|Push for Diggers to get medivacs in Afghanistan
Mark Dodd | August 13, 2008
DEFENCE Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will consider sending specialised medical helicopters to support Australian troops in Afghanistan after three wounded Diggers waited six hours on the battlefield before being taken to hospital.
The Australian Defence Force is investigating an incident in south-central Oruzgan province on Monday that left two special forces soldiers wounded, one seriously, after their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
A third Australian soldier was injured after the crash of a rescue helicopter. A second helicopter was unable to take off due to bad weather, but a third rescue attempt was successful.
The incident is the second botched helicopter rescue of Australian troops in as many months in Afghanistan.
The Weekend Australian revealed late last month that the rescue of mortally wounded SAS signaller Sean McCarthy, 25, was delayed after a communications breakdown between the US military, which is responsible for medivac operations, and Dutch command at Tarin Kowt, where the bulk of Australia's forces are based.
McCarthy, the sixth Australian to be killed fighting the Taliban, was fatally wounded in a bomb blast on July 8 while on patrol with the Special Air Service. His rescue should have taken 10 to 20 minutes, but instead took two hours.
Australian troops in Afghanistan rely solely on NATO helicopter support for all medical emergencies.
Mr Fitzgibbon yesterday admitted the defence force lacked the helicopters to undertake its own medivac missions.
He said the medivac issue was under "constant review" by defence, but stressed that sending Australian army helicopters to Oruzgan could not happen before the middle of next year.
"At this time, we do not have the Black Hawk helicopters with sufficient protection to allow them to allow us to send them into Afghanistan," he told The Australian. "We would not be able to achieve an AME (aero medical evacuation) with adequately protected helicopters until almost the middle of next year."
The deployment of a Black Hawk detachment would involve three helicopters and about 100 specialist defence personnel - a significant boost to Australia's current deployment of just over 1000 soldiers.
Mr Fitzgibbon said this was something the Government would need to carefully consider. "I am concerned about increasing our overall commitment, which would mean we could take a lead role in Oruzgan from 2010. We already make a substantial contribution," he said.
Last month, Dutch military doctor Colonel Ed van der Zee claimed McCarthy bled to death after waiting two hours for a delayed medivac helicopter.
The ADF admitted that the interval between the bomb blast and McCarthy's arrival at hospital was 113 minutes. But the military rejected the allegation that the handling of the rescue was botched.
In the latest incident, two soldiers from the Special Operations Task Group were wounded, one seriously, when their Bushmaster patrol vehicle triggered an improvised explosive device. A third SOTG soldier suffered "slight injuries" when the first rescue helicopter made a "hard landing" at the scene of the IED attack. The landing was so hard that the helicopter had to be removed by a huge Chinook twin rotor helicopter.
Opposition defence spokesman Nick Minchin said the Government needed to ensure the ADF was properly equipped for combat medical evacuations.
But Mr Fitzgibbon said Monday's rescue debacle did not mean there was a systemic problem.
I am interested in the statement: "Mr Fitzgibbon said this was something the Government would need to carefully consider. "I am concerned about increasing our overall commitment, which would mean we could take a lead role in Oruzgan from 2010. We already make a substantial contribution," he said."
Does this mean that there will be a shift towards an Auatralian battlegroup in Afghanistan that many have postulated?