Afghan suspected of killing Australian soldiers captured and will face trial

Sergeant Hekmatullah, accused of 2012 insider attack, was apprehended in Pakistan in February, but arrest was kept secret

The Afghan soldier suspected of killing three Australian soldiers while on patrol has been apprehended in Pakistan and will be brought to trial in Afghanistan.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, said Sergeant Hekmatullah was captured in Pakistan in February this year, however, due to security concerns, his arrest was kept secret.

“If you look at the relationships that exist in the region, I think there were a number of issues being played through in Pakistan as well, they had elections, other activities with the Afghan government,” Hurley said.

“I think they were just working their way through both to find a process for this handover to occur and when would be the appropriate time.”

Hekmatullah is accused of gunning down five soldiers while they were relaxing at patrol base Wahab. Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate were killed and two other soldiers were wounded.

Gen Hurley said the capture “draws a line” under the four insider attacks on Australian personnel.

“Those responsible for the deaths of seven Australian soldiers and who wounded another 10 have been captured or killed and no longer pose a threat to our people.”

Last month, an Australian Defence Force inquiry released its findings on the attacks by insiders, known as “green on blue”. It found there was a failure to provide appropriate force protection at the time of the attack in August 2012, despite sufficient resources being available.

The report made 22 findings, the most damning of which was that officers left in charge at patrol base Wahab made decisions that left Australian troops exposed to danger, despite having sufficient intelligence and resources.

Soldiers, including L/Cpl Milosevic, Spr Martin and Pte Poate, had changed into casual clothes and footwear for the evening and were playing cards, boardgames or using laptops in a makeshift recreation area.

The report found that the collective state of relaxation and casual dress "highlights that the commanders and soldiers of [redacted] were complacent about their force protection and personal discipline".

The Australians were not separated from Afghan national army forces as would usually occur, because it had been deemed impossible on arrival due to the terrain. This left Australian soldiers without adequate vision of anyone approaching.

Gen Hurley said the victims’ families had only been told on Wednesday of the arrest but he did not speak with them personally.

“This was bittersweet news for the families. On one hand there is a great sense of relief, but it will not change history,” Gen Hurley said. “This news comes at a particularly difficult time for the family, so close to the anniversary of the event."

Gen Hurley said the defence force would continue to work with the Afghanistan authorities as they prosecute the allegations against Hekmatullah, which could bring the death penalty under Afghan law.

The defence force was advised by Pakistan that Hekmatullah was in custody in February. Hurley said the Pakistan government had been working since that time to “establish an appropriate transfer arrangement” to return him to Afghanistan.

Hurley said although Australia had an interest, the case was a matter for the authorities of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“As a result it would have been inappropriate and possibly detrimental for defence to disclose the apprehension until the transfer to Afghanistan authorities was complete.”

“Noting the international dimension and the international sensitivities in this matter, there are some aspects of the case that I can’t discuss publicly.”

Contributor

Gabrielle Chan, political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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