‘What the hell?’ uttered after SAS kill



The infamous shooting death of an Afghan man with a prosthetic leg by an Australian SAS soldier has been described in detail at Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation hearing.

The death, which preceded the man’s leg being taken back to base and used as a drinking vessel, occurred at a Taliban compound in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, in April 2009.

A still-serving SAS soldier, codenamed Person 14, told the Federal Court on Friday he had led the troop through poppy fields and drizzling rain up to the target area, before maintaining watch as assault teams cleared the compounds dubbed Whiskey 108 and Whiskey 109.

Hearing a noise to his right, similar to stomping and heavy footsteps and people talking, he turned and saw three Australian soldiers and a black figure outside Whiskey 108.

“[The figure] was thrown to the ground and a thud happened like when a person hits the ground – that kind of noise of expulsion of air when a person is winded,” Person 14 said.

A soldier raised their Minimi automatic weapon and fired “an extended burst”

“It was loud, like brrrrrrrrr and I was like ‘OK’ and [they] turned and walked back into Whiskey 108.

“I turned to my 2IC (second-in-command) and said ‘What the hell was that?’.

“Nonverbally, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head, alluding to ‘he doesn’t know’.”

Person 14 recalled his whole six-member patrol saw the incident but he couldn’t recall any verbal acknowledgement of that.

Due to distance, low light and the rain, he couldn’t make out the shooter’s identity but noticed two of the three soldiers had the distinctive camouflage paint worn by Mr Roberts-Smith’s patrol.

He said he later saw Mr Roberts-Smith carrying a Minimi, an automatic weapon usually carried by one or two, usually junior, soldiers in each patrol.

Person 14 said he later inspected the body, noticing a white, prosthetic leg and injuries to the upper chest.

Mr Roberts-Smith, who disputes the account and denies any wrongdoing in Afghanistan, is suing three newspapers over their reports identifying him as being involved in war crimes between 2006 and 2012.

The war hero, who is among Australia’s most highly decorated living soldiers, has testified he shot dead an insurgent at Whiskey 108 who he’d spotted with a bolt-action rifle.

Person 14, who appeared in the newspapers’ truth defence case, said a rookie soldier dubbed Person Four would also be one to carry a Minimi.

That soldier had earlier been subject to a “blood the rookie” comment at the Australian base by the commander of Mr Roberts-Smith’s patrol.

“What did you understand ‘blooding’ to refer to?” the newspapers’ barrister, Nicholas Owens SC, asked.

“For a new member of the troop to get a kill in action,” Person 14 said.

Another witness, who didn’t hear the “blood the rookie” comment, this week said he saw Person Four shoot an unarmed Afghan male at close range at Whiskey 108 under the direction of Mr Roberts-Smith.

The hearing continues.

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