Australian death toll rises in Afghanistan

Aug. 31, 2012 at 2:37 AM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Two Australian soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, a day after three of their comrades were killed in a green-on-blue insider attack, NATO said.

The deaths of the two soldiers Thursday in the crash of their UH-1 Huey helicopter in southern, insurgent-strong Helmand province was especially hard on Australians as they followed the gunning down of three more of their military personnel by an Afghan soldier in a so-called green-on-blue attack, which is become a growing menace to the security and safety of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The deaths of the five from Australia, a non-NATO nation, made it the country's deadliest week for military casualties in a decade, The New York Times reported.

NATO officials said the cause of the helicopter crash, which also injured some soldiers, had not yet been determined, although there was no enemy activity in the area.

In the insider attack, a turncoat Afghan soldier opened fire on the Australians in Oruzgan province, the Times said. Australia reportedly has about 1,550 troops in Afghanistan.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who interrupted her visit to the Cook Islands to return to Canberra, said the deaths were "the most awful news" for her nation and that the insider attacks are difficult to deal with as they are "corrosive of trust," the Times reported.

Gillard, however, stressed the deaths of the five soldiers would not change Australia's plans to bring back its troops by the end of 2013. NATO and U.S. forces are scheduled to end their combat operations by 2014.

"We went there for a purpose, and we will see that purpose through," the Australian leader said.

Two other Australians were wounded in the attack, The Washington Post reported, quoting the military. The gunman fled the scene.

With the rise in insider attacks, NATO soldiers have been ordered to carry loaded weapons at all times, the Post said.

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