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Australia denies troops without support in Afghanistan

world Updated: Sep 21, 2010 14:07 IST
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The Australian military on Tuesday denied claims that its troops in Afghanistan were left to battle Taliban insurgents without adequate support from artillery or aircraft.

The allegations, contained in an email from a soldier to a friend and published in the media, suggest that Australian Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney would not have died in the firefight if the troops had had mortars.

The strongly-worded email, excerpts of which were printed in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, also said that the troops had insufficient intelligence before they fought for their lives against up to 100 insurgents in troubled Uruzgan province on August 24.

The Australian military strongly rejected the claims, describing them as "wrong and ill-informed and quite frankly not helpful".

"It has caused some consternation with the unit and has undermined the excellent work being done at the tactical level by our troops," Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Mark Evans told reporters.

In the email, an unnamed soldier who fought alongside MacKinney blames concerns about collateral damage for the alleged lack of air support given to troops on the ground during the engagement near Tarin Kowt.

The Australian soldiers were "at times pinned down by a massive rate of fire" and withdrew when they ran low on ammunition after insufficient support from artillery, mortars or aircraft, it said.

"The army has let us down mate, and I am disgusted," the soldier wrote.

But Evans said the plan had always been for the fighting patrol to draw out the enemy, engage them in fire, and then withdraw to their base.

"The fighting patrol on August 24 did everything it had planned to do," he said, adding it was well supported by light armoured vehicles and Apache helicopters, and had artillery support.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the email would be considered as part of a defence force investigation into MacKinney's death.

Australia, which has about 1,550 troops in Afghanistan mostly training Afghan soldiers in Uruzgan, has lost 21 soldiers in the war, which Defence Minister Stephen Smith said should be debated further by parliament.