Kevin Rudd has offered his condolences following the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan.
Click the Play button to listen to Rudd:
This is the transcript of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s press conference:
I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan. This brave soldier, wearing the uniform of Australia died the field of duty wearing his nation’s uniform and wearing it with pride.
On behalf of the Government, I extend my condolences to his family and to his friends and to his loved ones. Our prayers and those of the entire nation are with his family and his friends and his loved ones on this most tragic of days.
In accordance with the wishes of the family, the soldier’s name will not be released at this stage.
This soldier was killed when Taliban insurgents engaged an Afghan forward operating base. And Australians were present and they came under rocket attack. Sadly, as a result of this incident today, eight brave Australian soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan, fighting Taliban insurgents.
Our troops in Afghanistan are doing dangerous and difficult work and this work continues, it continues as we speak here today. They are in the field, they are doing their job for Australia and it is dangerous.
I’ve said before that there is no higher calling for any Australian than to wear the uniform of Australia. And on a difficult and tragic day such as today, we are reminded of the cost of wearing that uniform – and that is to ultimately surrender your life for your country. And that is what has happened.
Fighting the war in Afghanistan continues as an important part of the fight against terrorism, the fight against Al Qaeda.
It is also part and parcel of our obligations to our allies and friends, given that this war in Afghanistan began following the terrorist attacks on September 11 by Al Qaeda resulting in the murder of thousands of innocent civilians.
My thoughts, my prayers, go out to this young man’s family. The nation grieves with his family today. The nation grieves with his comrades today. The nation grieves with his friends today. I’ll take your questions.
Can you tell us what state the soldier comes from?
None of those details will be made public at this stage and that has been at the request of the family. And these are deeply and understandably personal matters.
The Australian Defence Force has a well established protocol for engaging with the families of those who have lost their lives or those who have been wounded. Those protocols are being adhered to and what is of paramount importance to us is respecting the wishes of the family, as we’re doing today.
Prime Minister, will the Government be reconsidering troop numbers in Afghanistan.
As I’ve indicated before, the Government believes that our current troop disposition in Afghanistan is about right. We have no plans to increase those numbers.
And remember our troops in Afghanistan, whom I visited recently, are doing a first class job. That is also the view of our allies and friends. That is also the view of the Afghan Government.
We believe the work that they are doing both in pushing back the enemy, both in training the Afghan National Army and engaged in necessary reconstruction work in Oruzgan Province is proceeding calmly, smoothly, methodically but there are always risks, there are always dangers, and we’re reminded tragically of those dangers today.
Prime Minister were there any other Australians at that base? Or how many were there?
Again I would adhere to the protocols, I think important protocols laid down by the Australian military. We’ll make further comment as it is appropriate.
We’re always mindful of the ongoing security of our troops in the field at times like this. And having seen something, a small part of their operating environment again recently – this is a difficult, dangerous and bloody place.
[inaudible] Gaza [inaudible]
Australia is deeply concerned by continued violence in Gaza and in Southern Israel. Australia recognises Israel’s right to self-defence, while we call on all parties to avoid any actions which result in unnecessary suffering or increased suffering on the part of innocent civilians.
The escalation in the conflict, following the incursion by Israeli ground forces, underlines the absolute importance of bringing about an effective diplomatic solution.
Any solution, any diplomatic solution, must find a way of bringing a halt to rocket attacks against Israel by the terrorist organisation Hamas. Any diplomatic solution much also bring about a halt of armed shipments into Gaza.
Any diplomatic solution must also bring about the opening of the Gaza crossings. Any diplomatic solution must also involve an immediate ceasefire. And in that connection, we the Australian Government support the actions of the United Nations now in seeking to bring about an immediate ceasefire.
Furthermore any diplomatic solution must form part of a longer term compact involving Israel and Palestine, based on a two-State solution.
All Australians are concerned about the humanitarian implications of this conflict. And it is critical therefore for Israel to meet its humanitarian obligations under international humanitarian law towards the people of Gaza, in ensuring that they have access to basic goods, food and humanitarian assistance and medical supplies.
The Australian Government has already in the last 12 months have doubled our level of assistance to the Palestinian people to nearly $50 million. And on 1 January, the Government announced a further allocation of $5 million for additional assistance to the people on the Gaza Strip. This is designed specifically to be delivered through UN agencies and international non-government organisations to provide food and much needed medical supplies to the people of Gaza.
The Australian Government also stands ready to deliver further assistance as is necessary.
Okay. Thank you.