Australia suffered another death in Afghanistan Sunday night, bringing to 39 the number of Diggers killed in the decade-old conflict that started in 2001.
In a news briefing in Canberra Monday morning, Chief of Defence David Hurley disclosed that a Special Forces member died yesterday while conducting a joint mission with Afghan security forces.
The soldier, according to Gen Hurley, was with a team trying to clear an Afghan compound of suspected Taliban insurgents when an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated, killing him instantly.
Initial reports from Aussie commanders on the ground had indicated that the Digger was the lone fatality in the incident, Gen Hurley said.
"The task group was conducting a disruption operation against an insurgent network that directly influences insurgent activity in Uruzgan," ABC reported Gen Hurley as saying on Monday.
In the same briefing, Defence Minister Stephen confirmed the sad news, which came after the heartbreaking loss of five men in late August this year, in which three Diggers were treacherously gunned down an Afghan army official in what NATO authorities described as insider attack.
Also, two members of the SAS perished when their chopper crashed, capping a grim 24-hour period for the Diggers that Aussie officials labelled as the saddest for the nation since its involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
Mr Smith has reiterated earlier announcements by Defence officials that family members of the slain soldier had requested that details and identity of the Digger be withheld at the moment.
He, however, allowed that the nation lost a "young ... and brave 24-year-old," soldier yesterday.
Despite the setback, Mr Smith stressed that "the government continues to believe that completing the mission in Afghanistan is in our national interest."
"We are on track to transition to Afghan-led operations by December 2014," the defence minister was reported by The Australian as saying today.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today that the Digger's death was a great loss that "will be mourned by the whole nation."
"We have lost a brave soldier who was going about difficult and dangerous work in Afghanistan ... and (my) very loving thoughts were with the dead soldier's family and comrades at this time of great stress and distress for them," Ms Gillard said in a press conference Monday morning.
"I offer my most sincere condolences to the family and friends of this young man," she added.
She also assured that the 1550-strong Australian soldiers currently serving in the Afghan Mission remain determined to see through the completion of what they came for in Afghanistan notwithstanding incidents such as the young Digger's death.
Ms Gillard, who visited the Australian service members last week, indicated too that the full contingent was in good spirits and bent to pursue "a mission with a defined strategy and a defined end point."
In a statement, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that all Australians will be saddened by the loss of another Digger in the long-drawn Afghan Mission, honouring as well the supreme sacrifice of the young soldier.
The Coalition's thoughts and prayers are with the soldier's family and friends, Mr Abbott added.
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