CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An elite Australian soldier was shot dead during his seventh tour of duty in Afghanistan, a commander said Tuesday, raising the number of Australian troops killed in the more-than-decade-long war to 33.
The 40-year-old veteran of the Special Air Service Regiment was killed in Uruzgan province on Monday during an operation involving Australian and Afghan troops targeting an insurgent commander, Australian Defense Force Chief Lt. Gen. David Hurley said.
The soldier was evacuated with a chest wound to the military hospital at the Australian base at Tarin Kowt but could not be resuscitated, Hurley said. His name has not been made public at his family’s request.
It was not immediately clear how rare it is for an SAS soldier to serve seven tours of duty in Afghanistan. None of the other 32 Australian casualties in the Afghanistan campaign had been on so many tours. A commander said last year that one SAS soldier had done eight tours.
Hurley said it was “probably unusual” that a soldier had served seven tours in the war. But he said he was confident proper management processes were in place to ensure soldiers were not being asked to do too much.
“It’s an issue we need to keep a sharp eye on,” he told reporters.
The duration of SAS tours are flexible, but they typically extend beyond six months.
Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan and is the largest military contributor to the U.S.-led alliance outside NATO. Australia also provides the third-largest force of special operations troops after the United States and Britain.
The soldier killed Monday enlisted in the army in 1990 and joined Australia’s most elite regiment in 1995.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said his death was a “dreadful blow.”
“This tragic incident is part of what we are doing in Afghanistan because that mission is so important to our Australian nation,” she said.