Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: A decorated Australian special forces commando has been killed in action in southern Afghanistan, becoming the nation's 40th casualty in the protracted conflict.

Chief of Defence David Hurley said Sunday the soldier died from small arms fire during an operation to disrupt an insurgent network.

Another special forces soldier was shot and seriously wounded and an airman injured in Saturday's incident.

“Members of the patrol provided immediate first aid to the casualties,”General Hurley told reporters in Canberra.

“Sadly, despite their efforts, they could not save one of their mates.”The special forces soldier who died, who has not been named, was on his fifth tour of Afghanistan and had previously served in Iraq and East Timor.

The two others wounded in the attack are recovering in Afghanistan, with the soldier who was shot able to contact his family.

“As with each of these incidents, I will also appoint an inquiry officer to fully examine the circumstances surrounding this event,” Hurley said.

The death comes as Australia is preparing to wind down operations in Afghanistan where its main base in Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, is expected to close by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Saturday had attended the opening of a memorial for those lost in Afghanistan in Queensland, said every death “hits the nation hard”.

“Our last loss was in October last year and I think many have probably lulled themselves into a false sense of security that we would see no more losses in Afghanistan,” she told reporters in Canberra. “...for many, this will be a very painful reminder that the risk is not over, the danger isn't gone.”Australia still has some 1,550 troops in Afghanistan but plans to pull about 1,000 out at the end of this year.

Gillard said despite this drawdown, there would still be “more work to do in Afghanistan, and so we will see that mission through”.

The prime minister said Australia would continue to provide assistance and training to Afghan local forces beyond 2013 and she has left open the possibility of a continuing role for Special Forces beyond the end of their current mission in 2014.

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