthy
Media Conference By The Chief Of Defence Force Regarding The Death Of An Australian Soldier In Afghanistan
SUBJECT: Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, announces the death of Signaller Sean McCarthy and the wounding of three other soldiers in Afghanistan
BACKGROUND: The ADF can confirm that Australian Special Forces soldiers in Oruzgan Province were involved in a road side bomb attack during an operation on Tuesday 8 July. A number of personnel were wounded in the incident.
The Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) consists of up to 300 personnel that operate in support of International Security Assistance Force security operations and provide security for the Reconstruction Task Force in Oruzgan Province. The SOTG consists of Commandos, members of the Special Air Service Regiment and enabling and support personnel.
ANGUS HOUSTON: Okay. Well, good morning and thank you for coming out so early this morning. I'm joined here this morning by the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie.
In Afghanistan, just before 3pm Australian Eastern Time yesterday, three members of the Special Operations Task Group and a member from another coalition partner country were attacked by an improvised explosive device. The attack occurred whilst our force were undertaking a vehicle patrol in an area suspected to contain a Taliban extremist group. As a result of this incident, it is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of an Australian soldier, Signaller Sean McCarthy.
Immediately following the incident, the three soldiers and the other coalition national were evacuated to coalition medical facilities. Despite receiving the best possible medical attention, Signaller McCarthy succumbed to his wounds. The injuries to the remaining two soldiers do not appear to be life threatening.
However, they and the coalition national who was seriously wounded continue to be closely monitored. As the injured soldiers are members of the Special Operations Task Group, I will not be divulging their personal details.
Signaller McCarthy was 25 years of age and from the Perth based Special Air Service Regiment. He joined the Australian Defence Force in 2001 and had been a member of the Special Air Service since 2007. Signaller McCarthy deployed to East Timor earlier this year and this was his second tour of Afghanistan.
On his previous tour in Afghanistan he was recognised by the Special Operations Commander for his courage and mission focus, including a specific commendation for maintaining his presence of mind and excellent soldier skills while in contact with the enemy. Signaller McCarthy was an experienced, highly skilled and professional soldier. He was very well respected by his comrades and will be sorely missed by his many friends.
To Signaller McCarthy's family, I offer my deepest sympathy. I cannot ease their grief. I want them to know they are in our thoughts and prayers. We in the ADF will do everything we can to provide them with the care and support they need. My heart goes out to them at this terrible time.
Signaller McCarthy is the sixth soldier to have been killed in Afghanistan. Each loss is deeply felt by all in the Australian Defence Force, but I know that our wonderful men and women still serving overseas are supporting each other and are more determined than every to continue with their important mission in honour of their fallen comrades.
I'd now be delighted to take your questions.
QUESTION: Angus, does this mark a change in Taliban tactics, or are Taliban bomb makers getting smarter at their trade? And what about the suite of measures which the ADF can use to defeat this threat?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, first of all, in terms of the - the threat, I think if you refer back to what I said at Estimates some time ago, I said that the - the main threat that we faced in Afghanistan was the threat from improvised explosive devices. Seventy per cent of coalition casualties in recent time have come from attacks by improvised explosive devices.
We take this threat very, very seriously and, as you know, two years ago we set up a counter improvised explosive device task force. That task force has very good links to the other centres of excellence around the world, particularly the ones residing in the US and the UK.
We have access to the very best technology and we're adapting that to our circumstances. We also have developed very good tactics, techniques and procedures to face this threat and, of course, we train all our people in how to deal with the ever present threat of improvised explosive devices.
QUESTION: CDF, do you have any information yet on whether this device was accidentally tripped or might have been set off by the Taliban knowing that soldiers were in danger because of it?
ANGUS HOUSTON: At this stage, we don't have any detail on the - on the improvised explosive device that was used in this attack. As you are probably well aware from our previous experience most of them are pressure plate devices, but in more recent times we're starting to see radio control devices and command initiated devices. Until we actually do a full investigation I can't inform you as to exactly what type of device it was and how it was triggered.
QUESTION: What sort of vehicle were they in and are these vehicles in any way protected against such explosions?
ANGUS HOUSTON: All of our vehicles have some form of protection against this form of attack. But I'm not prepared to go into the details of what equipment they've got at the moment, what vehicles they're using, what they're doing at the moment, because the rest of the patrol is still out there and, of course, any information I provide about that detail could be used to advantage by the Taliban.
QUESTION: Can you reveal just where this happened? It's obviously in Oruzgan province. Is it south, north?
ANGUS HOUSTON: I'm sorry, I can't - I would love to tell you where it is, but the patrol is still out there, they're doing important work and I would not be prepared to endanger the lives of our people. For operations security reasons I must stop there. I'm sorry about that.
QUESTION: Can you tell us any more about Sean? Is he married, does he have any family?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Yeah. Sean was born in New Zealand. He was 25 years of age. He joined the Regular Army in 2001; in fact, tenth of July 2001, so he has been in the Army for seven years. He has a very good record, he's in the Signals Corps, and in more recent times he's seen a lot of operational service. He served in Afghanistan, with the Special Operations Task Group in 2007. Earlier this year he served in East Timor and, of course, he just deployed to Afghanistan on this deployment. He'd only been in country a very short period of time.
QUESTION: Is he a married person?
ANGUS HOUSTON: He's a single man and an avid Rugby Union supporter. And, essentially, one feature of his previous service, as I indicated in my address, was that he was commended for his very high level of performance when he was in Afghanistan last time. And that commendation related to the way he conducted himself very professionally and with great presence of mind while in contact with the enemy.
QUESTION: Do you know the date he was - he arrived in Afghanistan?
ANGUS HOUSTON: I can't give you the precise date, but we're talking - we're talking probably something less than a month.
QUESTION: CDF, in early April, the Prime Minister in Romania spoke of the importance of establishing benchmarks in Afghanistan, right down to eradicating the poppy crop, let alone the military mission. Today, are you absolutely satisfied that those benchmarks are - are now there and are being met? And if not, how - how seriously is the - how serious is the shortfall?
ANGUS HOUSTON: The benchmarks are being established in all the - all of the planning documents that are being produced by the coalition. But let me just say that we have a very - a very good approach to the challenge of Afghanistan. As you know, we're doing reconstruction, rehabilitation. Our efforts are being very well received by the people of Tarin Kowt and, indeed, the people of the Chora Valley and the area in between.
And one of the things that we've been, I think, very, very successful in doing is coordinating those reconstruction and rehabilitation operations with very effective force protection. And that force protection is provided by the infantry company that is part and parcel of the reconstruction task force and also by the Special Operations Task Group who go out and keep the Taliban very much on the back foot.
Their very assertive and very active patrolling is directly disrupting Taliban operations, keeping the Taliban leaders and bomb makers under pressure. And, as you know, we've captured and killed quite a few of them. And this, this incident, this loss that we've suffered, will be a trigger for more - more and more active operations against the people who produce these dreadful weapons. Which, I might add, are not just targeted against us.
They're placed at the side of a road and they're totally indiscriminate in who they strike. And it's not just the coalition who are taking hits from these devices it's also the local people. They're almost like the landmines. They're completely indiscriminate in who they hit.
QUESTION: When you say this will be a trigger, you mean what, CDF, that you...?
ANGUS HOUSTON: What I mean is that this will - this will harden our resolve to keep these Taliban leaders, these Taliban bomb makers under pressure. We'll continue to go after them and we'll continue to disrupt their activities. If we can do that we'll obviously lessen the number of bombs that are emplaced on roadsides and make the environment safer for us and safer for the Afghani nationals.
QUESTION: Air Chief Marshal, how many soldiers have actually been wounded in Afghanistan?
ANGUS HOUSTON: The number's about 40 at this stage. And, of course, those - we include there people who've been very seriously wounded and people who've probably been quite lightly wounded. For example, a number of those people have been wounded and have then recovered in Tarin Kowt and then continue to contribute to the operations thereafter so 40 is about the total and that covers the full spectrum of - of wounds that somebody might suffer.
QUESTION: What sort of wounds have the other soldiers suffered in this instance?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I probably don't want to go into that other than to say whenever an improvised explosive device goes off there's always some shrapnel wounds and generally speaking there are usually some wounds to the leg.
QUESTION: CDF, the threat to go after the Taliban bomb makers, is this an admission that bomb making material is flowing now in fairly increasing quantities from the border across from Pakistan?
ANGUS HOUSTON: No, it's not an admission. It's just - it's just the reality of the threat that we face. As I mentioned earlier on, Taliban are using improvised explosive devices as their, probably their main offensive weapon against the coalition and, clearly, if we want to look after our people what we've got to do is do everything that we can to disrupt any activity that moves the materials that these - that are required for the production of these devices.
We need to go to the facilities where these devices are constructed, you could call them IED factories. And we need to go after the people who are putting them together and that's precisely what we've been doing. And, indeed, over the last three weeks, we had a very successful operation probably three weeks ago where we destroyed an IED factory, we destroyed a very large weapons cache and we captured a couple of Taliban leaders.
That's the sort of activity that the Special Operations Task Group is going to be doing and doing continuously as long as we're deployed there. Because by doing that, we make the security environment for our reconstruction activities much more safe, much more viable.
QUESTION: Do you have the sense we're winning, CDF?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I'm very - I'm very happy with what's happening in our province; the way we are performing. We've extended our area of influence into areas that were formerly dominated by the Taliban. In fact, previously they were Taliban sanctuaries and our activities have been very successful and we're achieving our objectives.
I think the real challenge in Afghanistan is a strategic one and it's one that requires, as I have spoken about many times before, a whole of agency approach. It's not just about military operations, it's also about bringing a better life to the people of Afghanistan, moving into the areas that have previously been dominated by the Taliban, holding those areas and then bringing in aid and alternative economic activity so that we can get rid of the narco economy that tends to dominate most of Afghanistan and give these people hope and a real life for the future.
QUESTION: CDF, are you able to tell us anything more about that other coalition partner you mentioned? Was it another soldier, was it a translator, some other sort of civilian?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Unfortunately we've had - we've had some - obviously there's some next of kin issues with that individual and there's also some operational security aspects to my naming him so I won't be doing that and I won't be giving you any further detail. And I do that for every good reason in the world, both for his personal circumstances and also for operational security reasons.
QUESTION: So, sorry, was he killed?
ANGUS HOUSTON: No, he wasn't but he was very seriously wounded.
QUESTION: Signaller McCarthy, I presume his next of kin are in New Zealand and they've been informed?
ANGUS HOUSTON: His next of kin have been informed. His next of kin - one of the difficulties we had was getting in touch with his parents who were travelling in Europe.
QUESTION: They are New Zealand citizens?
ANGUS HOUSTON: I don't have that detail, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: The evacuation, were Australian helicopters involved in that?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Coalition helicopters were used in this particular case.
QUESTION: And they were evacuated to where, CDF?
ANGUS HOUSTON: In the first instance they were evacuated to Tarin Kowt; there is a medical facility at Tarin Kowt. And then later one of our wounded was further evacuated down to the more developed hospital at Kandahar.
I'll take one more question and then I might depart.
QUESTION: Any sign that the Taliban are starting to use explosively formed projectile IEDs?
ANGUS HOUSTON: We haven't seen any of those in our province and I know there's been one or two elsewhere but we have seen none of those in Oruzgan.
Thank you very much for coming out so early this morning and I'll see you next time. Thank you.