Digger killed in Afghanistan

AUSTRALIA has lost another soldier in Afghanistan, the first to die this year and the 22nd since the launch of operations in late 2001.

Corporal Richard Edward Atkinson, 22, a member of the Darwin-based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, died in the explosion of an insurgent improvised explosive device (IED) about 9.30am Afghanistan time on Wednesday.

Another Australian soldier was seriously wounded. He was treated at the scene then flown by US helicopter to the hospital at the main base at Tarin Kowt.

He is now in a satisfactory condition.

Acting defence force chief Lieutenant General David Hurley extended the deepest sympathy on behalf of the defence force to Corporal Atkinson's family.

"The entire ADF, defence community is saddened by the death of this fine Australian soldier," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

"Corporal Atkinson's family is in our thoughts and prayers, and we give them our full support, particularly when they grieve at this time."

Corporal Atkinson was born in Tasmania, with family in Western Australia. He was engaged to be married.

General Hurley asked all Australians to pause to honour Corporal Atkinson's life.

"His bravery should not be forgotten and his sacrifice brings great honour to him, the Australian Defence Force, our army and most especially his family," he said.

General Hurley said Corporal Atkinson's family had been notified of his death overnight and had agreed to the release of his name.

This was his first deployment to Afghanistan but he had previously assisted in Operation Padang Assist, a humanitarian mission to Indonesia following the 2009 earthquake.

Both soldiers, members of the Australian Mentoring Task Force (MTF-2) were participating in a foot security patrol with the Afghan National Army at the time of the incident.

Few details of what actually happened are yet available. As with every fatality, there will be an internal defence inquiry.

The incident occurred in the Tangi Valley near Deh Rahwod, about 30 kilometres west of Tarin Kowt - the same area where Australia's last fatality occurred and a known insurgent hotspot.

Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney was shot dead in a major contact with Taliban insurgents on August 28, 2010.

"As we continue to expand our influence, Tangi Valley is one area we need to get into," General Hurley said, adding it was a "difficult area".

Australian and Afghan troops were operating from a newly-established patrol base, Patrol Base Qarib, named after an ANA Soldier killed in action in 2010.

In recent operations in the area, soldiers uncovered a number of insurgent munitions caches including large quantities of explosives.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said Corporal Atkinson was survived by his parents and brothers.

"We mourn his loss and our condolences, our thoughts and our sympathy go to his family today," he told reporters in Perth.

"He was a fine young soldier cut short at only 22 years of age."


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