A manhunt was under way in Afghanistan yesterday to find the alleged killer of an Australian soldier, an allied Afghan National Army recruit who fled into the night after gunshots were heard from a sentry post.
The murder is the first of its kind to take an Australian life, although soldiers from other nations - especially the United States - have been killed by Afghan colleagues.
Defence Chief Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston said the hunters would have powerful motivations. "They will be experiencing a myriad of emotions - grief and anger foremost among them," he said.
The death of Digger 25-year-old Lance Corporal Andrew Jones came as another Australian, 27-year-old pilot Lieutenant Marcus Case, was killed in the crash of a Chinook helicopter that also injured five of his colleagues.
The latest deaths were announced as the body of 32-year-old commando Sergeant Brett Wood, killed in action in Afghanistan last week, returned to Australia.
They bring to 26 the number of Australians killed in Afghanistan since 2001, but will not shake bipartisan resolve to remain until at least 2014, and possibly longer.
Promising to hunt down Jones' killer, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the key mission of training the Afghan Army would continue.
"I've seen in recent days a suggestion that the main or the only reason we are there is to support our alliance partner, the United States," Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.
"We are in Afghanistan for more than that reason. We continue to very strongly believe that it is in Australia's national interest to do our bit to help stare down international terrorism."
Melbourne-born Jones, a veteran of East Timor, arrived in Afghanistan last November as a member of the force mentoring the Afghan National Army's 4th Brigade in Oruzgan Province.
Jones had been on guard at a post in the Chorah Valley, mentoring two Afghan soldiers in a tower, immediately before his murder. When one of the Afghans left to "attend to a personal matter" shots rang out.
The Afghan raced back, fired at the fleeing killer, then applied first aid to the badly wounded Australian, who was later flown to a medical facility at nearby Tarin Kowt base but could not be saved.
Despite claims by the Taleban, reported by the New York Times, that the killer was an assassin posing as an Afghan regular, biometric screening undertaken on all Afghan Army recruits has identified the alleged murderer. "We have his name, his service number and a record of his service. This was not an imposter," Houston said.
He said the alleged killer was a recent arrival at the base and had shown no signs of becoming a threat.
Australia's other death occurred when one of Australia's two Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan, flying in company with an American helicopter, crashed during a familiarisation flight 90km east of Tarin Kowt.