By IAN McPHEDRAN in Tarin Kowt
The Sunday Telegraph
April 25, 2009 06:57pm
AUSTRALIAN soldiers have killed more than 100 Taliban fighters and disrupted vast enemy networks in two of the biggest and most successful operations of the six-year Afghanistan campaign.
Details of the offensive were revealed during a secret visit to Afghanistan for Anzac Day by Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon who was accompanied by News Limited.
Operation Aabitoorah or Blue Sword began on March 19 in the northern Helmand province, south of the Australian base in Oruzgan Province and involved Dutch, British, American, Australian and Afghani forces.
The second, called Operation Shak Hawel or Mysterious Area, was fought by troops from the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force between April 3 and 15 around Patrol Base Buman in the Chora Valley north of Tarin Kowt.
More than 200 diggers or almost half of the battle group led by Darwin based Lieutenant Colonel Shane Gabriel took part with an Afghan National Army battalion.
During the biggest battle on April 12 dozens of Taliban fighters perished as they attempted to defeat the diggers from Combat Team Tusk in the fertile green belt.
"They tried to stop us doing what we wanted to do and they came off second best,'' Lt Colonel Gabriel told News Limited.
Troops from the task force have been engaged in numerous heavy fire fights during offensive patrols to mentor and instruct their Afghan comrades.
Mr Fitzgibbon received full details of the operations and spoke to the troops during a secret two-day tour of Australian bases in the lead up to Anzac Day at Tarin Kowt where Vietnam war hero and Victoria Cross holder Keith Payne was the guest of honour.
Mr Fitzgibbon became the first Australian minister to venture "outside the wire'' flying in a Chinook chopper low along the fertile valleys to forward operating bases framed by snow capped peaks, to judge the progress for himself.
Australian commander Major General Mark Kelly said Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) troops from the Perth based SAS Regiment and Sydney based Commando Regiment operated deep inside a Taliban stronghold for 26 days during "Blue Sword".
He said the number of enemy dead was not a measure of success, but he told News Limited that the tally was in excess of 80.
"It is a significant achievement by our soldiers over an extended combat mission.
"It has really disrupted the insurgent network in this part of regional command south,'' General Kelly said.
The specialist diggers were attacked by roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and small arms fire and despite the intensity of the action just one Australian, Sydney based bomb disposal expert Sergeant Brett Till, was killed and four others wounded including one who lost his legs.
In addition to the number of enemy casualties, including bomb maker and leader Mullah Abdul Bari, the Australians uncovered numerous weapons caches and up to 14 improvised explosive devices in a day.
Mr Fitzgibbon, who toured Australian built hospitals and schools as well as fighting bases, said the latest operations were a major setback for the Taliban.
He said it was vital for the Australian people to understand these intense and deadly operations and just how dangerous and challenging the job was for the diggers.
"We are making real progress in Afghanistan.
"I wish to thank every man and woman in the Australian Defence Force who is making a contribution to what is a very important campaign,'' Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Commander of Regional Command South Dutch Major-General Mart de Kraif said the operation had disrupted insurgent activities including the drugs trade.
He said Australian special-forces troops had applied massive pressure to the insurgent leadership.