(Left) Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher and Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald.
(Left) Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher and Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald. Supplied

Diggers killed in crash named

THE two Australian special forces soldiers who died in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan on Thursday have been remembered as professional soldiers who were committed to their jobs.

Australian Defence Force Chief General David Hurley revealed on Friday the soldiers were Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, 30, and Private Nathanael Galagher, 23.

Both were from the 2nd Commando Regiment and were part of an ISAF operation when the BlackHawk they were in went down in Helmand province.

Pte Galagher, who is survived by his partner Jessie, parents Wayne and Sally and sister Elanor, was one his second tour to Afghanistan.

He was born in Wee Waa, New South Wales, and joined the Army in October 2007.

"Private Galagher always put in 110% in every thing he did. He had a 'can-do' attitude, always wanting to get the job done and taking everything in his stride," an ADF statement read.

"He was an enthusiastic, young soldier who was very well respected by his mates from the regiment."

Lce Corp Lance McDonald was born in Carnavron, Western Australia, and is survived by his fiancée Rachael, his mother Myrna and stepfather Bernie, and brothers Percy, Roger and Gary.

He joined the Army in May, 1999, and was on his sixth tour to Afghanistan.

"Lance Corporal McDonald was quick witted and brought a positive energy to both his unit comrades and all those who served with him," ADF said in a statement.

"A dedicated and enthusiastic professional soldier, he was always willing to come forward with ideas and solutions. He was a highly professional soldier, but his quiet nature and humility meant he always deflected credit back on to fellow members of his company."

Meanwhile, the manhunt for the rogue Afghan soldier who gunned down three Australian soldiers on Wednesday continued on Friday as further details of the tragedy were revealed.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Perth the shooter was Sergeant Hek Matullah, a recent arrival in Uruzgan province.

He spent five months training in Kandahar before being posted in July to the patrol base where the murders took place.

The names of the Australian soldiers - aged 40, 23 and 21 - had not been released at the request of their families.

Gen Hurley said Australian and Afghan troops were working together to track down Sgt Matullah.

Further details of the attack - including a motive or possible Taliban links - were not known.

Australian soldiers were thought to be relaxing at the end of the day when Sgt Matullah opened fire on the group with an automatic weapon. Two Australian soldiers were also injured.

Mr Smith was in Vietnam when news of the Australian deaths - the most in a single day since the Vietnam War - came through.

He said the combination of the insider attack and the chopper accident in such a short space of time would reverberate through the ADF and the Australian community.

"There is nothing more terrible in conflict or in war than death, and there's nothing more terrible than when that occurs as a result of the actions of a person who comes from the country or the army whom you were trying to assist," Mr Smith said.

"And of all the terrible events that have come across my desk as Minister for Defence ... there is no doubt that this is the worst.

"I know as a result of the conversations I've had - not just with the chief and the secretary but also with the vice chief who has been acting in General Hurley's stead, and other members of the Department and the Defence Force, that there has been no greater shock, no greater pain that the force has felt for many a long year."

Seven Australian soldiers have been killed in "green on blue" attacks. The colours refer to the codes used by NATO and ISAF to describe Afghan National Army (green) and Coalition (blue) forces.

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, an outspoken critic of Australia's continued involvement in the war, said the five soldiers had died "unnecessarily", adding former prime ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd and incumbent Julia Gillard had "blood on their hands".

He said each had the opportunity to withdraw Australian troops from the conflict.

"The tragedies in Afghanistan this week are amplified greatly by the fact none of those men had to die," Mr Wilkie said.

Greens Leader Christine Milne said 2014 - the scheduled date to withdraw Australian troops - was too far away, urging Ms Gillard to get them out now.

But Ms Gillard said it was in Australia's national interest to complete the mission in Afghanistan.

She said withdrawing Australian troops early would leave a "security vacuum" that would be filled by the Taliban.

"After all that we have been through and all that we have lost, and all that we have done in Afghanistan, I cannot countenance leaving before the mission is completed," Ms Gillard said.

"And I cannot and will not countenance giving a strategic victory to people who have made it their work to kill Australian soldiers."

Ms Gillard said the 12-18 month timeframe on withdrawing Australian soldiers remained.

The Prime Minister, who cut short her trip to the Cook Islands to be briefed about the deaths, confirmed additional security was in place for Australians troops.

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