World Bulletin / News Desk
Australia suffered its worst combat losses since the Vietnam War when five troops were killed in Afghanistan, officials said on Thursday, prompting Prime Minister Julia Gillard to return home early from a regional Pacific leaders' conference.
Officials said three Australians had been killed in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday by an Afghan wearing a soldier's uniform, bringing to 45 the number of NATO-led coalition troops killed in shootings this year.
Australian officials later announced another two troops had died in a helicopter crash in the south on Thursday.
"This is news so truly shocking that it's going to feel for many Australians like a physical blow," an emotional Gillard told reporters in the Cook Islands, where she was attending a forum of Pacific islands leaders.
Gillard said she would cut short her visit and return to Australia later on Thursday for briefings on the deaths.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to lead a U.S. government team to the 16-member forum from Friday.
The alarming rise in the number of rogue shootings and other attacks has increased pressure on coalition members to fast-track withdrawal plans.
Under the current timetable, most foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, handing security responsibility to their Afghan counterparts.
Opinion polls in Australia say Australians overwhelmingly want their troops out of Afghanistan, although Gillard ruled out any early exit.
Australia's neighbour New Zealand said last week it would accelerate the withdrawal of its troops after three more were killed by a roadside bomb.
Australian Defence Force Air Marshal Mark Binskin told reporters in Canberra the man used an automatic weapon at close range.
Binskin said the other two Australians, both special forces soldiers, were killed when their helicopter was attempting to land during an operation in neighbouring Helmand province.
He said there was no sign the accident was caused by enemy action but refused to give further details.Last Mod: 30 Ağustos 2012, 09:57