The chief of the defence force has named two Australian soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.


The men were among five soldiers killed in two separate incidents this week.

Defence chief David Hurley named the two soldiers killed in the crash as Private Nathaniel Gallagher, 23, from Wee Waa in NSW and Lance Corporal Mervin McDonald, 30, from Carnarvon in Western Australia.

Lieutenant General Hurley said Private Gallagher enlisted in the army in 2007. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan.

“He is survived by his partner, parents and sister,” Gen Hurley told reporters in Canberra.

Lance Corporal McDonald enlisted in the army in May 1999. He served for five years, left in 2004 and then re-enlisted in 2005. He was deployed to East Timor and was on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan.

“Corporal McDonald is survived by his fiancee, his mother and stepfather and three brothers,” Gen Hurley said.

The families of three men killed in an insider attack by a member of the Afghan National Army are not yet ready to have their personal details released.

“We all feel this loss deeply,” the general said.

General Hurley said Sergeant Hek Matullah, the man believed to be responsible for shooting the three diggers and wounding two others at a patrol base in the Baluchi Valley this week, arrived in Oruzgan province in mid-July, after completing induction training in Kandahar.

“We are not yet aware of any relationship he has with the Taliban,” he said.

As well as an Australian investigation into the incident, Afghan national security forces have also established a joint team with international forces to conduct its own investigation.

General Hurley said all Australian personnel had now adopted “enhanced force protection measures, including some relocations”.

General Hurley added: “Today and tomorrow are normally days of lulls in activity being Friday – a day of prayer for the Islamic religion.

“That gives us a bit of time to reset for the coming week.”

The general said the Taliban had claimed responsibility for all insider attacks – also known as green on blue – in Afghanistan. “The evidence does not necessarily support this,” he said.

“But regardless of these motives, these attacks will be used by the insurgency to undermine our confidence and our relationship with the ANSF.”

The relationship between Australian and Afghan soldiers was based on trust, which was hard to build and maintain, the general said.

“This most recent incident has challenged that trust,” he said. “We will continue to work with our Afghan partners to strengthen our relationship and improve their capability.”

General Hurley said he had spoken with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) chief General John Allen on Thursday and he would be in contact with him again on Friday.

“It is fair to say that there is a range of emotions in the ADF today,” General Hurley said. “That’s understandable in the circumstances.”

But he said advice from Australian commanders on the ground in Afghanistan should give reassurance.

“They say that there is a positive relationship in the operating basis,” he said.

“The members of the Afghan National Army share our sense of outrage at this attack.

“The ANA has been proactive… and is actively working to capture Hek Matullah.”

General Hurley says it is often hard to determine the motives for insider attacks because the perpetrator either evades capture or is killed.

“But what our analysis shows, there is a variety,” he said. “Yes, there is some outside influence – there’s no doubt that Taliban play into that.

“But yes, there are also a range of cultural responses that come into play as well. “And unless you actually find the person and can talk to them as to what drove it, you really don’t get the evidence.”

General Hurley said he believed adequate counselling systems were in place to help other soldiers.

“I haven’t received any call yet that we should beef that up. At the moment I think we’ve probably got the right mix.”

Ms Gillard said Australia was still committed to a transition of security to Afghan troops.

“We wouldn’t have made that judgment call about saying Oruzgan was ready for transition unless we believed it to be true,” she said.

“There’s nothing that has happened since that, that suggests to me, that suggests to Defence that we should change our perspectives on the time.”

General Hurley was asked if he feared there’d be a spike in casualties as Australian troops withdrew from Afghanistan by 2014.

“I’ll certainly try my darndest to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said.

“In the terms of how we are planning to conduct the transition, the lessons learnt from, for example, the Australian army training team in Vietnam, is foremost in our minds.”

The defence chief said over the next two years Australia’s role was like teaching a child to ride a bike.

“Gradually we take our hands off the steering wheel with the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces).”

As a result over the next 12 months there’d be fewer troops in the field with the ANSF which would change Australia’s “risk profile”, General Hurley said.

“So our exposure in the field changes dramatically over that two-year period.”

General Hurley said the Afghan army had along with the ADF begun voluntarily disarming their people in those areas.

“Again (they were) quite proactive in understanding the significance of what happened and what needed to be done to reduce continuing risk there,” the general said. “They have been very supportive in their approaches.”

He said the search for Hek Matullah involved patrols while human intelligence and electronic sources were also being used.

Ms Gillard said she had not contacted any of the families of the deceased soldiers personally, adding there was protocol to follow. “Ultimately, this is all about the families wishes,” Ms Gillard said.

“Ordinarily the chief would speak to the family at the appropriate point and then following that, if they wish to receive a call from me, then I certainly make it.”

She said the fallen troops were ceremonially sent off from Afghanistan before returning to Australia for a formal military “ramp ceremony”.

From there, families decide whether they wish for a private funeral or one in which she as prime minister, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley attend.