Conflict & Justice

Five Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in bloodiest day since Vietnam War


Two special forces soldiers embrace as a C-130 carrying the body of an Australian soldier departs Tarin Kot Airfield, Saturday, May 28, 2011, in Uruzgan, Afghanistan.


Australian Navy Able Seaman Jo Dilorenzo/ISAF Regional Command via Getty Images

Five Australian soldiers were killed overnight Wednesday in Afghanistan in the bloodiest single day for Australia's military since the Vietnam War — three of them at the hands of a rogue Afghan soldier and two in a helicopter crash.

Three soldiers from the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment were killed at a forward patrol base in Oruzgan province by someone wearing an Afghan army uniform, the Australian reported.

The gunman, who opened fire on the soldiers from close range, scaled a fence and escaped despite soldiers at the base returning fire.

The Associated Press, cited an Afghan army commander identifying the Afghan soldier as a night guard at the Afghan army base, named Hekmatullah.

The troops were part of an international patrol that had stopped to spend the night there, and were fired upon as they entered the base.

The acting Chief of the Australian Defense Forces, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, said at a press conference that two other Australian troops — known as Diggers — were wounded in the same incident, one seriously.

According to the AP, there have been at least 34 such "insider" attacks so far this year, with 45 coalition soldiers killed, most of them Americans. Four Australian soldiers were killed last year by Afghan troops.

The spike in killings prompted the US to introduce "guardian angels" — armed NATO service members who watch over any gatherings of NATO troops.

However, Binskin didn't know whether such a soldier was in place during Wednesday's shooting.

Meanwhile, later two Australian special forces soldiers were killed when the US Black Hawk they were traveling rolled over while landing in Helmand Province, Binskin said, the Fairfax media reported.

According to Reuters, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard cut short her attendance at a forum of Pacific islands leaders in the Cook Islands to return to Australia for briefings on the deaths.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending the 16-member forum.

Although opinion polls indicate that Australians overwhelmingly want their troops out of Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

Australia's government announced iin April that it would start pulling its troops out of Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule.

More from GlobalPost: Australian troops to pull out of Afghanistan a year early

However Gillard ruled out an even earlier exit, saying: "We are there for a purpose and we will see that purpose through."

However, the AP quoted Gillard as saying:

"In a war of so many losses, this is our single worst day in Afghanistan. Indeed, I believe this is the most losses in combat since the days of the Vietnam War and the Battle of Long Tan. This is news so truly shocking that it's going to feel for many Australians like a physical blow."