Scott Morrison has choked back tears while reading a roll call of Australian dead in Afghanistan, revealing it was the family of one digger in particular that moved him to weep.
Announcing that Australian troops will follow the US and withdraw from Afghanistan, the Prime Minister broke down in tears as he read the names of the 41 Australian soldiers who lost their lives there since 2001.
“These brave Australians are amongst our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom,” he said. “The loss is great. We think of their families, their friends, the life they would have lived.”
But it was the story of one of the 41 dead Australians that the Mr Morrison said moved him to tears.
Aged only 31, Sergeant Brett Till died when an improvised explosive device he was attempting to render safe exploded during a route clearance operation in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, March 19, 2009.
He left behind his widow Bree, who was pregnant with his son.
“I was particularly thinking of Bree Till from my own electorate,” the PM said.
“Her son, who was also Brett’s son, is in the same class as one of my daughters and I remember when Brett was killed. I was in Opposition at the time. It reminded me of what it must have been like in our country when you think back to the First and Second World Wars.
“These 41 lives lost so terribly and I saw so awfully the pain of Brett’s widow and his surviving children and his yet unborn boy. They carry that loss with them every single day and it is a reminder to all of us to be so grateful for their service.”
After Sgt Till’s death his new wife Bree was left to bring up the couple’s unborn son. She is also a stepmother to his children from another relationship.
“Brett was such a beautiful man,” she said after his death.
“His smile would crack the frowns off a hundred faces. He joined the ADF with the view that this was the best means to provide for his two beautiful children. He was extremely grateful for the opportunities this path provided and committed himself admirably to fulfilling his role at work and at home.
“I need you to know, he was not a hateful, spiteful or revengeful man. He was good, humble and honourable with unequivocal, uncomplicated intentions. So please, a request. Don’t use my lovely’s death as a statistic or opportunity to push political agendas or argue the worth of our soldiers’ role. Use it as a chance to meet a man, to praise a man who is perfect in so many ways. Who has left me a gift which I will treasure, forever and ever.”
Asked if going to Afghanistan was “worth it”, the PM said it was.
“Freedom is always worth it,” he said. “Australians have always believed that. That is why Australians who have served in our defence forces have always pulled on that uniform.”
The PM said 39,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan since the war began.
Mr Morrison said all Australian troops in Afghanistan will be pulled out by September after US President Joe Biden announced an end to the 20-year war.
Australia currently only has about 80 soldiers left in Afghanistan, according to the Australian Defence Force’s website.
Mr Morrison said Australia would continue “to support the peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban”.
In a statement, the Morrison Government said that since 2001, 41 Australian personnel have lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan, and many more were wounded, some physically and others mentally.
“The conflict has exacted an enormous toll on the Afghan people and the complex task of making peace lies ahead,” Defence Minister Peter Dutton said.
“Australia continues to support the peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We encourage both parties to commit to the peace process and call on the Taliban to cease the violence.
“While our military contribution will reduce, we will continue to support the stability and development of Afghanistan through our bilateral partnership, and in concert with other nations.
“This includes our diplomatic presence, development co-operation program, and continued people-to-people links, including through our training and scholarship programs. Australia remains committed to helping Afghanistan preserve the gains of the last 20 years, particularly for women and girls.”