A former Australian Army officer talks about the beauty and tragedy of serving in Afghanistan

One year after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, those closest to the conflict are considering the costs and rewards of Australia’s 20-year involvement in the war. Watch an episode of Insight
I knew Afghanistan was a dangerous place.
By the time it deployed in January 2010, Australia had lost 10 soldiers there. One of them, Sergeant Matthew Locke, I learned through a training course I did with him in 2005.
It could be said that he was one of the most professional soldiers I have ever met. A Special Air Service (SASR) sergeant, he seemed invincible. Killing him seemed impossible, and made the country seem even more dangerous.

I deployed to Afghanistan on Australia Day in 2010 and was stationed at a patrol base in the Baluchi Valley in Uruzgan Province. My team’s role was to direct elements of the Afghan National Army (ANA). As a captain, I was assigned to mentor a fellow ANA who was in charge of about 80 ANA soldiers. Their numbers varied. I had 18 Australians under me.

Julian was photographed during his time in Afghanistan.

The ANA captain was about 50 years old, and he looked like Afghani Al Pacino. He fought the Soviets as part of the Mujahideen as a colonel. The colonel’s red ribbons were still worn on his shirt collar to signify this. I guess he forgot more about the war than I would have known.

He was well respected among the locals in the valley and our tour got off to a natural start.
It was February, and still winter.
The Taliban were supposed to be most active in the summer months from June to August – the “fighting season”.
We’ve had several occasions when we’ve been involved in combat with the enemy, but it has been sporadic. That all changed in June.
In early June, our battalion lost two engineers in the Mirabad Valley. The first blows to our unit hit hard and made us all realize that the danger was real and fatal.
Later that month, a helicopter crash claimed the lives of three commandos, which came as another major shock to the Australian Special Forces and Defense Force. We continued our work guiding ANA elements and working with the local community, developing relationships and helping their community through small construction projects to improve their quality of life.
The war really came home in early July when our company lost Private Nathan Bewes. He was operating only 10 kilometers north of us in an adjacent area of ​​operations. He was known to all of us, and he was the first victim of our company. We were all shaken to the core. Work continued.
We started being bombarded with missiles. This was in a confrontation where there was little to no warning, no protection for us. Two missiles fell on the base. In order to address this issue, I had planned an operation to disable the area from which the missiles are launched.

This region is known as the “point of origin”. Raisi has given me significant assets to make this happen, including armored vehicles and a platoon (30 men) to support the clearing of the area. The operation was planned for August 20 and will happen all day long.

When I look back on my time there, I think of Afghanistan as a beautiful country, with beautiful people, many of whom unfortunately know nothing but war.

We left at around 6 am. The patrol starts without incident. We had two observation posts [soldiers looking out for us] On the other side of the river which was providing situational awareness as we cleared north.
As we approached the area where we were going to start clearing, there were huge explosives in the observation area. I immediately thought he was being bombed with missiles. The radio broadcast revealed that two soldiers had been killed by an explosive device. My blood was cold. These soldiers were under my command. I had indicated the job, which was approved by the engineers. Everything was done according to orders that took weeks to develop, refine and approve.
The rest of the day posed a lot of challenges. We got back to the patrol base around 8 pm. It’s been a very long day for everyone.

We reset the next day and a convoy of attached soldiers was heading to Tarin Kowt for a ramp ceremony for the two soldiers who were killed. The ramp ceremony saw the coffins, draped in the Australian national flag, flown on a RAAF plane and flown out of the country where they can be buried on Australian soil. On the way, one of the Bushmasters collided with an explosive device. A helicopter was sent to evacuate the injured in the blast. It was another long day and the caravan reached Tarin Kowt by nightfall.

We had a little celebration at the base of the league to coincide with the Tarin Kowt celebration. Before it began, there was a closure of communications. This was never for a good reason.

We held the party and waited for the plane to fly towards us in the Baluch Valley. Then they flew over us and fired flares as a farewell to the country that had captured so many of us.

After the ceremony I returned to the command post. A phone call came through. He was the chief operating officer of my company. He told me there was a death in Derabit Valley. This explains the closing of connections. When he said the name of the slain soldier, I broke down in tears. It was involuntary. Jared McKinney was one of my soldiers many years ago and I knew him well. Venture outside to tell the rest of the team the bad news. From the emotion on my face, they could clearly tell it wasn’t good news.
The mission continued. Fortunately, there were no other injuries.
When I look back on my time there, I think of Afghanistan as a beautiful country, with beautiful people, many of whom unfortunately know nothing but war. They are used to our presence and the kids were always happy to see us.
Watching the scenes of desperation in August of last year was a stark contrast to the quieter life they had when I was there. I think our presence had that effect. It was a presence that I knew would never be forever.

I hope the country finds peace after seeing what was possible without the Taliban.

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