Australia loses 28th soldier in Afghanistan

A decorated Australian soldier on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan has been killed in a firefight with insurgents in which another digger was seriously wounded.

Sergeant Todd Langley, 35, from the Sydney-based 2nd Commando regiment, died from a gun shot wound to the head during the battle in southern Afghanistan on Monday.

He is the 28th Australian soldier to die in action in Afghanistan since 2001, and the seventh this year.

The defence force's new chief, General David Hurley, who took over the role on Monday, said another soldier was wounded in the engagement and was provided with combat first aid at the scene.

He was airlifted to a medical facility in Tarin Kowt and then transferred to a hospital in Kandahar for further treatment.

"From there he has contacted his family," General Hurley said, adding the soldier was in a serious but stable condition.

He described Sgt Langley as an exceptionally experienced and decorated soldier, and a devoted family man.

"He was a brave and professional soldier who never took a backward step and, despite their grief, his comrades say he will continue to inspire them," General Hurley told reporters in Canberra.

General Hurley said he had extended his deepest sympathy to Sgt Langley's family.

"There are difficult days ahead for them and for us," he said.

"But we will do everything we can to care and support his family and his mates throughout this time and beyond."

Sgt Langley had been awarded two commendations for distinguished service and had a unit citation for gallantry. He had also served two tours in East Timor.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard also paid tribute to Sgt Langley, and extended the nation's sympathy to his family.

"He was a commando, one of the best of our best in the Australian defence force," she told reporters in Canberra.

She said Sgt Langley was not just a soldier, he also was a family man.

"There is a family in Australia today who is grieving his loss.

"This is for them a time of tears and a time of pain."

Ms Gillard said she wanted the family to know that the nation stood with them at this time of "incredible loss and grief".

"We honour the service of Todd Langley for this nation."

She said despite the latest death Australia was adhering to its commitment in Afghanistan.

"We are making progress in our mission in Afghanistan. Our mission is clear, our timeline is clear."

The Australian and Afghan National Army operation on Monday had been intended to disrupt insurgents and deny them a safe haven to plan, co-ordinate and execute their operations, the general said.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith conceded Australian forces and the nation were going through a "tough period".

While ground has been taken and progress made in Afghanistan the Taleban would fight back.

Australia's role was to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a safe haven for terrorists, he said.

That was why Australia "strongly supported" the determination of the international community to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in the course of 2014.

"We are on track to effect that," Mr Smith said.

- AAP

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