Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie AO DSC CSM

Document Sample
Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie AO DSC CSM Powered By Docstoc
					         Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel G DSM
              Special Operations Task Group


                  Media Roundtable, 8 July 2011

As delivered

Introduction by Special Operations Commander Australia, Major General
Peter (Gus) Gilmore, DSC, AM

Thank you for coming today. It is great to have the opportunity to tell Special
Operations Task Group‟s (SOTG) story and today we do so with operational
security limitations I‟m sure you‟ll all understand.

I‟d like to introduce Lieutenant Colonel G - who was the Commanding Officer
of the SOTG from December 2010 to June 2011, this was his third tour in
Afghanistan, having first deployed as a junior officer in 2001 and again in
2006. Our Special Forces give us much cause for great pride. Lieutenant
Colonel G is best placed to speak for them and tell SOTG‟s story of the past
six months.

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel G, DSM, Special Operations
Task Group

Good morning and thank you again for joining us. It‟s a great opportunity for
me to talk to you about the contributions of Rotations 14 and 15 of the Special
Operations Task Group, or the SOTG, who are conducting operations in
southern Afghanistan.

This year has been an eventful one. We have witnessed a great deal of
discussion in the public forum about Australia‟s role in Afghanistan, the
investiture of the second Australian Victoria Cross and the death of Al–Qaeda
leader Osama Bin Laden. The purpose of this brief is to highlight the
achievements and challenges faced by a task group that, due to the nature
and its role and accompanying security classification challenges, normally
maintains a very low profile.

During our tour the task group focused its attention primarily in Uruzgan and
northern Kandahar, also conducting operations in the areas that influence the
security of Uruzgan such as Zabul, Daikundi and northern Helmand province.                                                              -1-
During the winter in which Rotation 14 deployed, temperatures often
plummeted below freezing, testing the limits of our soldiers, their vehicles, and
equipment. Historically, insurgents use these colder months to rest, regroup
and prepare for the fighting season. I can report that the SOTG curtailed
these plans, targeting insurgent logistic nodes and command and control
networks through a high operational, winter tempo. Over this winter, Rotation
14 conducted in excess of 80 operations during that 100 day period.

Rotation 15 witnessed the start of the spring fighting season from March
onward, and with it, a subsequent increase in insurgent activity plus the
traditional return of many insurgent leaders to Uruzgan. Like its winter
counterpart, the spring campaign was highly active. Spring for Rotation 15
involved many contacts with insurgents, engagements within which our
soldiers performed exceptionally well in battle.

For some perspective, the Special Operations Task Group consists of around
300 personnel, and operates primarily from the Multi-National Base in Tarin
Kot. Rotation 14 – who fought during the winter – was mostly comprised of
members from the 1st Commando Regiment (1Cdo Regt), with small
additional force elements from the Special Air Service (SASR) and the
Incident Response Regiments (IRR). This rotation was led mainly by
Commando reservists, individuals possessing a vast array of experience,
skills and capabilities, it is a versatile group capable of completing many of the
Special Operations tasks.

In contrast, Rotation 15‟s spring included soldiers from the full time 2nd
Commando Regiment, SASR, IRR, plus support personnel from all three
services of the Australian Defence Force.

SOTG missions often traverse formidable mountain scapes, unforgiving
patches of desert and heavily fortified compounds. In conquering these
difficult landscapes, we delivered effects in support of both the Combined
Team – Uruzgan, (CTU) as well as the Australian Mentoring Task Force-2
(MTF2). We see these terrain and threat challenges as potential opportunities,
ones capable of bringing out the very best in some of Australia‟s finest

As I‟m sure you are aware, Australian Special Forces are selected and trained
to continually deliver the level of military outcomes our nation and our allies
expect. These soldiers have repeatedly proven their worth, often under
extraordinarily demanding conditions. From high-risk clearances and raids, to
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, providing world class
training for Afghan Security Forces, working with indigenous local leaders,
SOTG personnel are in vital roles, in dangerous locations, performing
essential tasks. These men are tactical soldiers, very aware of how their
actions create and support strategic effects.

Most importantly, we don‟t operate in isolation. Since returning to Afghanistan
in April 2007, the SOTG has continued to train and partner with the Afghan                                                               -2-
National Security Force to degrade the insurgency and protect the Afghan
population. Tireless effort and commitment has ensured our dedicated Afghan
partners, the Provincial Response Company Uruzgan (PRC-U) a part of the
Afghan National Police, are now widely recognised as the benchmark across
the country. When I refer to the SOTG this includes our Afghan partner force.

Moreover – and as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its
mission in Afghanistan transitions from a focus on war fighting to security,
governance and development - the SOTG since 2010 has continued to
pursue three key lines of operation, summarised by the verbs Shield, Build
and Shape, to help provide a better and lasting future for Afghanistan.


The first and most crucial line of operation is “shielding” the population from
the insurgency. This is achieved by protecting local nationals from the threats
posed by the insurgency, and providing medical support to Afghan civilians
wounded by insurgent fighters.

Sadly, insurgents have very little regard for innocent civilian lives. They
indiscriminately emplace Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in areas known
to be commonly used by local Afghans. They also use civilians as human
shields, and regularly launch attacks from heavily populated areas. As could
be expected, these realities often produce very difficult situations for SOTG
soldiers. They continue to display exemplary conduct and decision making
when faced with these insidious, civilian-targeted techniques. Australian Rules
of Engagement are designed to minimise the risk of civilian casualties.

During the past six months the Task Group has conducted more than 170
days of cumulative patrols. As you are aware from media releases made
during this time, the Task Group has been in contact with hostile elements,
battling proven foes armed with rifles, machine guns and rocket propelled

The SOTG found and neutralised many IEDs that - in turn - made friendly
villages and their surrounds safe. They also recovered approximately 50
caches containing IED making material, weapons, ammunition and
communications equipment. Through these efforts, materials to build an
estimated 150 IEDs have been seized. We confiscated thousands of rounds
of ammunition, weapons and IED components, assets that would have
otherwise been used against Afghan and coalition troops or even innocent
civilians. These efforts to secure the environment for the local Afghan
population have been further enhanced by the Afghan National Police and the
SOTG detention operations that removed significant numbers of leaders and
commanders from the province and severely disrupted insurgent operations in
the rural areas. Disrupting insurgents in this manner reduces intimidation of
the local population within these areas.

The SOTG also deployed skilled medics on Coalition aviation elements for
Aero Medical Evacuation (AME) missions providing a short notice, expert                                                             -3-
medical capability. In doing so, we have collectively supported missions
tending to wounded Afghan civilians, Afghans and Coalition forces.

As an example, on April 29, Australian Special Forces assisted in saving the
lives of a woman and a child after their car struck an IED placed by insurgents
in the Province of Kandahar. Afghan National Police and the members of the
SOTG were returning to base when an explosion rocked a major civilian traffic
route near the village of Tizak in northern Kandahar. The partnered patrol
suspended their return to base to provide immediate first aid to the casualties
and coordinate the Aero Medical Evacuation (AME) by helicopter. Three
wounded nationals received rapid care at the scene, and were transferred to
the Forward Surgical Team at Tarin Kowt.

Unfortunately the young girl evacuated to Tarin Kowt died of her wounds the
following day… but a small boy and woman survived because of the actions
of SOTG soldiers and medical teams. Five other local nationals were killed in
the blast, a tragic incident that only epitomises the insurgent‟s indifference to
local casualties. We stand defiant to this reality, and – akin to the small boy
and woman we saved – will continue to protect the lives of Afghan civilians.

Since 2009, the SOTG has supported more than 300 of these missions,
assisting our Coalition partners in the provision of medical care through the
full spectrum of immediate trauma management, aero medical evacuation,
resuscitation and surgery. This support has been a great privilege and drives
home the importance of our mission to the everyday lives of Afghans.


Our second line of operation is to “build” the capacity of the Government of
the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, or GIRoA through the Afghan National
Security Forces. The SOTG has instilled a greater confidence and expertise in
the Provincial Response Company Uruzgan or PRC-U, to ready them for the
role of maintaining stability and security in Uruzgan well after our eventual

Along with the ADF‟s efforts in training the 4th ANA Brigade, the Task Group‟s
partner force is recognised as one of the most effective, skilled and capable
forces in the province. This is a great national achievement, and a key
contribution to the over arching mission and a direct reflection of our soldier‟s
dedication to the training and mentoring aspects of their mission. It is this type
of work that will in due course facilitate a successful transition to Afghan

The PRC-U is part of the Afghan National Police, and all members of the
partner force are qualified in the curriculum of Police Training Courses
conducted by the Ministry of the Interior. Through SOTG‟s combined efforts
with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), we continued to develop local
security forces and communities understanding of the law and the expectation
of police capability, as a key element of stability.                                                               -4-
PRC-U members are trained in first aid, vehicle driving, Counter-IED
techniques, Pashtu literacy, and Counter Insurgency operations. They are
also taught advanced paramilitary tactics and procedures, in a purpose-built
training compound, used to practice realistic scenarios they are likely to face
in the wider Afghan environment.

Every SOTG operation is partnered with members of PRC-U, who collaborate
in the planning and conduct of all aspects of the operation. Together we
function very much as a team, with the SOTG in a supporting role. This is a
significant indicator of the success achieved through the training and
mentoring provided by the SOTG during the past couple of years.


Our third and final line of operation, “shape”, is focussed on influence in the
battle space, of attacking insurgent networks, and those networks that
financially support the insurgency, to degrade their capacity to harm the
people of Afghanistan while allowing ISAF to deliver security, governance and
development. By disrupting logistics, communications, command and control,
morale and plans, the SOTG also significantly undermines insurgent ability to
conduct operations against the CT-U and the MTF-2. Thereby – and most
importantly - improving security for the local people.

A key shaping area remains in combating networks that are funding insurgent
activities. The SOTG achieves this by providing enabling support to the
Afghan National interdiction Unit or NIU, an element of the Afghan National
Security Forces structured under the Ministry of Interior, and, a first for
Australian forces. The NIU is an expanding and professional force tasked with
detaining, investigating, and prosecuting individuals in line with the Afghan
Government‟s National Drug Control Strategy.

Recently - across May and June of this year - members of the SOTG have
supported the NIU to achieve significant gains in this area. By providing
enabling support, such as logistical and specialist assistance, the NIU has
been able to maintain the operational lead on all missions – a promising sign
as we approach transition – and fitting given the law enforcement flavour of
this activity. Together, they helped sever key funding and operational links
between the insurgency and the narcotics trade elements. A disproportionate
amount of insurgent activity is funded by the narcotics trade in this province.

Logically, shaping the battle space is closely related to SOTG‟s earlier
discussed efforts to shield the population, and build GIRoA and the ANSF.
These three lines of operation are both intertwined and co-dependent on each
other to produce positive effects. It is important to note that the success in
battle can not be achieved when civilian lives are put at risk. Likewise,
security in Afghanistan will not be achieved without developing and
empowering the local institutions that underpin security to the local population.                                                              -5-

Still – and during modern conflict - we must accept the sad reality that
casualties might be suffered. As you are aware from the previous media
releases, this year, SOTG 14 and 15 witnessed the deaths of two fine men,
and the wounding of nine others. Also, as you know, Sgt Todd Langley from
SOTG 16 was killed on Monday.

Sergeant Brett Wood was killed in an IED strike in southern Afghanistan. Brett
was a highly decorated Commando, an experienced veteran awarded the
Medal of Gallantry during his previous tour of Afghanistan in 2006. He was
presented the United States Meritorious Service Medal (USMSM) at his
funeral for his bravery during the battle. Brett was the first Australian, in this
conflict, to receive a posthumous USMSM, a military decoration presented to
soldiers from the United States or a friendly foreign nation who have
distinguished themselves through outstanding achievement or service in a
designated combat theatre.

The battle in which Sergeant Wood was killed spanned 41 hours, the most
intense combat seen by Australian troops this year. Members of the SOTG
and the PRC-U were conducting clearance operations in the Kajaki district,
southern Afghanistan. Two platoons entered separate villages before the first
light on the 22nd of May. The first platoon conducted a cordon and search of
several compounds before being engaged by insurgents with Rocket
Propelled Grenades, mortar, heavy machine gun and smaller arms fire from
multiple directions.

The second platoon, including Sergeant Brett Wood, was involved in an
intense fire fight that spilled into the night and across the following day.
Insurgents used tunnels and mouse holes to manoeuvre between compounds
and keyholes to fire through. The SOTG suffered six casualties during the
height of the battle, on the 23rd of May.

One soldier was wounded in an exchange of mortars, and two more received
fragmentation wounds from grenades launched over compound walls. An
Aero Medical Evacuation (AME) was requested for the three wounded, and as
the helicopter approached, Sergeant Brett Wood and his team aggressively
engaged the enemy with suppressing fire which permitted the helicopter to
land and ensured his mates received a safe extraction.

It was later that afternoon, when the team of Commandos raced down an
alley way to interdict a group of insurgents that Sergeant Wood was killed
when an IED detonated in the alley and two other soldiers were wounded.
Under waves of heavy fire, the SOTG soldiers provided immediate first aid to
the three casualties and requested another aero medical evacuation by
helicopter. Both platoons and a supporting Air Weapons Team, comprising of
a number of Coalition helicopters, combined to clear several compounds and
tunnel systems, which suppressed insurgents during the evacuation.                                                               -6-
Despite the tragic loss of Sergeant Brett Wood, this important operation was
very successful in destroying an IED factory, disrupting the insurgent safe
haven in Kajaki and degrading their ability to conduct attacks against Afghan
and ISAF forces.

A fortnight later, Sapper Rowan Robinson was also killed in action while
providing support to his mates. He was shot in his over watch position during
a battle with insurgents in Baghran, Helmand on the 6th of June. He had
manoeuvred to a fire position on the front line to provide cover when struck by
a round. Medics provided immediate first aid at the scene. During his
extraction to Tarin Kowt, but he later died of wounds.

Hours before his death, Sapper Robinson and his team had discovered the
largest cache found by Australian troops this year. Several compounds of
interest were searched in two different locations and the partnered patrol
found 70 anti personnel mines, 20 RPG rockets, 2000 rounds of ammunition,
several grenades, pistols, mortar rounds, rifles, and a significant quantity of

Most importantly, the cache find included IED components used to kill and
maim local nationals, Coalition and Afghan forces. Over 60 electric
detonators, five pressure plates, 500 metres of detonation cord and numerous
devices used for remote initiation were found. The removal of these items not
only proved a major setback for the insurgency in the area, it has undoubtedly
saved countless lives. Akin to Brett Wood, Rowan Robinson risked and gave
his life so that others may live.


SOTG 14 and 15 with its Afghan partners, yielded immense successes in
degrading insurgent networks and preventing them effectively targeting
Afghan and Australian troops by targeting insurgent leaders. The SOTG
captured three prominent insurgent leaders over winter, and 20 more in the
spring and early summer. The most significant operational success was the
removal of two Taliban shadow district governors from the province across
separate missions. On the 8th of April, Afghan police and the SOTG captured
the senior commander for the Char Chineh district, during a compound
clearance mission in the Khod valley. Daad was prolific facilitator of the
insurgency throughout southern Afghanistan, held direct links to the Taliban
senior leadership and supplied weapons and fighters throughout the Shahid-i-
Hasas area. His absence created notable disruption in Western Uruzgan and
we observed a significant reduction in attacks on coalition and local forces.

More recently, the SOTG killed the Chora district Shadow governor during a
fire fight in the Karmisan valley on the 1st of June. Mullah Gul Akhund was
wanted by Afghan authorities for ordering the assassination of government
officials and tribal elders and conducting multiple attacks on Coalition and
Afghan forces. He also played a crucial role in the manufacture and facilitation
of IED‟s. His death has had a profound effect on the insurgency in central                                                             -7-
Uruzgan, disrupting the command and control network, inhibiting weapons
resupply and limiting intimidation of the local community.

Removing key insurgent leaders and or disrupting their ability to coordinate
attacks against coalition partners is absolutely necessary. We know these
insurgent leaders are coordinating and supplying fighters with weapons, funds
and the lethal IED‟s that are indiscriminately killing and maiming local civilians
and Coalition forces alike. Individuals like SGT Wood and Sapper Robinson
gave their lives to protecting their mates and the mission, both noble in
purpose and one the SOTG continues to embrace.

I‟d like to now highlight the achievements of the engineers from the Incident
Response Regiment. These courageous men, also known as bomb techs,
comb the ground for IED‟s to ensure safe passage for their colleagues. In
addition to finding and neutralising explosives, the engineers recover
components like detonators, pressure plates and battery packs to gain a
comprehensive and evolving understanding of the insurgent‟s weapon of
choice. Clearance operations conducted by SOTG engineers also allows
civilian traffic to traverse routes that would have otherwise been denied to
them. Through their actions, the SOTG engineers help the people of
Afghanistan slowly reclaim the normalcy in their lives, freedom of action
previously taken from them by insurgents.

In May, a vehicle mounted patrol traversed a dangerous pass in the Kajaki
district and struck an IED. Two men were wounded in the blast and the
Protected Mobility Vehicle they were travelling in had to be destroyed in place.
On their subsequent return to base, four more IED‟s were discovered and
appropriately disposed of by the engineers. These support personnel who
enable the fighting elements to go outside the wire are critical to the success
of the SOTG.

SOTG 14 and 15 did not face these challenges alone. Support and
cooperation of Coalition partners and liaison officers were equally responsible
for SOTG military achievements during their tour in southern Afghanistan.

The SOTG‟s ISAF counterparts not only provided additional resources,
equipment and intelligence, but enabled a synchronisation with all other
forces to achieve maximum effect. To achieve this synchronisation, liaison
officers are dispersed across the country to provide assistance in the form of
operational approvals, situational awareness and tactical information to assist
the SOTG understanding the people, the threats, the trends and the
conditions in the places we have and will operate.

It‟s important to especially note the exceptional interoperability the Task
Group shared with the United States. The US Army Aviation Task Force flew
utility and attack aircraft from Tarin Kot and provided almost all of the
helicopter support to SOTG operations. This support ranged from regional
force projection, to re-supply, aerial fire support and also AME. Despite the
dangers of poor weather and high altitude, the consistent commitment of                                                               -8-
these US aviation crews helped save lives of both the coalition and Afghan
forces everyday.


I‟d like to now talk about a topic perhaps important to most to you, that being
our interaction with you - the media - and the members of the public you
represent. Generating stories from SOTG operations can appear a simple
task, and informing the public about Australia‟s efforts in Afghanistan is
undeniably important, but, much of this story necessarily must remain untold
in the interests of operational security. Let me clearly state that I understand
and recognise that this reality is a frustration to you and the work you‟re
attempting to conduct. While not a consolation, we too wish we could better
tell these stories to the Australian public. Still, it is of greater imperative that
the SOTG - first and foremost – protects the lives of our soldiers and
missions. Unfortunately, and based on what we are tasked to do on a daily
basis, limitations of disclosure are a reality I would ask you to respect and


In summary – and as you no doubt concluded based on what I‟ve discussed
thus far - the SOTG is but one part of a much larger Coalition effort. There are
many other forces from numerous countries facing similar challenges, all
achieving individualised successes across Afghanistan. To paraphrase a
shared sentiment from the Defence Minister and Chief of Defence Force:
„significant progress has been made this year.‟ In partner with all our allies, we
look forward to continuing our important role in achieving and maintaining
peace and security for the people of Afghanistan. This task still requires a
concerted effort by the Task Group, broader ADF elements and Coalition
forces deployed to Afghanistan, in order to ensure that the ANSF are well
positioned to take over lead responsibility for the security by 2014.

Finally – and in closing: I want to emphasize the outstanding work being done
by our soldiers in protecting the Afghan population and enabling the Afghan
security forces to maintain security in Uruzgan. It is through the cumulative
success of our operations and advancements that, I believe, we are seeing
demonstrable progress in Uruzgan and more broadly across Afghanistan.

Thank you very much.                                                                   -9-