Vital intelligence about the threat to Aussie soldiers from insider attacks wasn’t passed on to a platoon in Afghanistan where three diggers were gunned down.
Australian Defence Force warnings of an increased threat of insider attacks weren’t passed on to a base commander before three Australians were killed by an Afghan soldier, an inquest has heard.
Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate were killed when an Afghan National Army sergeant opened fire with an automatic weapon inside a patrol base in Oruzgan province on August 29, 2012.
Their 24-man task force had arrived at the Wahab base, 20km north of Tarin Kowt, a day earlier on a mentoring mission to conduct patrols with Afghan National Army personnel.
A coronial inquest into the three soldiers’ deaths has heard that a defence order dated August 18 referred to an increased likelihood of so-called green-on-blue attacks around that time to coincide with the Muslim Eid festival.
Another order two days before the shooting again referred to the threat and recommended steps to mitigate the risk of such an attack.
Platoon commander at Wahab, Captain Dominic Lopez, told the inquest on Wednesday the full substance of those orders hadn’t been passed on to him.
He said when he was deployed to Wahab he had assessed the threat of an insider attack as low in the absence of reports stating otherwise.
“It (the threat) was always there, but there was no reason for me to ever believe that the threat was anything other than low at patrol base Wahab,” he told the Brisbane inquest.
However, Capt Lopez insisted that even if the orders had been passed on to him in full it wouldn’t have changed his decisions on the ground.
They included the decision to let Afghan soldiers mingle with Australian troops, largely because the layout of the base made it impossible to separate them, he said.
Capt Lopez became upset when asked to recall the attack, which occurred when an Afghan National Army sergeant named Hekmatullah opened fire with an automatic machine gun five metres from a group of Australian troops playing cards and board games.
Wiping tears from his eyes, the captain said he heard up to 20 rounds fired over 15 seconds.
Relatives of Lance Cpl Milosevic, Sapper Martin and Pte Poate, who lobbied for the inquest, watched on as the captain recalled “lots of gunshots, confusion, dust, darkness when we turned the lights out, the sound of injured people”.
Earlier, former platoon sergeant Adam Burke recalled how he heard a burst of gunfire, grabbed his rife and begun shooting at a guard tower, mistakenly believing the attack came from there.
Australian reinforcements were quickly flown in following the attack and the troops were evacuated.
Hekmatullah has been sentenced to death over the attack.
Capt Lopez is expected to continue giving evidence when the inquest continues on Thursday.